Apple TV vs. Roku 3: May the Best Little Streaming Box Win

Dr. Mac’s Rants & Raves
Episode #129


It’s no secret that Apple TV (Apple’s streaming media device) is a bit long in the tooth. Many Apple aficionados, including yours truly, expected Apple to announce an update to the venerable little black box at its Worldwide Developer Conference last month.

That didn’t happen, so I began to wonder if there was a better streaming media box available, or if Apple TV, which hasn’t seen an significant update since 2012 (though it did see a price reduction from $99 to $69 last year), was still the king of the streaming media boxes. I read up on streaming media boxes from Amazon, Google, and Roku, and ultimately decided that the new Roku 3 was the strongest contender. If anything was going to be better than Apple TV, it was Roku 3. So that’s what I’ve been using exclusively for the past month instead of my Apple TV.

First, Apple TV and Roku 3 are more alike than different. They’re both little black boxes that connect to your HDTV via HDMI, include a wireless remote, and offer an iOS app for controlling them remotely.

Apple TV

Photo courtesy Apple, Inc.

Roku 3

Photo courtesy Roku, Inc.
The Apple TV and Roku boxes are similar in size and shape…

But that’s where the similarities end. Roku offers more programming options and unlike Apple TV, has both a USB port and a microSD card slot for expanded storage. Another unique feature is Roku Feed, which tells you when new movies are available for streaming as well as which channels it’s on and its price. It’s slick and yet another cool feature you won’t find on Apple TV.

But while I found all of these features attractive, there were two more features that made it the king of streaming boxes (at least for me).

Feature #1 is voice search, which makes it simple to find a movie, TV show, actor, or director. Just press the magnifying glass button on the Roku 3 remote and say what you’re looking for aloud. Roku 3 quickly scans its myriad of streaming channels and reports which channels — free and paid — offer what you’re looking for. It’s simply brilliant. Although I prefer Apple TV’s user interface and onscreen navigation system in general, this feature makes it a non-issue for me.

Feature #2 is even more awesome: They put a headphone jack on the Roku 3 Remote! Just plug in any set of headphones and the audio stops coming out of the TV and goes into your earphones instead. It’s a fabulous feature and it’ll make your spouse or significant other very happy —ask my wife.

So, as much as I love my Apple TV, I gotta tell you that the Roku 3 is a better streaming media box in most ways. That being said, since I assume Apple is hard at work on the next Apple TV, here’s a word of advice: You better include voice search and a headphone jack if you want me to like it more than Roku 3. 

Unless or until Apple TV includes voice search and silent viewing, the Roku 3 is the king of streaming media boxes. Yes, it costs $30 more than the current Apple TV, but it’s worth every cent.

To be fair, Apple TV does a bunch of things Roku will never do, including AirPlay from iDevices and seamlessly streaming anything in my iTunes Library. Ideally, I’d like to keep both Roku and Apple TV connected, but there all of the TV’s HDMI ports are already in use. I can see that I’m gonna need an HDMI switch box (or a new TV with more HDMI ports) real soon. 

I do have one last thing and it’s a suggestion for Apple: You don’t need to put a headphone jack on your remote control, which I’m sure would insult Sir Jonny’s design sensibilities. Rather, could you just add support for Bluetooth headphones to Apple TV? That’ll make me (and I suspect a lot of other people) very, very happy.


Roku 3. $99.99. Roku, Inc. 

Apple TV. $69. Apple, Inc. 

And that’s all he wrote…