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Best Roku channels 2020

Best Roku channels
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With the best Roku channels, you can watch TV shows and movies on demand from the comfort of your home. With one of the best Roku devices, you get access to a ton of channels, including power players like Netflix, Disney Plus and Amazon Prime Video. 

But with so many Roku channels available, it can be difficult to know which ones are must-have additions.The best channels on Roku include free and paid channels (some of the latter will offer a free trial for new members). During the quarantine, a few channels are still running promotions where you can watch them for free.

But the list of best Roku channels doesn't stop with the heavy hitters. Try PBS Kids for children's programming, CuriosityStream for science content or Twitch for free streaming of video gamers playing games. There's also a ton of Roku channels if you want to watch news and sports, too. 

A new Roku Live TV Guide is a great way to "channel surf." The grid-like feature allows users to browse free TV channels that are linear and live (linear means pre-programmed). The new Roku Live TV Guide is similar to the lineup you'd seen on a cable guide, with a list of channels down the side and the time slots across the top. It's an easy way to check out all the free live programming that Roku has to offer in addition to on-demand content.

The best Roku channels to add right now

Amazon Video (subscription and a la carte)

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Whether or not you subscribe to Amazon Prime, the Amazon Video channel is a worthwhile addition to your Roku. Those who dish out the $99-per-year membership fee for Prime can stream a large selection of movies and TV shows. Amazon Video also offers a la carte purchases and rentals, as well as a growing number of original programs, including the acclaimed Transparent and Mozart in the Jungle. For those who don't want a full Amazon Prime subscription, you can subscribe to Amazon Video only for $9 per month. Tom's Guide has also compiled an updated list of what to watch on Amazon Video, in case you're looking for recommendations.

Crackle (free)

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Crackle is one of the best Roku channels for watching free big-budget movies, provided you don't mind sitting through a few commercials. If you cut the cord on your cable subscription but still miss zoning out in front of cheesy action comedies, this app is for you. The selection at Crackle rotates frequently, but there are usually some memorable films, like Gattaca.

Netflix (subscription)

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Netflix pioneered the art of the marathon TV watching session, which earns it an easy inclusion in our list of best Roku channels. Whether you want to watch newer hits like Black Mirror, or classics like The A-Team, Netflix has something to suit your tastes. Netflix also boasts some of the best-made and well-received original programming, from Marvel tie-ins Daredevil and Jessica Jones, to revivals of popular nostalgic shows like Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life and Fuller House. Check out our guide to the best Netflix shows for a comprehensive view on the best of big red.

Disney Plus (subscription)

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Disney Plus brings Disney's massive library of content to the streaming scene. You've got animated princess movies, original Star Wars series, a good chunk of the Marvel Cinematic Universe and a whole lot of weird mid-budget live-action movies that you half-remember from your childhood. The service costs only $7 per month, which makes it a fair bit cheaper than other streaming services, too. Of course, if you prefer not to give Disney any more of your money or attention, that's fair, too; it's become a bit hegemonic in recent years.

YouTube (free and a la carte)

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YouTube is not a TV or movie channel in the strictest sense, but in terms of the raw amount of video it offers, this service is unsurpassed. You'll find a little bit of everything: original web shows, small clips from popular movies and TV shows, music videos, narrated playthroughs of popular video games and just about everything else, from paid movie rentals to much racier fare.

HBO Go/Now (subscription)

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While there's no (legal) way around dishing out a lot of money for HBO programming, HBO Go and HBO Now help make the investment worthwhile. These channels let you watch both past and current seasons of popular HBO shows, such as Game of Thrones, in addition to comedy specials and hit movies. While HBO Go requires an existing cable subscription, HBO Now is stand-alone streaming channel. If you're wondering why HBO Max isn't on Roku, it's because the companies are still working out a deal to include the new app.

Hulu (subscription)

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Hulu is one of the best Roku channels thanks to deals with major networks, including Fox, NBC, The CW and ABC, and it uploads new episodes shortly after they air. The service has past seasons of popular shows on tap, and even hosts the entire runs of nostalgic series like Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Daria. A handful of decent Hulu originals, like Difficult People and Casual, sweeten the deal. Check out our updated list of what to watch on Hulu.

FandangoNOW (a la carte)

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At first blush, FandangoNOW is extremely similar to Amazon Video. Roku's default movie and TV show streaming service is exactly what it claims to be: a way to buy and rent movies that's pre-installed on every Roku device. While the selection isn't drastically different from competing services, there's no reason not to try it, especially since it now provides a small selection of 4K films.

