Apple still charges a significant premium for its Apple TV players compared to streaming video devices from other companies. Mac 911 regularly receives reader queries about how to use some combination of older gear, AirPlay, and older Apple TVs to gain access to more modern streaming services, like Disney Plus, without paying that particular Apple margin tax.
My advice? If a new Apple TV breaks your budget, a Roku streaming adapter can provide nearly everything you need. It costs a fraction of the price of an Apple TV—and includes the Apple TV app. The Apple TV provides access to Apple’s media and channels store, any movies or TV you’ve already purchased or rented, and Apple TV+ programming (if you have or intend to get a subscription).
The Roku Express 4K provides HD (1080p), 4K, and HDR output for $50, includes a remote control, and can even receive streaming AirPlay, so you can still use it to stream media from your other Apple devices. That compares to a $179 or $199 Apple 4K TV (32 GB or 64 GB storage). (A $40 version, Roku Express, streams at up to 1080p, but doesn’t have AirPlay support.)
The main difference? Apps. Apple has a huge ecosystem of developers who create software for Apple TV, including Apple Arcade, other games, and specialized interactive apps. The Roku app line-up is focused almost entirely on streaming services and live television.
Apple also includes both Wi-Fi and ethernet as connectivity options. The Roku hardware only features Wi-Fi (Wi-Fi 5 or 802.11ac); you can get a third-party ethernet adapter for about $12 to $15 to use a wired connection.
Nobody can beat Apple for the richness of apps and hardware performance. But if all you’re looking for is straightforward streaming access, Roku might have the right features and price tag.
This Mac 911 article is in response to a question submitted by Macworld reader James.
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