The Roku Channel Review: Free Content on Your Streaming Device

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The Roku Channel is a free streaming TV option.
Image Credit: Clark.com/Dreamstime

The Roku Channel is an on-demand streaming TV content option aimed at users of Roku streaming devices.

Have you decided to cut the cord and are trying to decide which streaming device is best for you? Roku products stack up pretty well against competing devices from Amazon and Google. One of the perks you get from adding a Roku device to your home is access to The Roku Channel.

The Roku Channel offers free streaming options for both movies and television series. The app has both live and on-demand streaming options. The free content includes classic marquee films like The Dark Knight and The Terminator, and provides access to several popular television series like Growing Pains, Who’s The Boss? and The Bachelorette.

Table of Contents

For the purposes of this review, I purchased a Roku Express to watch The Roku Channel via my home television. I also set up a Roku.com account, which is free and allowed me access to The Roku Channel via my smartphone, tablet and the internet. This review will provide a combination of information on the service and tips for using it based on my hands-on experience.

What Is The Roku Channel?

The Roku Channel is an app for watching movies and TV shows that is attached to the popular Roku streaming devices. Roku streaming devices and televisions come preloaded with applications that include the Roku Channel, but you also can get access to the content through smartphones, tablets and computers with a Roku.com account.

How to Watch The Roku Channel

You can watch The Roku Channel without access to a Roku device, but that may require signing up for a Roku.com account. Let’s look at the signup process and the devices that will support the content.

Signup Process

If you already have a Roku television or streaming device like a Roku Express or Roku Premiere you likely were prompted to sign up for a Roku account during your setup of that device. That same login information will serve as a login for The Roku Channel. You should already be signed in on your Roku streaming device, so it likely will not prompt you to login to enjoy the channel. However, you will need your login to access the content from a non-Roku device.

You can signup for a Roku account via your Roku device, or you can set one up without a device on Roku’s official website. Here’s a quick look at the type of information (name, email address, date of birth, etc.) that is required for signup:

You will be required to signup for an account.

On some platforms like The Roku Channel website you will need a Roku account to access the content. On others — like the Roku phone app — you can choose the option to view The Roku Channel as a guest.

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Devices and Apps

If you’re trying to stream The Roku Channel from your television, you will find it preinstalled on the following:

  • Roku TV
  • Samsung TV

If you’re looking to stream the channel on a television that is not one of the above, you’ll need one of the Roku streaming devices from this list:

  • Express
  • Premiere
  • Streaming Stick Plus
  • Ultra

You don’t need a television to access The Roku Channel. You can watch it via the Roku app on your phone or tablet. It is available on the Google Play Store (for Android users) and the Apple App Store (for iOS users).

You also can view The Roku Channel via web player on your laptop or personal computer through its official website.

Content Available to Stream on The Roku Channel

The Roku Channel has a content mix that includes live streaming television, on-demand movies and TV series, as well as access to premium subscription options. We have gone through the content library to highlight some titles that may be of interest.

Popular On-Demand Movies

As is the case for many of the free streaming TV options on the market, the library of on-demand movies is a little bit dated. You’re not going to find a popular new release for free on this service, but what you can find are several well-known titles that were box office hits at one point. You’ll get plenty of big stars, with titles that feature Will Smith, Christian Bale, John Travolta and Arnold Schwarzenegger, among others. Here are some of the more recognizable titles:

  • The Dark Knight
  • Concussion
  • Batman Begins
  • The Terminator
  • Memento
  • Caddyshack
  • G.I. Jane
  • Donnie Darko
  • High Fidelity
  • Miracle on 34th Street
  • Last Action Hero

Popular On-Demand TV Series

Having reviewed several free streaming services, I think this is actually one of the best menus of TV series out there. It has some very recognizable titles from several different genres and eras. Ranging from recent hits like The Bachelorette (even in limited seasons) and Cold Case to classics like The Beverly Hillbillies and Growing Pains, there likely is something to entertain most anyone:

  • Cold Case
  • Dog the Bounty Hunter
  • Who’s the Boss?
  • Growing Pains
  • The Nanny
  • Without a Trace
  • The Facts of Life
  • The Beverly Hillbillies
  • NewsRadio
  • The Bachelorette
  • The Partridge Family
  • Bewitched
  • I Dream of Jeannie

Popular Kids Content

  • Bob the Builder
  • Thomas and Friends
  • Teletubbies
  • Babar
  • Paddington Bear
  • All Dogs Go To Heaven
  • Barbie
  • The Pink Panther
  • Care Bears
  • Strawberry Shortcake

Live Streaming TV Channels

The Roku Channel also offers free streaming TV options with some recognizable outlets available:

  • ABC News
  • WeatherNation
  • Stadium
  • Newsmax TV
  • USA Today
  • Fubo Sports Network
  • Newsy
  • TMZ
  • The Design Network
  • Outside TV

Access to Premium Subscriptions

While a good amount of the content on The Roku Channel is available free of charge, there is an opportunity to upgrade and receive premium services through the app.

