How do Roku TVs work? (For Dummies)
November 4, 2016 10:40 AM   Subscribe

Help me understand and make an informed choice when it comes to Roku, TVs and Roku TVs.

I already have a regular TV and a Roku. I do not have cable (I used to) but I now only have Time Warner for my internet.

I want a 2nd TV for my son's room. If I buy a Roku TV (like this one), I assume the Roku is inside the TV and all I have to after setting up the TV's internet connection is activate my existing Roku account, an it will work over WiFi? Or will I need to actually hook it up to cable as well?

I've also read a bunch of reviews that say these TVs are prone to futzing out, freezing, and are otherwise a bad idea.

posted by I_Love_Bananas to Technology (15 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
That TV has wifi, so all you need to do is connect the TV to your Wifi, go through the setup process and add your Roku account details, then you are off to the races. Since it has Wifi you should not have to connect via Ethernet. Or you could create a separate account for your son on Roku, since the accounts are free.

I have never used one of these, though, so no idea on reliability. Having a separate Roku device rather than built in does give more flexibility, though.
posted by selfnoise at 10:44 AM on November 4, 2016

I assume the Roku is inside the TV and all I have to after setting up the TV's internet connection is activate my existing Roku account, an it will work over WiFi?

You are correct.

I've also read a bunch of reviews that say these TVs are prone to futzing out, freezing, and are otherwise a bad idea.

That I do not know. But that TV does have 3 HDMI inputs so you could always hook up a different streaming device if you want to.
posted by GuyZero at 10:47 AM on November 4, 2016

The cheap Rokus are now so cheap that I would definitely suggest instead buying any cheap TV you want and a Roku stick for thirty bucks and calling it a day. The difficulty level in setup is basically the same (you're still configuring a Roku of some kind to talk to the internet) and this way you're not stuck with a poorly-reviewed TV prone to futzing out or freezing - you can get a good (or good enough) TV and if that needs to be replaced, you still have your Roku.
posted by Tomorrowful at 10:56 AM on November 4, 2016 [6 favorites]

I'd also buy a tv and rook separately, but if you go with the TV you don't need anything but power and wifi.

I will add that when I tried to use a Fire Stick in the bedroom, it couldn't connect to the wifi, and since it's basically stuck to the back of the tv I couldn't move it around to find a connection. I moved a Roku box in there and it picked up the wifi just fine. I have no idea whether a Roku stick or tv would have the same issue, but it's something to consider.
posted by Huck500 at 11:12 AM on November 4, 2016

Best answer: I also strongly recommend choosing the TV based solely on display quality and reliability (with maybe a slight preference for dumb TVs over "smart" ones) and getting your Roku and/or other streaming devices separately. The streaming boxes are dirt cheap and new ones come out all the time, while the TV is expensive and might last 10 years and still be perfectly functional at displaying an image. It's very unlikely that the "smart" features will still be getting updates and working properly ten years from now, and those features for the most part are just extra things that can break and get in your way.
posted by contraption at 11:26 AM on November 4, 2016 [7 favorites]

We got a Roku TV at the very end of last year and it's been great so far. Roku connectivity is indeed via WiFi. No freezing/futzing out issues at all... very occasional strangeness that seems network-related, but no more so than with our older standalone Roku box.

It's true that streaming stick devices are really cheap nowadays, but I gotta say that having a small single remote that controls the TV + Roku (without having to buy and program a huge complicated universal remote) is really, really, really nice. When we were shopping around it seemed like there were more smart TVs than dumb ones, and worst case if the on-board Roku craps out or becomes obsolete before the TV screen itself, we can buy a newer stick and plug it into one of the HDMI inputs.
posted by usonian at 12:32 PM on November 4, 2016

Updates stop coming for smart TVs after a couple of years. You are better off plugging in separate boxes you can swap out as needed.
posted by w0mbat at 12:48 PM on November 4, 2016

I have a Roku TV; I'd look at it this way, 'cause it's a little confusing otherwise:

- all TVs have some kind of menu or control system, even if it's just the dreaded "input" button that my in-laws seem to struggle with.

- Smart TVs are not much more expensive than regular ones, and in fact it's becoming kind of standard in TVs above a certain size that there will be some kind of control system that includes streaming apps and a more sophisticated display menuing system. Which is all a Smart TV is.

- The thing I like about my Roku TV is that it's got said intuitive menu/control system baked into it. So you don't have to fire up the TV, futz with an input button to navigate to which input you're using, and once you're there get a Roku, Firestick, or whatever other thing you've got going for streaming, to wake up, then wade through ITS navigation.

