Apple TV vs Roku Netflix

Yesterday, I did a twitter strawpoll to find out what people prefer, Apple TV or Roku’s Netflix device.

I received about 15-20 responses but they weren’t all captured by the strawpoll app. Even so, there was a clear preference for the Apple TV device.


I was leaning toward the Roku Netflix because I am a fan of streaming audio and video over file based solutions like the Apple TV platform. It seems to me that being able to plug into the huge library of movies and TV shows that Netflix has available for streaming is a lot better than buying movies and TV shows on iTunes and watching them on the Apple TV.

And, I’ve also heard many complaints about the Apple TV device. Including this one from my partner Albert on his blog yesterday.

The default mode of operation for the AppleTV should be to discover
this share and easily let me select a folder and view both the images
and short clips from that folder. That’s what my Sonos does for music
and it simply works — no extra effort required on my part.  Instead,
with the AppleTV I have to first route images through iPhoto, enable
iPhoto for my AppleTV in iTunes, select which albums to share and in
the default synch mode wait for the selected albums to transfer to the

I have argued on this blog a number of times that Apple does not seem to understand the power of streaming audio and video. They seem to be stuck in a PC centric view of the world where you need to have the files on your machine. That’s not the case anymore. Most TV shows are available on the web already. And with services like Netflix, movies aren’t far behind.

So I am scratching my head a bit over the landslide for Apple TV, but maybe I am missing something. Thoughts/comments?

#VC & Technology

Comments (Archived):

  1. khylek

    Only 10k movies available via RokuNetflix. That’s the biggest beef I have. What I need is for Apple TV to include a DVR + BluRay and I will be very happy.

    1. harsh shah

      I agree. The limited library is arguably Roku’s biggest problem. But a subscription-based model seems inevitable for the digital distribution of media. (Outside of the obvious ad-supported models that are being tried)Only 10,000. But at least it’s a start.

      1. gregory

        jeez, how many can you watch in one lifetime? …. quality is all that counts, don’t you think?

        1. Matt

          That’s right–so which 10,000 movies are available becomes a very important question indeed. Looking at my Netflix queue, only 11 of my first 100 films are available to watch online, so I don’t think the service is ready yet. I would probably not get the Roku box, since other companies ares working on their own Netflix boxes that may have better features.

        2. fredwilson

          I believe that the events of the past 10 years so conclusively thatconvenience beats quality every time

  2. danb

    For me the killer app is the podcast integration on apple tv… my primary entertainment source is now audio and video podcasts consumed through the apple tv… I think I have over subscriptions 150 now.

  3. Brian

    I think you have a selection bias in that apple fans are absurdly loyal and will vote in that direction where others might be indifferent. Also, more people have seen the Apple TV and are likely to have an opinion on it. (Aside: I’m a bit tired of the Apple closed system approach to hardware/software.) I totally agree with your view about file-based vs streaming though.On a different point, I feel like TIVO should be doing a better job in this arena. As home entertainment device with an internet connection that is already hooked up to a bunch of TVs, it really has a chance to get moving and provide a valuable service to consumers. Cable companies have eroded the value of DVR (and its subscription fees), but TIVO still has some fans who pay for it and it has added some features. Does no one use Amazon Unbox? Isn’t that basically what iTunes is offering and doesn’t Hollywood want to limit Apple bargaining power by having multiple providers? Am I way off base/missing something about TiVO?

  4. Joe Lazarus

    I don’t plan to buy either device just yet. I like the steaming concept and the simplicity of the Roku, but their catalog of digital movies is pretty slim at this point. Today, I have 137 movies in my Netflix queue, but only 7 of them are available for streaming (5% of the total). If my only options were to stream 5% of the movies I want to watch over Roku or to buy the files from Apple, I would go with Apple. If Netflix can secure the rights to more films for streaming, I’d switch my vote. I also want more than just movie studio content. I want access to Wallstrip, CNET Video Reviews, Moblogic, etc. Ultimately, it’s about the content.

