I might ditch my Roku for an Apple TV 4K — and it’s all thanks to video ads

(L, R) Roku Ultra (2022) with Voice Remote Pro and Apple TV 4K with 3rd Gen. Siri Remote
(Image credit: Henry T. Casey / Tom's Guide)

Over the years I’ve made no secret about how much I like Roku devices. Among the best streaming devices, they've been the perfect balance of low-cost, user friendly interface and relatively little on-screen advertising. There’s no escaping the commercials and self-promotion, but until now they’ve been fairly unobtrusive and easy to ignore. But that sounds like it’s going to change.

Roku CEO Anthony Wood has confirmed that Roku will be adding video ads to its platform at some point in the near future. While the scope of the changes isn’t clear, Wood did say that the static home-screen ad, which is usually visible when you’re scrolling through the app menu, will become the company’s first video ad space. 

Boy, does that sound like a terrible idea, to the point where I might ditch Roku entirely — and pay for an Apple TV 4K.

Apple TV 4K: from $129 @ Apple

Apple TV 4K: from $129 @ Apple
Pick up the latest version of Apple's streaming box, complete with a Siri voice remote and the ability to watch content with 4K resolution, HDR and Dolby Atmos. The cheapest model is Wi-Fi only with 64GB of storage, but you can upgrade to ethernet and 128GB for $149 — just $20 more. 

Ads are a necessary evil, but only in the right amount

A hand holds a Roku remote in front of a TV with the Roku home screen.

(Image credit: Shutterstock)

Many of the services we take for granted are funded thanks to advertising. Television channels, social media, newspapers and magazines, even Tom’s Guide is kept going with the help of ads. Streaming platforms like Roku are no exception. In fact Roku makes the majority of its revenue from the Roku platform, rather than hardware, and that revenue comes from things like ads and subscriptions.

I’d be a lot happier without having to see any ads when I’m looking for my favorite streaming service, but I’m more than aware they’re a necessary evil to keep the wheels of business going. And for the most part Roku has kept things reasonably tolerable. That’s one of the main reasons I’ve stuck with Roku over competitors like Amazon’s Fire Stick

There are things Roku has done that I really don’t like. The fact that certain streaming services get dedicated buttons on the remote, and there’s no option to remap what they do, has always been frustrating to me. Especially since the only button I have ever deliberately used was for Netflix, and I don’t watch a great deal of Netflix these days. 

I also dislike the fact hitting the Play button while the Roku screensaver is on screen redirects you to the Roku Channel — rather than resuming whatever content you were previously watching. At times it feels like a deliberate move to push you towards Roku’s own content, and I can probably count the number of times I deliberately wanted to open the app one one hand.

But as annoying as these things are, they always felt like the best available option. They certainly weren't deal breakers, and fit often feels like you get quite a lot for your money with a Roku device. The Roku Streambar is a great example, since it cost me less than $100 on sale and it sounds fantastic for a soundbar of that size. The advertising was just the price you pay for getting that experience for a lower price point.

Video adverts completely change the equation. Moving images are a lot harder to ignore, and while we don’t know any details surrounding audio, there’s always the chance that the ad could autoplay with sound. Being harder to ignore is probably one of the major selling points from a business perspective, but it also means those ads are more significantly more intrusive. And that may be a step too far for me.

Apple may be my ad-free salvation

The Apple TV 4K (2022), with the Siri remote propped on its right side.

(Image credit: Henry T. Casey / Tom's Guide)

I’m typically very easy to please when it comes to TV and streaming. I don’t need the best of the best, I just want to be able to watch something with a good picture, and in a way that doesn’t irritate me so much it makes me want to throw my remote at the screen. Intrusive and excessing advertising definitely falls into the latter, and the unfortunate truth is that it’s getting harder and harder to get away from.

Really the only streaming device that is still totally free from advertising is the Apple TV 4K. tvOS is a very clean, no-nonsense interface that falls into the same pitfalls as other streaming devices. The closest it has is a bunch of Apple apps pre-installed, but that’s not an Apple exclusive problem — and it’s easy to fix.

The downside is, of course, that the Apple TV 4K is a lot more expensive than a Roku player. $129 vs $30 for an HD Roku Express or $40 for a 4K Roku Streaming Stick. It just goes to show that there is a price attached to an ad-free streaming experience. And apparently it’s $89.

I have been wondering whether I should pick up an Apple TV 4K for a while now. Mainly because the quirks of the Roku OS interface are really starting to get on my nerves, and I know that the Apple TV box will give me access to everything I want to watch. In the past the touchpad-only Siri remote was a huge deterrent, but thankfully that is deader than a turkey on Thanksgiving. 

The only thing stopping me is the fact there’s nothing wrong with either of my Roku players right now. As irritating as some of its flaws can be, it still works just fine. It's hard to justify ditching a product that works perfectly well, and when the alternative doesn't offer a significant enough change for its price tag. 

Of course, Roku adding video advertising to its home screen may be all the justification I need. Especially if I can pick up an Apple TV 4K when it's on sale, and potentially save myself a few bucks in the process. 

Bottom line

Roku has only just announced that this change is happening, and we have no extra details about what the new video ads will involve or even when the change is expected to happen. Without that full picture I’m still hesitant to say whether I’ll definitely be jumping ship or not. That said I can’t imagine that any kind of added video advertising is going  to anything but annoy me.

For now I’m going to be carrying on as normal, streaming everything I want to stream through a Roku device. But I will still be on the lookout for deals on the Apple TV 4K, and if I spot any particularly good deals then I may be tempted to pick one up. Who knows, Prime Day 2024 isn't too far away, so maybe I'll make the switch sooner rather than later.

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Tom Pritchard
UK Phones Editor

Tom is the Tom's Guide's UK Phones Editor, tackling the latest smartphone news and vocally expressing his opinions about upcoming features or changes. It's long way from his days as editor of Gizmodo UK, when pretty much everything was on the table. He’s usually found trying to squeeze another giant Lego set onto the shelf, draining very large cups of coffee, or complaining about how terrible his Smart TV is.

  • Big Willie!
    Yes, also waiting to see the level of obnoxiousness coming with the ads. I wish they would offer a higher-price "ad-free" device but they won't. The recurring revenue from ongoing ads will always be more than a onetime fee can match. We will never be free from &!? $#& ads...
  • ScooterTrash
    I had an Apple TV hooked up to my amplifier that I never used. I was shocked to see it was one of the biggest users of bandwidth in my house! It is now sitting there unplugged
  • purposelycryptic
    Any Android TV device using a non-default launcher has no ads whatsoever, and you can just download one off the Play Store.

    That's what I did when my Shield TVs received the Google TV-like UI update, and what I did for my parents on their Chromecast w/ Google TV.

    If I pay for something, I'm not going to accept any kind of advertising on it. I paid for it, I'm not going to keep paying for it for all eternity by looking at ads.

    If there is no option for no ads, then you won't get a cent of my money. I wouldn't accept ads if they were actively, continuously paying me for seeing them.