Having a difficult time deciding which set top-box is for you? We’ve analyzed Apple TV and the Roku 3 side by side to bring you the most comprehensive comparison available. Here’s a breakdown of two of the most popular alternatives to conventional cable boxes and why one of them might be a better investment than the other.
Supported Video Applications
There’s no question, the Roku 3 offers many more streaming video services than any other set-top box on the market. If offers over 750 various entertainment channels including familiar apps like Amazon Instant Video, Netflix, Hulu Plus, HBO GO, and Vudu. Google’s YouTube app is however missing out-of-the-box, but it can be streamed to the Roku 3 using an Android or iOS mobile app called Twonky Beam.
If you want to stream another web service that isn’t readily available on the Roku 3, you might consider using the Plex server application on the Roku as well as your home PC.
Apple TV offers most of the major players in web streaming too, but not nearly as many as the Roku 3. If you’re an avid iTunes downloader it may behoove you to purchase this device so you can stream all those TV shows and movies you bought through Apple.
Winner: Roku 3 – Overall, Roku 3 offers a greater selection of services than Apple TV.
While there’s small variations in hardware configuration between the two set-top boxes, neither of the devices offers any real advantage over the other.
The only real notable difference is the Roku 3’s MicroSD expansion slot, which allows users to add additional channel and game storage, and USB port for connecting a portable hard drive or flash drive. Apple TV has neither of these options.
You’ll also find it a bit difficult to connect either of the devices to older, standard definition televisions. Although, Roku 3 and Apple TV hardware offers a nice set of features which can be utilized by modern, HD equipment, especially those more concerned with streaming content over their home networks and the web.
Winner: Tie – Both devices offer a similar configuration.
The Roku platform has made significant improvements to its user interface since the Roku 2, so significant that I think most tech aficionados will agree that the new interface is very well designed, easy to use, and intuitive. Search results are fast and return content that hasn’t already been installed on the device.
Any Apple fans out there will find Apple TV’s interface just as easy to use as most others. It’s clean, intuitive, and indicative of what most would expect from an Apple product. However, it should be noted that if you find yourself not particularly caring for Apple’s interface here you aren’t the only one. Steve Jobs didn’t care for the design either.
Michael Margolis, Apple TV engineer, said in an interview, “The new UI shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone. There is a clear effort at Apple to make everything match the look and feel of their popular iOS products – starting with Lion and increasing momentum with Mountain Lion … To be clear – [Steve Jobs] didn’t like the original grid. This was before the iPhone was popular and before the iPad even existed.”
Winner: Tie – Both user interfaces are well engineered and responsive.
Ergonomics are very important, perhaps the most important aspect of design nowadays, especially with the increasing use of touch and digital user interfaces. However, that isn’t an issue here. We’re talking about remote controls. So what makes a good remote?
I say simplicity.
Between the Apple TV and Roku 3 remotes, Apple wins hands down for simple design. There aren’t any unnecessary buttons, it feels good in the hand, and it clearly was designed to complement the user interface.
That being said, the Roku 3’s remote has a nice little headphone jack feature which could be very useful for those that want to enjoy a late night movie without bothering a spouse or roommate.
Winner: Tie – Both remotes offer features which consumers can find value in.
Mobile Device Integration.
Because, come on, who doesn’t like using their smartphone as a remote control? The mobile applications offered by each manufacturer are well developed and are very useful for browsing available content and launching applications than anything else.
If you’re an Apple fan, it’s worth noting that the inclusion of Apple’s Airplay might be enough to merit buying Apple TV rather than the Roku 3. Having the ability to push videos and games stored on an iPhone or iPad directly to you TV is a great feature, especially if you’ve already invested in a mountain of downloads from iTunes.
Winner: Apple TV – Airplay makes Apple TV a winner in this category.
As for price, you’rre looking at a dollar difference before tax. The Roku 3 retails for $99.99 and Apple TV retails for a flat $99. So no real huge difference there.
Again, if you’ve invested in a significant amount of iTunes material, if may behoove you to purchase Apple TV, otherwise it’s really a tossup between these two products.
Winner: Tie – Both devices retail for the same price.
At the end of the day it comes down to one thing, consumer preference. There aren’t any significant variations in these products so as to merit one better than the other. They both bring quality features to the table.
So what’s your take? Are you planning on buying Apple TV or the Roku 3?
Chase Williams is a serial entrepreneur, professional procrastinator, dreamer, explorer and risk taker. He's been weightless aboard a NASA C9-B aircraft and his head hasn't quite come back down from the upper-atmosphere. To keep up with his low-oxygen chatter, follow him on Twitter @ChaseHWill