The Roku Channel review: Watch free movies and TV with half the ads

The Roku Channel review: Watch free movies and TV with half the ads
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Many people buy a Roku device to stream Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime Video or a live TV streaming service that they subscribe to, but did you know that there are free movies and TV shows right at your fingertips?

The Roku Channel has only been around since September 2017, yet it has quickly become a popular option for cord-cutters.

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Does The Roku Channel offer the best free movies and TV shows? We put the streaming app to the test! 

A few months ago, I bought Roku’s cheapest streaming player — the $29.99 Roku Express — and was immediately drawn to The Roku Channel because it brings content from multiple partners together in one easy-to-find destination.

Money expert Clark Howard says Roku’s free content makes it a better value than Google Chromecast or Amazon Fire TV:

“Don’t get the streaming stick from Amazon. It’s inferior to the Roku,” Clark said during a Facebook live on Amazon Prime Day 2018. “Roku is extraordinary. Nobody has come close to Roku on making television ultra-easy to watch.”

Haven’t experienced The Roku Channel for yourself yet? Here are a few things you need to know before you stream…

1. Buy a Roku device to get started

The best way to watch The Roku Channel is with a Roku streaming player or a Roku TV, although you can now stream on the web.

The cheapest Roku device is the $29.99 Roku Express that I bought at Best Buy. When I got home from the store, it took only a few minutes to get up and running with my new Roku.

You just plug it in, connect to your TV with the included HDMI cable, connect to the internet and create your Roku account.

2. What’s on The Roku Channel?

Once you get set up and can see the Roku home screen, you’ll be able to find plenty of free and paid channels to watch. The Roku Channel is one of the free ones, featuring live news, movies, documentaries, comedy specials and TV shows.

Here’s some of the content that I saw while browsing The Roku Channel’s entertainment library in July 2018:

Live TV

  • ABC News Live
  • Cheddar
  • Newsy
  • PeopleTV


  • Fury
  • The Tourist
  • Out of Time
  • Into the Wild
  • Braveheart
  • The Rainmaker
  • No Reservations
  • What to Expect When You’re Expecting
  • Clear and Present Danger

TV shows 

  • 3rd Rock from the Sun
  • Cybill
  • The Beverly Hillbillies
  • Forensic Files
  • Grace Under Fire
  • Alf
  • Blind Date
  • Sally Jessy Raphael
  • Unsolved Mysteries

The Roku Channel isn’t the place to find the latest box office hits, but you may find a blast from the past that’s worth watching again.

For anyone who has used Netflix or Amazon Prime Video, navigating The Roku Channel won’t be a problem. Programming options are organized by genre and there’s a thumbnail image to go along with every title.

I really liked the “Continue Watching” feature, which helps binge-watchers pick up right where they left off.

3. You will have to sit through ads…

The Roku Channel pays the bills by showing you ads, but you’ll only be exposed to about half the advertisements compared to traditional ad-supported linear TV.

When I watched an episode of “Grace Under Fire,” there were two commercial breaks with four ads each — a total of four minutes.

I noticed that The Roku Channel didn’t make me watch an ad before the show started, but the first set of commercials came a few minutes into the show and it seemed rather abrupt — not at the end of the scene.

After one break, Roku replayed a few seconds of the show that I had already seen before the commercials started.

4. This isn’t a complete pay-TV alternative

The Roku Channel offers a nice selection of movies and TV shows, but I don’t consider it a replacement for Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime Video or a live TV streaming service like YouTube TV or DirecTV Now.

If you have one of those pay services, you probably want new movies and TV shows — that’s not what The Roku Channel is about.

For cord-cutters who rely only on content they can pick up with an antenna, The Roku Channel or another free service like Pluto TV can provide an evening of TV nostalgia when all of the broadcast networks are running reality shows.

Do you stream The Roku Channel? Tell us what you like and dislike about the service in the comments below!

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