Apple TV

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Apple TV Plus brings a bevy of original content for $5 per month — even if it's not all that good. Viewers will be able to tune into shows like Dickinson, See and The Morning Show, starring actors such as Hailee Steinfeld, Jason Momoa and Jennifer Aniston, respectively. And if the shows aren't to your taste (they very well may not be), the Apple TV app also lets you access TV shows and movies they've purchased through iTunes.

Showtime (subscription)

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Showtime has produced some of the most unusual and beloved shows on TV, including Shameless, Homeland, Billions and The Affair. If you get the channel as part of your cable or satellite package, Showtime Anytime allows you to watch the channel's TV shows, comedy specials, sports events and movies. Alternatively, you can subscribe to Showtime as a stand-alone service, with access to all of the same content.

Sky News (free)

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Sky News provides live broadcasts for the United Kingdom, the United States and Canada. Although the organization originated in the U.K., it shares news that the whole English-speaking world can use, and it doesn't cost a dime. In addition to live reports, Sky News also offers cached feeds, allowing users to watch news highlights when it best suits their schedules. The channel provides live, 24/7 coverage.

CBS All Access (subscription)

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CBS All Access gives users access to CBS programming in real time, as well as an on-demand library of more than 2,000 titles, from NCIS to Supergirl to The Twilight Zone. The main draw of the service, however, is Star Trek: Discovery, which is the first new serial adventure in the series since 2005. It's an excellent show, and at present, there's no other way to watch it in the United States. Thanks to the new Twilight Zone reboot also available on the service, CBS All Access merits a mention as one of the best Roku channels.

Sling TV (subscription)

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Sling TV provides more than 20 beloved broadcast and cable channels, including ESPN, Cartoon Network, TBS and CNN. For those who want additional packages, from Spanish-language channels to additional kids' programming, Sling TV offers supplements a la carte. Sling TV is cheaper than a cable subscription and easy to access on a variety of devices, letting you watch your favorite shows in real time.

MLB.TV (subscription)

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With games almost every night and 30 teams to follow, baseball is not a sport for the noncommittal. If you want to watch recorded home games, live away games, live broadcasts, replays and more stats than you can shake a bat at, MLB.TV delivers. MLB.TV is Major League Baseball's official streaming app, and will allow you to watch almost every regular season game from every team.

NBA (subscription)

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NBA Game Time for the NBA app streams live basketball games for subscribers, but also has a little something for more casual courtside warriors. Through this app, fans can access live scores, team and player stats, game recaps, video highlights and up-to-the-minute information on league standings. However, be warned that the app generally can't stream local games, due to media company broadcasting restrictions.

WatchESPN (subscription)

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If you can't pick just one sport to follow, WatchESPN has you covered. Although WatchESPN requires a cable or satellite subscription, you'll get plenty of bang for your buck. The channel allows you to access ESPN, ESPN 2, ESPN 3, ESPNU, ESPNews and ESPN Deportes live, 24/7. You'll also be able to stream recorded games from professional football, baseball, basketball, tennis and more.

NFL (subscription)

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If you have both a Roku device and an obsession with American football, the NFL app is one of the best Roku channels for you. By default, the channel can play a number of free game highlights. With a Game Pass subscription and the NFL app, sports fans can watch every game from every team, all season long, right on their Rokus, from the opening skirmishes right up to the Super Bowl.

Pandora (free or subscription)

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You've almost certainly used Pandora before. Whether you want background music for your household tasks or the soundtrack for a party, Pandora delivers. The concept is simple: enter a bunch of artists or songs that you like, then Pandora will analyze their commonalities and create a radio channel that suits your taste. You can even create multiple stations to suit various moods, tastes and events.

Spotify (subscription)

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Spotify is fun way to listen to songs or entire albums from almost every major musical act of the last 100 years, from Mississippi John Hurt to the Rolling Stones to Katy Perry. Whether your tastes skew to classical, blues, rock, pop, punk, techno or show tunes, Spotify probably has what you're looking for. You can even supplement it with music from your own collection.

Disney Channel (subscription)

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Roku's Disney Channel won't do you much good unless you already have a cable or satellite subscription, but if you do, it's one of the best Roku channels for kids. Disney Channel offers both live programming and prerecorded shows, ranging from Elena of Avalor to Girl Meets World. The channel also provides original made-for-TV movies, such as Descendants. There's not much for adults, though.

