Roku, the popular set-top box, streaming stick and now smart TV line, just announced today (Dec. 19) that it's surpassed 2,000 channels (or content apps) for online video and music. Some of the recent additions that pushed it over the top include NatGeo, FXNOW, CBSN, Cosmobody, CinemaNow, Smithsonian and Google Play Movies and TV.
If the set-top box and smart TV battle is a numbers game, then Roku has won. Chromecast has less than 1000 apps of varying quality. Apple TV has about 50, and FireTV lists about 100 entertainment channels (plus about 340 games, which Roku barely has at all). Though entertainment is never just about numbers.
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Probably more important for Roku users is that it's expanded its universal search that lets you type in a show or movie title and see who all offers it. The service now covers 15 channels, including FOX NOW, CinemaNow, FXNOW, Netflix, Hulu Plus, Amazon Instant Video, HBO GO, Crackle, Vudu, M-GO, Time Warner Cable, Popcornflix, Blockbuster On Demand, Snagfilms and Acorn TV. Search has been one of our favorite features in reviews, since it saves a lot of time from having to drop into each app to look for content, and it potentially saves you money by unearthing the cheapest way to watch something.
Also in terms of finding content, Roku has introduced a channel, Roku Recommends, on which a host highlights what Roku thinks are some of the best news shows and movies. And the Roku blog (opens in new tab) regularly calls out new and notable offerings on its network. That currently separates Roku from its competitors: It's providing advice and tips, not just a piece of hardware.
Are 2000 channels better than 500? Not necessarily. As with smartphone apps, it depends on which channels a service has. It won't be long until even toasters have a Netflix app, and Hulu Plus is close behind. Lots – and lots – of what Roku offers is for very niche audiences. Lesser-known channels include Christmas Channel (celebrate all year) and Vibesworkshop.com, a community of Vibraphone players. Also many of the big channels aren't for cord-cutters. You need a cable subscription to watch the FXNow app and (at least for a while still), HBOGo and Showtime Anytime. (Roku just added those last two channels for Comcast subscribers.)
Then again, the Internet is for finding whacky niche stuff to watch, and Roku delivers well here. In writing this article, I've discovered some new channels to try out: CatTV is a must, I'm curious what original programs are produced for AtheistTV, and I wonder how entertaining WeedTV is if you don’t inhale.
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