Roku vs. Apple TV

Now that I have both in my entertainment center and have been using both for the last month, there are some definite differences between the two. I think you might be surprised with what I’m about to say.

The Apple TV kinda sucks.

That’s right, I said it. The Apple TV, as a cord cutting device, isn’t that great. Let me re-phrase that. The Apple TV, as compared to the Roku box as a cable TV replacement device isn’t that great. All things in context.

The Apple TV is brilliant for anything Air Play related. Click on the stereo, turn on SomaFM and send the output to Air Play. Rad. Same with mirroring the screen of **any** of the Apple devices in the house. A cool YouTube video to share? Send it to the Apple TV. Playing back music from iTunes works great. Viewing photos in your photostream or Flickr is equally awesome.

But that is where the awesome ends.

As previously mentioned, video playback is very slow to get started. This is a bigger hurdle than I initially thought. I find myself going to the Roku box still for the majority of video content. The Amazon app on the Roku has the same selection of shows, at the same quality, for the same price. Sometimes it’s even less expensive than the Apple store too. That and it doesn’t matter if it’s a 5 minute short or a 3 hour movie, it starts in less than 2 minutes and plays continuously without any stalls or skips. Something that can’t be said of the Apple TV.

One thing that is almost the same on the Apple TV as on the Roku Box is HuluPlus. This is the worst experience of anything I have ever experienced. The software is so poor that it usually crashes the device it’s running on **every other time** we start it. And with the continued dwindling of top-tier content being made ‘web only’, I’m finding less and less value with the service and will probably cancel it soon.

If you are trying to do some cord cutting of your own, I would start with a Roku box with an Amazon Prime account. Get the Apple TV if you think you would get some use from it with the Air Play. But if not, save your $100 for now. Same with HuluPlus. Use that money for your Amazon Prime account instead.

By Don

Lead bottle washer at, host at and tech guru for the MotoringFile family of sites.


  1. Where our AppleTV gets its most use – AirPlay. We haven’t even upgraded to Mountain Lion but we still use AirPlay quite a bit. I download stuff from the BBC using GetiPlayer Automator and then stream them from my laptop over to the AppleTV. We watch the F1 races that way and that’s how we caught the Opening and Closing Cermonies of the Olympics.

    You’re right it is a crummy option by itself to cut the cord with. But I don’t see the Roku (which we also have) getting AirPlay support any time soon. Just like I don’t see the AppleTV getting Prime Instant Video support any time soon…

    1. I’m with you on Airplay. It’s awesome for that. Even awesomer with Mountain Lion. Even from a Macbook Air. The screen mirroring is really really cool.

      I am finding that using the AppleTV for video play back using Airplay isn’t that great. When trying to stream a video from my phone, for example, to the television, the Apple TV has to completely buffer the video before it plays. Kind of a buzz kill when trying to share a funny/awesome YouTube video.

      I know the Roku would never get airplay support, and it would probably suck at it. I do see AppleTV getting prime support since they have added it to the iPad and Hulu to AppleTV. I don’t see it anytime soon though.

      One thing that the Roku does have that we use quite a bit is a thing called Plex. It’s a video server that runs on one of the Macs in the house to serve up movies and TV that we have ripped from DVD or, um, acquired. It also works better than the iTunes/Apple TV combo, even with the ‘server’ running on a Mac over WiFi.

      I had higher hopes for the Apple TV. I’m not getting rid of it, I’m just hoping it gets better.

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