  5. steveray

    I have the Apple TV and love it. I used to work in this space and have had literally dozens of DARs in my living room over the years. The Apple TV is better than the competition on the market for the same reasons that the iPod is better than its competition. Don’t focus on a feature by feature comparision – people thought Dell would kill the iPod by offering more features for half the price. AppleTV is an integrated solution (all major types of media work great via super tight integrations with the market leading services) that is really easy to set up and works intuitively. Fred, tell your partner to link his Apple TV to his Flickr account. Even easier than having a share folder.I did an in depth blog post on the AppleTV a few months ago.

  6. jeremystein

    i agree with bijan:…its a software problem. we just need a twitter for media, where your devices can follow each other and sending/streaming content back and forth is easy.

    1. bijan

      @jeremystein,thanks for the shoutout 🙂

  7. Ranjit Mathoda

    Netflix has a cheaper distribution system but has less content in that system then Apple TV. Personally I’m more attracted to Netflix’s model and have been thinking about getting the Roku box. I do think both are pursuing great strategies. I described the strategy in my review of Apple TV entitled “Skating to where the DVD player will go”:

  8. jhalickman

    If I had known of the strawpoll I would have voted for Roku, I have already ordered one. Being both an apple fan and net flix user I think I would get a lot more use out or Roku, it does something I can’t do now where the apple tv to me is just a wireless AV cable.

  9. smikolay

    I like that the apple TV is actually a fully capable computer (with some tweaking). If you’re willing to roll up your sleeves a bit, it is possible to get a browser and then Flash working, which means access to Hulu and the like (…. This means that you can get the best of both worlds (pay per view and ad supported). Granted, nothing is to say that this couldn’t be disabled with future updates, but for the adventurous, this seems an attractive option.

  10. jackson

    Apple TV? I’m way outta the loop. What does it do?

  11. mrclark411

    it’s about the content. Netflix (dvd) wins overall on the content side because of the variety. Apple TV wins in the device category because it has access to better movies (some might debate that).Netflix’s all-you-can-eat model is definitely better than Apple’s buy or even their rent. Jobs has said that people want to own their music because they want to listen to the same stuff over and over. But the same is not true for video. Netflix has proved that.Right now, I’m a redbox guy. I can usually get them for free. =)The problem for Netflix is that by the time they can get real movies licensed for streaming (a long ways out), Apple will have cornered the market.

  12. tim

    I have confused by your partners comments. They are wrong or really outdated. AppleTV streams and it does it very well. The first revision of AppleTV was very file/pc centric I would agree. But “Take 2” of the software release many months ago resolves what you think Apple doesn’t understand.Here is the thing about Apple that most other companies don’t have. The ability to recognize something isn’t working and changing direction. I’ve gotten to the point of almost canceling my Netflix service because I find myself renting or purchasing shows from AppleTV more and more.

  13. daryn

    i missed the poll, but I would have also voted for the roku.1. it’s cheap2. it’s simple3. i like the streaming model4. i like the subscription service versus pay-per-playComplaints about the 10k movie library are valid, but that’s clearly going to change over time, and it really just shifts usage to more of a browsing what’s available model than a get specifically what you want model. I likened it to a farmer’s market, where you might not always get your tomatoes, but you’ll always walk home with something to eat… Or, even like going to a local video store while you’re on vacation; if you want to watch a movie, you’ll come away with something. Hell, you might discover a gem you wouldn’t have otherwise considered. Plus, you still have your normal netflix queue coming in in the meantime.Also, to the point that it’s not open, and it doesn’t allow you access to x, y, or z: I’m happy with a simple, cheap, device that does one thing well. If I want access to photos, or music, or web browsing from my tv, I’d probably just buy a mac mini (maybe with your super-secret software one day!) but $99 seems pretty nominal for enhancing a netflix subscription I already have.That said, I’d love if it expanded to include other online video content (podcasts, hulu, youtube, whatever) but movies alone are a solid enough base to get me to buy in now — I ordered mine yesterday.

  14. Cosmin Stejerean

    I have a feeling you haven’t looked at the most recent revision of Apple TV. supports video rentals and does not require a PC. It also supports browsing photos from friends (via Flickr and .mac I believe) and can stream YouTube.

