Is Roku better than Apple TV? The answer may surprise you.

by Colin McGuire. 0 Comments

“This is going to be the biggest holiday season for streaming; it’s going mainstream.”

This is what Roku’s marketing chief Matthew Anderson told the New York Post‘s Claire Atkinson for a story that ran yesterday. The headline?

Roku takes fight to Apple TV in big ad push

“While Apple’s set-top box is the worldwide leader in sales, the two companies are nearly neck-and-neck in the U.S. market,” she wrote. “What’s more, the Saratoga, Calif.-based gadget maker believes it’s in a position to pull ahead. … Roku’s most recent report in April showed it had sold a total of 5 million players in the U.S. But Apple doesn’t break out its sales figures; as of May, its global sales were 13 million. Roku appears to have the advantage over Apple in the U.S. In the latest survey of U.S. households with broadband service that had recently purchased a streaming player, trend tracker Parks Associates found 39 percent bought a Roku box, compared with 26 percent for Apple.”

It wasn’t all that long ago that I took to this here corner of the Internet to openly ponder the thought of getting an Apple TV for Christmas. It was written in expectation of a “big announcement” that Easy A was preparing to unload. The next day came. There was no news about their Web TV product. And my tiny consideration melted away quicker than a Hershey bar on a lit stove.

Well, now we have this: Roku, the little streamer that could, giving Apple a run for its money. Naturally, this forced me to look into its recently released third generation product. Naturally, I’m now smitten with the Ravishing R. And naturally, I’m not the only one.

“Back in April,” Jason Weisberger of the website Boing Boing wrote last week, “I cancelled DirecTv and started using a Roku 3 as the main entertainment device in my living room. This week I got sick of my bedroom AppleTv and decided it was time to go all Roku. In a side-by-side comparison of the two units I sadly found the AppleTV to just be frustrating, while the Roku is a pleasure. … The amount of media available to explore on Roku seems pretty endless. The device itself feels faster and snappier than my AppleTv.”

Here’s the thing: It’s also cheaper. Starting with the Roku LT, prices range between $49.99 and $99.99. Between those two are the 1 ($59.99) and the 2 ($79.99). The 3, as you might imagine, is the one that tops out at just below 100 bucks. According to the device’s website, you get more than a thousand channels, including 50 news and weather stations, 150,000 movies, and — ready for this? — “the biggest selection of live and out-of-market HD sports.”

Not included? A definition for the word “Roku.”

Anyway, this is interesting. If the upcoming holiday season does indeed end up being The Time Everything Goes Mainstream, why wouldn’t you opt for Roku over the pathetically behind-the-curve Apple TV? It seems like every six months, we hear another report about another reason why we should all finally buy into the whole Easy A thing, and then that’s promptly followed up with … “Nope. Sorry. Not this year, guys.”

So … what if? What if this subculture does bubble over into the norm soon, and what if the majority of people turn to Roku as its best option? What if all this goes down before Apple can launch its product? And what if people become so comfortable with Roku that by the time the Cookie Monster unleashes his hounds, nobody wants to make the switch? Then what? Will Apple be left in the dust? Will any of it even matter?

The longer those guys refuse to take this initiative seriously, the stronger a grip other products will have on the market. Me? I’m already seriously considering seeing what all the Roku fuss is about. At 49 bucks, it’s a low risk-high reward thing. Even if it’s not all it’s cracked up to be, at least I know what it could offer (because even though it can brag about having more than a thousand channels, we all know how many extra costs will be tacked on if we want Amazon Prime or Hulu Plus, or maybe even Watch ESPN, which just came to the device recently). I mean, even if all it offers for free is some form of PBS, a few news channels and Fox Sports 9, I think it would be worth that one-time fee, no?

Either way, it’s now clear that this much is true: Apple TV is no longer a consideration for any Christmas list I’m about to make. Flirt all you want, Timmy Cook. I’m already spoken for.

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