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. Compare these options with our review of the Roku SE unveiled (specs, price and release date).

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 aren’t sold by either of these streaming devices, you should also look at our review of the Google chromecast.

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.

User Interface

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.

Remote Control

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.

Additional Features

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?

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  1. From all the comments below and also a die-hard streaming tv user:
    Apple: locked into it’s own proprietary formats and devices
    Roku: Anything to anything

    I have Win machines, XBOX with and without XBMC, SmartTV, PS3 and Android devices. They all connect to each other with no hassles. Beats proprietary formats any time.

  2. Do either have some sort of internal browser program or do you connect IPAD or laptop to it and browze from there?

  3. I’m looking forward to performing my own head-to-head comparison between Roku3 and AppleTV… I bought the Roku3 a few months ago and I should be getting an AppleTV thanks to Pepsi (Iconic Summer contest). I will be using the AppleTV on the same system my PS3 is connected to. I’m not a big fan of the PS3’s GUI, but it at least does Amazon Instant Video (which I use almost as much as Netflix). I have contemplated PURCHASING an AppleTV because of AirPlay, but considering that is the ONLY reason, I couldn’t justify the expense. Thankfully now, I don’t have to pay for it.

    1. I was wondering what you thought Ron once you compared the two. Still stuck on which once to buy. I have an IPhone and IPAD. I have use ITUNES for all my music and I have lots that I want to stream to my TV and I want to be able to stream basic channels like ABC and Sports stuff mostly with a movie form HULU or NETFLIX every so often. I love the RoKU3 and would probably get it but not sure how it will work for all my photos, UTUB Videos and ITUNEs streaming. Any suggestions

  4. And still no mention of the ability to mirror from an Ipad/Iphone/Macbook to the Apple TV. This feature in my mind puts the Roku at a severe disadvantage.

    1. Completely agree. I gave up trying to convert all my movies and tv shows to iTunes format for import when I found how easy it was to play absolutely any format through Airplay via my MacBooks’ VLC player. A click of an icon and it all comes up on my TV with my MacBook becoming the ultimate remote that absolutely plays EVERYTHING.

      I would like to try out the Roku 3 one day for my mum as she doesn’t have a MacBook nor is she all that technical. However I will have to wait until they release one that is not limited to the US 110V power standards.

  5. For me, this was a helpful review.

    The reviews here give me more perspective on how the only type of person as annoying as a psycho Apple devotee is a die-hard anti-Apple psycho. I’m not a huge Apple fan, but I do admire what they do well and give them props for it.

  6. Also forgot to mention it is MUCH harder playing media with different DRM on an apple tv. They lock you into apple store for a reason. Roku allows a lot more freedom. Was this written on an iPad, uploaded and edited on an iMac, and then you called a friend to tell them your post was online via an iPhone?

  7. How are they a tie?

    You said yourself, the Roku’s hardware is basically the same…oh, except for the fact it has both MicroSD AND a USB port. In what universe is that a tie?

    Why the hell does Apple “win hands down” on their remote? You forgot to mention the Roku’s has a headphone jack, a real game controller, AND it’s a Wii-style wand for gaming, AND it’s still an incredibly simple, easy to use remote (unlike the *over* simplified Apple remote that’s actually harder to use). The Apple TV remote is a joke in comparison by any sane measure.

    Apple’s ONLY advantage, if you can call it that, is Airplay. Never mind that between Plex and PlayTo you can stream ANY format from ANY computer, tablet, or phone to a Roku. Completely unlike Apple’s very strict and limited format list with Airplay.

    When the dust has settled the Apple TV offers a fraction of the value of a Roku at the same price point.

    1. OK, we get it….you don’t like Apple. But at least slow down and read the article. Which did NOT say that “Apple wins hands down on their remote.” Only on simplicity. Not overall.

      1. I love APple: have been using only their computers (and later phones) for as long as they have existed. And I cannot see how I would possibly buy an Apple TV over a Roku (a decision I’m making now). They both come close on many features… except the content options on the Roku should add about 20 points in the final “5 vs 5” comparison. When one smashes the other in one category, how does that give it a mere one point?

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