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Roku 2 vs. Apple TV: Choosing the Right Streamer for Clients

7 key questions to ask clients about usage, along with comparisons of hardware, interfaces, setup and content between the Roku 2 and Apple TV, will help integrators select the best option for the application.


Apple TV vs. Roku 2 XS media streamers

About 10 different $99 streaming boxes are in the market today, with the two most popular being the Roku 2 and Apple TV. Here’s a comparison on how the boxes stack up, the pros and cons of each and the factors you should use to determine which $99 streamer integrators should buy for your clients. You might not make margin on the products themselves, but plenty of integrators install them as a service for their customers.

While Roku currently has four different models of boxes available on the market, ranging in price from $49 to $99, this post will compare the $99 Roku 2 XS to the $99 Apple TV.

To date (as of September 2012), Apple has sold over 6 million of its $99 Apple TV devices and Roku has sold more than 3 million globally. Based on available industry data, they are the No. 1 and No. 2 selling $99 boxes in the market today. It’s no wonder considering both boxes come loaded with features including HDMI out, 802.11n Wi-Fi, an Ethernet jack and support for 5.1 surround sound and 1080p video.

Both boxes are about the same in size (Roku 2: 0.9 x 3.3 x 3.3 inches vs. Apple TV: 0.9 x 3.9 x 3.9 inches) and consume very little in the way of power (Roku 2W, Apple TV 6W). Each box comes with a 90-day warranty and a simple power cord with no power brick. You can add an extra one-year warranty to the Apple TV for $29 or $15 for the Roku 2. While both are great streamers with very similar hardware, there is one big compatibility difference between the two that could determine which one you should buy for your clients.

If you plan to hook the box up to a newer TV with built-in HDMI, then both boxes are a great choice. But if you are connecting to an older TV without HDMI, the Roku is your only option. Unlike the Roku 2, the Apple TV has no support for older TVs. The Roku 2 XS supports older TVs and provides 480i video quality via composite video and has support for analog stereo via left/right/composite video RCA, thanks to a mini-jack. So if a client has an older TV with no support for HDMI, the Roku 2 is the box to spec. Two other hardware advantages the Roku 2 has over the Apple TV are a microSD card slot for additional game and channel storage and a USB port.

While the Apple TV has a micro USB port, it cannot be used to play back local content via a USB device. The port is only used by Apple for servicing the unit. Since the first generation of the Apple TV device was released (the 720p model), many have speculated that Apple would enable the mini USB port to allow users to play back local content. However, nearly two years later, that has not happened. Roku’s USB port can be used to play back content from a USB hard drive or thumb drive and supports MP4 (H.264) and MKV (H.264) content only. So if you have content in these formats and want the option to play back some local content, the Roku 2 is the box to choose. The Apple TV box has an optical audio port and the Roku 2 XS doesn’t, so that might be important for those who want to use these boxes for audio content more than video.

Setup/Wi-Fi Strength
Both boxes are easy to set up, passing my "mom test," which involved me giving her each of these boxes to set up on her own. Roku’s box takes a bit longer to set up than the Apple TV as Roku requires users to go to on a computer to enter all of the contact information and credit card details. While Roku only collects credit card data to have it on file in case the owner makes any content purchases via the Roku Channel Store, many have voiced their complaints that it is an unnecessary step in the setup process. Currently, there is no way to skip entering the credit card details in the setup process, so if this is a problem, stick with the Apple TV, which doesn’t require any credit card details during setup.

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Article Topics

Blogs · Video · Media Servers · All topics

About the Author

Dan Rayburn
Dan Rayburn is EVP for and is recognized by many as the voice for the streaming and online video industry. He is a sought after analyst, speaker, writer and consultant who's work has been featured in thousands of articles by nearly every major media outlet over the past seventeen years. He co-founded one of the industry's first webcasting companies acquired for $70 million and has his own line of books with eight titles available. He is a regular analyst to the investment community, has his own blog at and is a principal analyst at Frost & Sullivan.

4 Comments (displayed in order by date/time)

Posted by Geek  on  11/05  at  12:26 PM

The next page link is an error

Posted by JohnA  on  11/05  at  02:05 PM

I have YouTube on my Roku…it is a “private” channel, but it works.

Posted by jbrown  on  11/06  at  05:24 PM

If music is part of the equation, both are horrible. The answer to the question of which is better becomes “Would you rather be punched in the left eye, or the right eye?”

Roku is slow, but at least you can use it with a NAS drive and no PC. Apple TV is fast, but many of its functions require your PC to be on and sharing to be setup. Neither one plays nice with control systems or has any kind of discrete commands. If you want to just listen to some music, it’s 12 button presses while looking at the TV screen. If you want to skip to the next song, you also have to turn on the TV.

If your client wants music, sell an Autonimic server and do it right. They will bitch about the price once and be happy for years. If you sell them a Roku or Apple TV, they’ll bitch about functionality weekly and will never be happy.

Jason Brown

Posted by SarahDudley  on  11/07  at  08:52 AM

The warranty information is incorrect. Both have a year warranty, the AppleTV includes 90 days of free phone support, like all Apple products. I don’t know about phone support for Roku, but I’ve heard they are difficult to work with for replacements.

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