The following premium content providers offer subscription options through The Roku Channel:

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  • HBO
  • Showtime
  • STARZ
  • Epix
  • BET+
  • Noggin
  • Cinemax
  • Acorn TV
  • Lifetime Movie Club
  • Hallmark Movies Now

The monthly charges for these subscriptions vary by service and promotional deal, but the handy part about accessing them through The Roku Channel is that you’re able to manage them all right from your Roku.com user account menu. If you’re into paying for one or two subscriptions at a time and then rotating to a new service, having all of these options together to add and cancel in one spot could help keep things in order. It may also help avoid paying more than you intend to via auto-renewals.

User Experience

My experience with The Roku Channel was a pretty good one, relative to some of the other free streaming apps on the market. The advertisements were not nearly as bad a traditional television and the interface was user-friendly, clean and responsive.

How Bad Are the Ads?

It was my experience that you’ll endure far fewer commercials on The Roku Channel than you would with a standard television broadcast.

When watching on the Roku app, you’re able to track your progress with the commercials. The image below is of a two-minute commercial break I experienced during a movie. In the bottom left corner of the screen you’ll notice how the app was updating me on both the number of commercials remaining in the break and the amount of time left per commercial.

Brad Paisley and Peyton Manning were featured in commercials.

If you’re watching a standard 30-minute sitcom like Who’s The Boss?, you could see as many as five commercial breaks.

Sitcoms had roughly half the commercial breaks as movies.

However, my experience varied a bit with the sitcoms. During one episode, I had just one commercial break. It featured three 30-second commercials and did not appear until more than 17 minutes into the 23-minute episode. At that pace, you’re going to be enduring far fewer commercials than you do with traditional television.

When watching a full-length feature film like The Dark Knight, you can expect to encounter as many as 11 commercial breaks during the two-and-a-half hour run time. But, much like my experience with the sitcoms, I noticed that sometimes I did not actually see a commercial break at the designated spots on the progress bar.

Full-length movies have the most commercial breaks.

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The number of ads shown over the course of a movie appears to be time-related, as a shorter film like Caddyshack only had seven in a 1:37 run time.

User Interface

I found The Roku Channel’s user interface to be pretty simple to use.

Like many other streaming services, the content was broken down by genre. What I liked about this one was that the first three options were the most useful. First, there was a “Continue Watching” tab for content that you’ve already started. This will help you pick right back up where you left off on a movie, or can help create that “Netflix binge-watching” experience for the available TV series by letting you jump right back into the next episode.

The next two are “New This Month” — which had all the latest additions for easy browsing — and “News, Sports and Entertainment” live streaming TV options.

The Roku Channel has an easy-to-use menu.

Once you’ve determined you’re interested in a piece of content, you can find out all the pertinent information on it by clicking on the tile. That will give you a chance to review things like movie ratings, release date, run time, cast and a plot synopsis:

The Roku Channel menu gives descriptions of the content prior to starting it.

If you’re using your Roku.com account while viewing, you’re going to be able to resume your content if you had to stop before it was over. That would include switching platforms. So, for example, you could start watching a movie on your Roku streaming device and finish it on The Roku Channel’s website.

As you can in the image below, it offers you the option to resume viewing or play from the beginning:

The Roku Channel allows you to resume watching content at a later time.

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Tips for Enjoying The Roku Channel

Has some of the available content caught your attention? If so, here are some tips for enjoying it on The Roku Channel:

  • Sign up for a Roku account: As I illustrated in the user interface section of this review, being able to stop content on one device and pick it back up on another is pretty handy. Likewise, having it keep track of your current season and episode of a show you’re into will save loads of time, as well.
  • Purchase a Roku streaming device: This may seem simple, but you likely will get the most mileage out of The Roku Channel if you’re viewing it on your television. The Roku Express has a suggested retail price of $29.99, but can often find a better deal with a sale price.

Final Thoughts on The Roku Channel

Still trying to decide whether or not you should add The Roku Channel to your streaming portfolio? Here are some pros and cons to think over:

The Roku Channel: Pros and Cons

Pros Cons
FREE! Limited availability on non-Roku streaming devices
Surprisingly good movie and TV on-demand selection Must pay for premium portions of service
Live streaming TV also included Does not feature much new release content for free

Bottom Line: As far as free streaming TV services go, The Roku Channel is one of the top options. The need for a Roku device may be a turnoff for some TV viewers, but the level of on-demand and live free content is worth checking out.

Do you have experience watching The Roku Channel streaming service? We’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below!

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