Two of the leading streaming set top boxes go head to head. The fourth generation Apple TV and the fourth generation Roku 4 are the latest in full featured streaming players. Other streaming players include Amazon Fire TV and NVIDIA SHIELD based on Android TV. We focus mainly on Apple TV 4 and Roku 4.
The new 4th generation Apple TV now includes access to Siri, the voice activated virtual assistant that functions just like the voice search on Amazon’s Fire TV with Voice Remote and more. Unlike its predecessor, it now lets you access the App Store for compatible iOS apps and hook-up with a third party controller and include a touch and voice enabled Bluetooth remote called the Siri Remote. Powered by the Apple’s A8 Dual-Core chip, similar to that used on iPad mini 4, it has the processing power to take on anything including resource hungry games.
Roku 4 boast support for 4K UHD (Ultra High Definition) content and upscaling for Full HD or standard HD content when connected to UHD TVs. While UHD content is still scarce, Roku makes it easier to search for these via the Channel Store. As for the hardware, there are plenty of 4K UHD TVs in the market right now so much so that heavy competition is pushing the prices down. Either you already own a UHD TV or looking to upgrade to one soon having the hardware that supports this ensures future proofing. Streaming services such as Netflix and Amazon Instant Video already offer 4K TV shows and movies. Apple TV only supports Full HD. Amazon just released an updated Amazon Fire TV with 4K Ultra HD (2015) seeing that Amazon Instant Video offerings are moving up to 4K as well.
Roku 4 also includes a remote with voice search function, headphone jack for private viewing and listening, motion-control for gaming and if you have a tendency to misplace your remote, the lost remote finder lets you track your remote by pressing a button on the set top box that triggers a customisable sound on the remote. We could not find details regarding on-board storage but there is a microSD slot that lets you add up to 64GB of extra storage while on the Apple TV, you will need to decide at the point of purchase if you want a 32GB or 64GB model.
The other added advantage going with Roku is the support for external hard disk via the USB port as well as Plex Video client app to serve up your own content. A convenient mobile app is also available to cast your personal media from your mobile devices and a Screen Mirrroring app for Android and Windows devices. Apple TV on the other hand does not let you access your own collection directly but over Plex if you have Plex Media Server on your network. AirPlay takes care of screen casting and mirroring but only from an iOS device.
Content is King and in this case, streaming player that supports different free and paid subscription based streaming services and channel content will based on your viewing appetite will ultimately deserve a place in your living room. Apple offers content purchased or available to buy over iTunes as well as Apple Music Service (subscription fee applies) and apps for major streaming services such as Hulu, Netflix, HBO now, SHOWTIME and YouTube.
Roku does not have its own streaming services, it lets you access Amazon Instant Video, Hulu, Netflix, HBO now and YouTube as well as other content shop with a convenient compare-the-market list so you can decide where is the cheapest to rent/buy your content. The voice search function looks for the same title across all stores and streaming service at at glance (including free with subscription titles) and there is even a clever Roku Feed section to catch up on the latest content.
Here is how the content and services compare
- Apple TV: over 1000+ channels with support for major streaming services: Hulu, iTunes, Netflix, HBO Now, YouTube
- Roku 4: over 2500+ channels with support for major streaming services: Amazon Instant Video, Hulu, Netflix, HBO Now, YouTube
Others streaming player – just for reference, we have included Google Chromeast 2 and NVIDIA SHIELD streaming players below. It is too early for Android TV, as number of channels and apps available are still limited. Google Chromecast 2 fares better with over 1000+ channels and support for major streaming services.
- Google Chromecast 2: over 1000+ channels with support for major streaming services: Hulu Plus, HBO Now, Netflix, YouTube
- NVIDIA SHIELD (Android TV): over 30+ channels with support for major streaming services: Hule Plus, HBO Now, Netflix, YouTube
Roku does take the lead here but if you are already an Apple user and own a sizable collection of music, TV shows and movies on iTunes, then Apple TV is your answer. If you are a streaming player virgin and want a ‘level playing field’ for every content provider, to be able to pick and choose where you get your shows and movies, and we favor those that can offer the best price, then Roku if your answer.
With streaming player like Amazon Fire TV and Apple TV which are competing products with their own content stores, music and video streaming services, there are bound to be limitations for e.g. Apple TV would not let you access Amazon Instant Video streaming service and Amazon Fire TV would not have access to Apple Music or your music and video collection in iTunes.
Having said that, the Amazon Instant Video app (Amazon Prime streaming service) for iOS supports AirPlay. Using an iPhone, iPad or iPod Touch, you can now push Amazon’s content onto the big screen via Apple TV.
