What is Roku and how does it work?

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Roku is one of the most popular names in the category of streaming devices. You’ve probably seen it on Amazon and at Best Buy. What does this strange purple name and color scheme bring to your TV? Let’s find out.

A brief history of Roku

Roku was founded in 2002 by Anthony Wood. However, he did not spend much with the company for several years. Before the company released any products, he started working with Netflix in 2007.

The idea was to create a device that would allow people to watch Netflix on their televisions. However, CEO Reed Hastings decided to drop the project, and Netflix spun off Roku as its own company. The first Roku launched in 2008, still developed in collaboration with Netflix.

Many people consider Roku to be the first company to popularize the idea of ​​small, low-cost set-top boxes for televisions. As of January 2022, Roku has more than 60 million active users. The idea seems to have been well received.

What is a Roku?

roku ultra and remote on gray background
roku

“What is Roku?” And what it is a Roku?” are two different questions. Roku is the name of a company, but it’s also the name of the devices it makes: Roku TVs, Roku set-top boxes, Roku streaming devices, and Roku soundbars.

All of these devices serve the same purpose: to give you access to streaming services, apps, and games on your TV. The Roku device, whatever type it is, plugs into your TV (or is built into the TV) and displays the Roku software.

Roku set-top boxes are like consoles. They are small boxes that should be placed on a shelf or on the stand of your television. Roku’s streaming devices are much smaller, the entire device plugs into the HDMI port and hides behind your TV. A Roku sound bar is simply a sound bar with Roku software built in.

The last type of Roku is a Roku TV. This is a complete TV that has the Roku software built in. You don’t have to buy a separate Roku device and plug it in. It’s all built into the TV and you control it all with a single remote.

Essentially, a Roku is a combination of hardware and software intended to bring streaming services and other content to your TV.

How does a Roku work?

Roku channel on the home screen.
roku

Let’s talk about Roku software, the secret ingredient to Roku’s popularity. At their core, Roku devices are meant to be easy to use. That starts right at the “home screen,” the main screen you see when you turn on your Roku device.

The Roku home screen displays all the channels (apps) and games you have installed. They can be installed from the “Channel Store”, which is very similar to the Google Play Store or the Apple App Store. There are channels for Netflix, Disney+, Hulu, HBO Max, Amazon Prime Video, Roku’s own channel, and pretty much any streaming service you can think of.

From there, you can launch the channels and use them as you normally would on any other platform. For example, sign in with your Netflix account and you are ready to stream TV shows and movies on your TV. The Roku remote makes it easy to move around the screen and launch any app you want to use.

RELATED: What is the Roku channel?

What do I need to use a Roku?

roku 4k streaming device
roku

You really only need two things to get the Roku experience: a display and the Roku software. There are several ways to accomplish this. The most common way is with your existing Roku TV and device.

However, Roku offers plenty of options to make this happen. Starting at around $20, you can get a Roku Express, which is a small set-top box. One step up is Roku’s streaming stick for around $30-70. Next up is the Roku Ultra for around $80, it’s a bigger set-top box. At the top of the ladder is the Roku Streambar, a complete soundbar with Roku built in for $90.

If you’re in the market for a new TV, you can skip all these external devices and buy a TV with Roku software built in. There are plenty of Roku TVs of all sizes, resolutions, and prices. It’s super handy to have it all in one package, but it means upgrading your Roku experience also requires getting a new TV.


A Roku is simply a device that turns your TV into a smart TV. It puts apps and games on the big screen, easily controllable with a remote. A Roku is similar to a Google TV or Apple TV, but easier to use. If you’re interested in a simple user interface for watching Netflix and other services on your TV, Roku is a good place to start.