Most TVs are 'smart' these days, but their interfaces can be clunky and they don't always offer access to all the latest video streaming apps in the highest quality possible. That's where plug-in streaming devices come in. These popular gadgets simply connect to your TV's HDMI port and open up a vast world of entertainment including on-demand films, TV shows, music and games.
Two of the biggest players in the game are Apple and Roku. If you're on a budget, you'll find that Roku makes a range of video streaming devices – the Roku Express (HD), Roku Premiere (4K) and Roku Streaming Stick+ (4K).
Roku has some serious competition from Apple, though. The tech giant's video streaming devices, the Apple TV (HD) and Apple 4K TV (4K), come packed with state-of-the-art features. But then, they're significantly pricier than the Rokus...
So, what are the pros and cons of these streaming platforms? Which one offers the best value for money? And which delivers the biggest and best choice of video streaming apps?
Read on as we compare the best-value propositions from the two brand's streaming device line-up, the Apple TV 4K and Roku Streaming Stick+...
On a budget? The Roku Streaming Stick+ costs £49.99 ($49.99, AU$130). That's excellent value for a streaming stick that supports 4K and HDR10. (It should be noted that we prefer the Streaming Stick+ to the slightly cheaper 4K-capable Roku Premiere.)
The Apple TV 4K costs a lot more: prices start at £179 ($179, AU$210) for the 32GB model, or £199 ($199, AU$280) for the 64GB unit. It's a lot pricier than the Roku, then, although the Apple box does offer storage, better picture-enhancing technology and more sophisticated features – as we'll get onto shortly.
Winner: Both offer value for money, but the Roku Streaming Stick+ is significantly more affordable
The Apple TV 4K is a sophisticated video streamer and a 2019 What Hi-Fi? Award-winner to boot. One of its big selling points and differentiators to the Roku is its impressive library of 4K HDR rental movies. Best of all, most can be bought for the same price as the HD versions.
As you'd expect, Apple's user interface is polished, classy and completely free of adverts. Inside the iOS-style app store, you'll find every major video streaming app including Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, Disney+, Apple TV+, Now TV and YouTube TV. US-only apps include Vudu, Showtime, HBO, Sling TV and AT&T TV.
The Roku Streaming Stick+ might not be able to compete with Apple's vast 4K HDR movie library, but it offers access to far more apps (of varying quality). In addition to all the major apps listed above, as supported by the Apple TV 4K, Roku adds a host of lesser-known streaming apps. There's also a free, ad-supported Roku TV streaming channel, which promises 10,000 movies and TV episodes.
The Roku is a far more compact, stick-like device that plugs directly into your TV's HDMI port. It's also USB-powered so you don't have to plug it into a power socket, making it arguably more convenient than the chunkier Apple TV 4K box. Neither of these streamers has a USB port for connecting an external hard drive, but the Apple TV 4K comes with on-board storage (32GB or 64GB), too.
Both devices offer voice search that works well, but Apple TV 4K sets itself apart with a very nice Siri remote complete with a glass touch surface. You can choose to charge it via Lightning cable, whereas the Roku remote requires AAA batteries. Also, you can ask Siri any question, whereas your voice only works to search the content on the Roku.
One clever feature offered by Roku is the Private Listening Mode, which allows you to play sound through the Roku smartphone app: useful if you have housemates or want to keep the noise down.
As for gaming, Roku serves up over a hundred games to download. They're relatively simple compared to the richer gaming options offered by Apple, where you'll find titles such as Grand Theft Auto 3.
So which device offer the best package of features? The Roku is said to offer the largest number of official streaming apps on any device. And it backs that up with voice search and by being easy to accommodate.
For quality over quantity, though, go for the Apple TV 4K... if you can afford it. It serves up more premium features, including better voice search, more sophisticated casting (from your Mac, iPad or iPhone to your Apple TV), higher quality gaming and the best selection of affordable 4K HDR content anywhere.
Winner: It comes down to your needs, but the Apple TV 4K has more premium features
Both the Roku and Apple devices support 4K HDR video and Dolby Atmos surround sound, but whereas the Apple TV 4K supports both HDR10 and Dolby Vision flavours of HDR, the Roku Streaming Stick+ only supports HDR10. So, if you're looking to watch compatible titles from the likes of Netflix, Disney+ and Apple TV+ in the very best way possible, the Apple TV 4K is the one for you.
When we reviewed the Roku Streaming Stick+ we praised its "crisp and detailed" picture, which clearly displays the difference between HD SDR and 4K HDR pictures. The Apple TV 4K, however, serves up a truly beautiful picture. Detail is distinct, natural and realistic; if you’ve not experienced 4K HDR from Netflix before, you’re in for a real treat.
In short, the pricier Apple TV 4K performs at a much higher level. It packs Apple's A10X chip and simultaneous dual-band Wi-Fi, meaning it's more powerful than the Roku. It can upscale content to 4K with enviable skill and precision, too.
The Roku Streaming Stick+ offers a brilliant 4K picture for the money, but the Apple TV 4K is the clear winner here. You'll almost certainly be won over by its impressively punchy picture.
Winner: Apple TV 4K
The Roku Streaming Stick+ is a hugely likeable video streamer. It's packed with features, a joy to use and comes with a simple, well-designed interface. It handles 4K content well for the money and offers the biggest selection of video streaming apps – even if some are rather obscure. The best bit? It's affordable.
If you're not dead-set on Dolby Vision support and getting the absolute finest picture quality, the affordable Roku is a fine option indeed. (Also consider the Amazon Fire Stick 4K, which is similarly-priced and supports Dolby Vision).
The Award-winning Apple TV 4K costs a fair whack more than the Roku, of course, but if your budget stretches it's worth every penny. It provides the best choice of 4K HDR movies available, on-board storage and Dolby Vision support. In short, the five-star Apple TV 4K is the best video streamer you can currently buy.
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