Both Apple TV and Roku 4 works with your personal capture video and photos. Apple TV would of course only support photos and videos captured on iOS devices. Roku 4 goes further with app available for iOS, Android and Windows devices that lets you send video, music and photos from your mobile device to the 4K UHD screen.
- Best for iTunes and Apple Music Services
- Best for Streaming Services using Apps
- Promise of more iOS apps for TV
- Voice, Touch and Motion enabled remote
- Support for third party game controllers
- Best to access multiple services and sources for content and not tied down to one
- Fast and deep integration for major streaming services with dedicated buttons on remote
- Promise of more 4K content, with dedicated section in Channel Store
- Voice, Headphone Jack for Private Listening and Motion Controls for Gaming
- Future proof with 4K output
- Access to own content via USB port with external storage and MicroSD expansion for more storage
Apple TV 4th Generation vs Roku 4: Side-by-Side Technical Comparison Table
|Apple TV 4th Generation||Roku 4|
|Operating System||Apple tvOS||Roku OS|
|App Store||iTunes movies, iTunes TV Shows, Apple Music||Mobile app for casting personal media, Screen Mirroring for Android and Windows devices. Instant start for Netflix and YouTube. Channel Store with dedicated 4K UHD Content Section|
|Entertainment||Apart from iTunes for Movies and TV Shows Apps like Netflix and Hulu offer catalogs of hit movies and TV shows. HBO NOW and SHOWTIME offers Hollywood blockbusters and bingeworthy original series. Hulu subscription includes current and previous seasons of TV shows from ABC, Fox, NBC, Comedy Central, MTV, The CW and Univision as well as classic films from Criterion Collection. Other apps include ABC watch, CNNgo, FOX now, YouTube, PBS kids, PBS, Sports Live Extra, ABC News, Watch Disney, Watch ESPN, NHL gamecenter, USA now.|
|Access to 2,500+ channels on demand offering 300,000+ movies and TV episodes including Netflix, Amazon, Hulu, CinemaNow and SHOWTIME, and the ability to search across more than 20 top streaming channels to find the best price and option.|
Search across the top channels by keyword, title, actor, or director using your remote or the Roku mobile app. Roku Search makes it easy to find what’s on, where you can watch it for free, with a subscription or how much the different channels charge to rent or buy.
With the Roku Feed™, you can follow movies, TV shows, actors, and directors and get automatic updates when new content is ready to stream, or when the price drops.
|Audio Output||Dolby Digital 7.1||Digital stereo over HDMI® and optical, Dolby® Digital Plus Surround, DTS Digital Surround™ pass through over HDMI® and optical.|
|Video Output||1080p||Up to 4K UHD (3840 × 2160) on 4K UHD TVs also known as 2160p|
Up to 1080p HD (1920 x 1080) on HD TVs
Up-scales 720p to 1080p HD on 1080p HD and 4K UHD TVs
Up-scales 1080p HD to 4K UHD on 4K UHD TVs
4K UHD 60 fps HEVC Playback
4K UHD 30 fps VP9 Playback (YouTube)
Playback from USB drives
|Processor||Apple Dual-Core A8 chip||Quad-core processor for 4K Ultra HD|
|Storage Capacity||32GB/64GB||1.5GB RAM, Storage size not available, MicroSD expansion takes up to 64GB.|
|802.11ac MIMO dual-band wireless|
10/100 Base-T Ethernet
|Remote Features||Siri Remote|
Glass Touch Surface
Dual microphones for Siri
Accelerometer and Gyroscope
Lightning connector for charging
Rechargeable battery providing months of battery life on a single charge (with typical daily usage)
· Volume Up
· Volume Down
|Enhanced remote with voice search for fast and comprehensive result by title, actor or director, point anywhere use, headphone jack, and motion-control for gaming.|
Player includes IR receiver, compatible with various universal remotes.
Speaker for Remote Finder alerts
Lost remote finder using button on Roku 4
Plug in headphones for private viewing and listening
With special gaming button doubles as motion control remote for games.
· Netflix, Amazon, rdio, Hulu dedicated buttons
· Gaming A and B buttons
USB-C (service only)
|HDMI (4K video via HDCP 2.2 HDMI)|
USB port (Playback from External USB drives)
microSD slot for additional game and channel storage
Optical digital audio output
|Dimensions and Weight||Height: 1.4 inches (35 mm)|
Width: 3.9 inches (98 mm)
Depth: 3.9 inches (98 mm)
Weight: 15 ounces (425 g)
|6.5 x 6.5 x 0.8 inches|
|What is in the box||Apple TV|
Lightning to USB Cable
|Roku 4 streaming player|
Enhanced remote with voice search, gaming, and headphone jack
Two AA batteries (for the remote)
Quick start guide
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