PBS Kids (free)

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PBS has always prided itself on supplying quality programming without advertisements or cable subscriptions, and PBS Kids is no exception. The shows on the PBS Kids Roku app definitely skew toward a younger audience, with titles like Curious George and Sesame Street. Parents may be pleased to discover that classic shows they grew up with, such as Arthur and The Electric Company, are also present and accounted for.

PlayOn (subscription)

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PlayOn uses your computer as a media server, and lets your Roku access more than 60 channels through it, including broadcast TV websites, such as ABC, Fox and CBS. This allows you to watch free primetime shows on your TV just a few days after they first air. PlayOn also lets you record videos online for later. Follow the link to install; it's a private channel.

Plex (subscription)

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If you'd rather watch your own content than the highly curated fare on the other best Roku channels, Plex is one of the simplest and prettiest ways to do it. Plex will organize all of your content and stream it to your Roku, complete with seasons, cover art, episode descriptions and even a snippet of the theme song for TV shows. The app makes watching your own content just as visually appealing as watching Netflix.

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Twitch (free)

If you prefer watching video games to playing them, Twitch is the channel for you. The popular network is the Internet’s first stop for live streams of video games, and you’ll see everything from Overwatch to Dark Souls to Pokémon. Whether you want Let's Plays, tips and tricks or competitive play, Twitch has a streamer to appeal to both your skill level and your taste in personality.

Starz (subscription)

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While perhaps not as popular as HBO or Showtime, Starz still has a lot to offer. Whether you subscribe to it as a stand-alone service or activate it through your cable or subscription, you can access hit shows like Blunt Talk and Ash vs. Evil Dead. The biggest advantage of Starz, though, is that it's often the first service to get hit movies like Star Wars: The Force Awakens.

CuriosityStream (subscription)

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Imagine the informative, scientific entertainment of the Discovery Channel or National Geographic in their heydays; now imagine it in 4K. That's what CuriosityStream is, and it's absolutely worth the subscription cost. Whether you want to learn about nature, chemistry, geology or astrophysics, CuriosityStream has something to expand your mind. Deep Time History, which combines astronomy with world history, is particularly worth checking out.

The Weather Network (free)

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While you're probably not going to get immersed in The Weather Network and watch it for hours on end, it's still pretty useful to know exactly what the weather is in your neighborhood, and how it's going to change over the course of the next few hours or days. The Weather Network is a free channel that shows you local weather, as well as conditions all around the world. You can check in with numerical information displayed up top, or watch full videos from meteorologists.

Vudu (a la carte)

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Vudu may seem like just another a-la-carte service, selling you movies and TV shows that you can either rent or keep at premium prices. However, Vudu has a few major advantages that makes it one of the best channels on Roku. First of all, if you've bought any Blu-rays within the past few years, you may have redeemed your digital copies on Vudu, giving you a pretty respectable library to start with. Furthermore, the service offers 4K HDR content — something that not many other video streaming services do just yet.

The Roku Channel (free)

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No discussion of the best Roku channels would be complete without the titular one. The Roku Channel may not have the largest selection of movies and TV shows — but said movies and TV shows won't cost you a penny, which seems like a fair trade-off. This channel offers a rotating selection of media, including popular films like Legally Blonde and Drunken Master, supported by periodic ads, as though you were watching a movie on basic cable. Roku has also added a Kids and Family section to the channel, providing friendlier fare for a younger crowd.

Google Play TV and Movies (a la carte)

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If you have an Android phone or tablet, there's a good chance that you've bought some media on Google Play TV and Movies. (Even if you haven't, Google may have given you a few titles for free; it's worth checking out.) Google Play TV and Movies lets you buy or rent a la carte films and TV episodes, and in that respect, it's a lot like Amazon, Vudu and some other entries on this list. However, Google Play's big advantage is that it syncs extremely well with the Movies Anywhere program. This lets you access titles you've purchased from a variety of sources, including iTunes — which, of course, does not have a Roku app, and probably never will. You can also access titles you purchase here on any Android device, which is helpful if you want to take your content with you.

DC Universe (subscription)

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DC Universe is worth checking out, if only because it offers something unique. At first blush, DC's streaming service is simply a way to showcase a few original video titles, such as Titans and Harley Quinn. Dig a little deeper, though, and you'll find that it's also a grand repository of beloved DC movies and TV shows, from Christopher Reeve's Superman to Batman: The Animated Series. What really sets DC Universe apart, though, is that it doesn't restrict itself to video; it also offers comic books. From nostalgic single issues of Wonder Woman to postmodern deconstructions like The Dark Knight Returns, DC Universe offers fans a way to see what inspired its new shows firsthand.