I briefly owned another brand of smart TV with its own control system (Vizio) and did not like it nearly as well as the Roku.

Here's where I was confused about what the Roku was supposed to do vs what it actually does - I thought Roku was yet another service, a la Apple or Amazon (both of which sell hardware to stream with), but while I think Roku has some apps/content of its own, it's best thought of as a hardware company that makes hardware (standalone or built-in) with an operating system that supports apps from all the major (and not-so-major) content providers - Netflix, Amazon, Pandora, broadcast network apps, and so on. Roku has enough market share that about the only content provider that isn't going to play well with Roku is Apple (because they insist that you buy an Apple TV, I guess). So if you want Apple content, you can still plug an Apple TV box into an HDMI port of a Roku TV, and it becomes another menu item, just like your blu-ray player.

I suppose if the TV manufacturer (Sharp) or Roku abandon my set and don't give me updates at some future date, I could still buy whatever the latest and greatest HDMI gadget is and plug it in, and be no worse off than I would be if I didn't have a smart TV. I'd just use the current Roku setup to navigate to that HDMI input, and then use the later/greater gadget.
posted by randomkeystrike at 1:23 PM on November 4, 2016 [1 favorite]

The other important thing to be aware of about smart TVs vs. separate boxes is that the computer built into the TV to run the smart functions is generally underpowered compared to the one in the standalone box. I'm not sure that this will hold true if you're comparing a Roku Stick (which is pretty underpowered itself) to that particular TV with Roku built in, but in general you will notice a difference in loading time and menu responsiveness, with smart TVs being on the "staring at the Netflix logo for 45 seconds, constantly waiting for the thumbnails to load and the cursor to catch up with your button presses" end of the spectrum.
posted by contraption at 4:18 PM on November 4, 2016

Roku is so much more comprehensive in its services than Chromecast, AppleTV and FireTV, or any SmartTV. Every major OTT streaming service and every major TVAnywhere service and a ton of minor services too.
posted by MattD at 7:52 PM on November 4, 2016

The streaming boxes are dirt cheap and new ones come out all the time, while the TV is expensive and might last 10 years and still be perfectly functional at displaying an image.

As a data point on this, my TV is 5+ years old and works fine. In that time, I've cycled through, I think, three different streaming services boxes, each of which was a technical upgrade on the last, none of which I paid more than $30 for. Heck, you can usually get a Roku stick for free if you subscribe and prepay for three months of Sling TV.

Finally, I haven't heard anything about Roku's financial stability, but you are likely to lose its services if the company ever does stop offering them for any reason. I think it's a good idea if possible to avoid the risk of having something you spent a lot of money on being left crippled by the fate of the company.
posted by praemunire at 5:23 AM on November 5, 2016 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thanks all! I chose a 32" smart TV, no built-in Roku. Wifi is all great, functions just like I want. The apps it comes with are the ones I use most anyway.

Now my issue is- the stand it comes with is JUST THAT MUCH TOO WIDE for the shelf I planned to place the TV on. Grrrr. WHY GOD WHY

Can I just lean it? What are the possible downsides? It's in the basement, an outer wall (not gonna be prone to shaking or vibration, is what I mean). Not in any traffic pattern, not gonna be bumped.
posted by I_Love_Bananas at 7:41 AM on November 5, 2016

Don't lean it against the wall, especially if it's going in a kid's room. Wall mount it or screw its foot to a wide-enough shelf.
posted by contraption at 9:17 AM on November 5, 2016

Yeah, on the stand - my older 55" TV has a pedestal type stand, which makes it easier, but my newer one has 2 feet out at either edge. Probably for safety; it's fractionally more stable. But annoying...
posted by randomkeystrike at 9:56 AM on November 5, 2016

My point about buying smart v. "non-smart" is that there seem to be fewer and fewer TVs made that are NOT including some kind of wifi service with apps. And the price difference is not really that great.

For that matter, ALL the boxes you plug into a TV now seem to come with some kind of operating system that has streaming apps. I bought a $60 Sony blu-ray player the other day that also has apps on it (and you can download more). So effectively it's a smart blu-ray player. I don't know if they make any blu-ray players that don't have that function.

So on my Roku TV I could watch Netflix either on the Roku TV itself, the Apple TV I have plugged into it, or the blu-ray... kind of unnecessary but they're all coming with it.

If I get a Roku box in the future because I can do something later and greater I guess I'll be saying to myself "Yo, Dawg, I heard you like Roku so I put a Roku on your Roku TV so you can watch Roku while you're watching Roku." Or words to that effect...
posted by randomkeystrike at 10:06 AM on November 5, 2016 [1 favorite]

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