    1. fredwilson

      You are right. I guess I have to go get a new oneFred

      1. tweetip

        u should be able to upgrade yours for free : “But if you’d like to upgrade your Apple TV manually, go to the Settings menu and select Update Software.”

      2. lee

        as far as I can tell, you don’t need a new one. Just upgrade the firmware.From the apple website: “Already have Apple TV? Get all the new features — including movie rentals and more — in a free software upgrade.”…lalala

        1. fredwilson


  15. zachlandes

    Two reasons for the landslide.a. 15 votes isn’t enough data to get a real sampleb. Apple TV is sexier and much higher on peoples’ radars.Zach

    1. Michael Gaston

      There is a loyal Netflix base that will use the streaming feature to supplement the mail service. I stream those shows on my list that will never make it to my “two at a time” mail service (the dvds look better upgraded on my Hi-Def TV).I ordered a device as an impluse purchase – as will many other Netflix subscribers.

      1. zachlandes

        For my own anecdotal evidence, I will say that I know more about Apple TV…even though I have a Netflix subscription. But I neither one of these products is evolved enough to capture the market – we will have to wait another generation or two.

  16. hdunn2

    I think the Apple TV is more appealing for several reasons. First and foremost because of the expansion possibilities. I really believe that down the road we will see widget/mail/safari type integration with the Apple TV. Secondly, the Apple TV has more things on it that I’m interested in, mainly TV shows. Thirdly, the Roku route is actually more expensive for me, as I only rent about one or two movies a month.Finally, and I’m sure I’l be criticized for this point, I think there is a lot to be said about the physical factor. The Apple TV, IMO, is MUCH more attractive then the Roku and looks much better next to my television/media set up. Belittle it all you want, but I like my gadgets to look good, especially the ones that take center stage in my living room.

  17. Rohun

    a) sample size is WAY too small to be relevantb) Roku just came out and no one has really played with it yet.

  18. Jonathan Nail

    I think Roku has the right idea, however, it is a singular application. Yet another box sitting on top of all my other boxes. And that’s all it does.I’ve yet to get an AppleTV. I’m still hoping for an all-in-one box that will allow me to access Netflix, Amazon’s Unbox, Hulu (all Big Media downloads/streams), while allowing me to do all the things AppleTV does now without having to hack the AppleTV. I would love to be able to rip all my DVDs into one digital library (with a backup, of course), and still have the freedom to download or stream from other media services, other than just iTunes.But I will most likely buy an AppleTV in the next three months because I’m not seeing anything else on the horizon any time soon… And I love watching me some movies.

  19. stevenberlinjohnson

    Can you guess which one I’m going to vote for, Fred?I actually haven’t looked at the Netflix device yet at all, but I wanted to second the point about how much better Take 2 is compared to the original Apple TV. The HD video rentals are alone a huge breakthrough — it’s definitely the best way to watch HD movies right now, IMHO (though I realize the quality is slightly worse than Blu-Ray, and also that I’m an outlier in that I was never very good at dealing with the postal side of Netflix.)But the really cool, and telling, thing about Take 2 is that they fundamentally redefined how the product worked — with a free software upgrade! The syncing, the direct transactions with the iTunes Store, the general detaching of the whole thing from iTunes itself — it was a total rehaul of the product. Now, the original product definitely needed the overhaul — it was like a quarter baked, I’d say, when they shipped it. But it shows their willingness to really listen to the market and radically change paths when they need to. And who knows, maybe music streaming and subscription is next — no doubt thanks to this blog!

    1. gregory

      dang, here in india i just got broadband… thought i was cool now, able to watch youtube… but, no, there is an entire other mountain to climb

  20. Mark Allen

    I was about to buy a Roku box yesterday, when I realized I had all that capability in the Mac Mini hooked up to my TV running Parallels. It’s like an Apple TV and Roku and so much more in one box. I don’t understand why anyone would buy an Apple TV when you can get a used Mini for about the same price.

    1. Paul

      Abso-fricking-lutely about the Mac MiniI have a mac mini with more than 500 hours of video in the library. Ripped all of my DVDs and added the over-the-air (DirecTIVO) that I want to archive. I pulled out the 5 disc DVD changer – just use the Mac.I don’t bother with Parallels – I use WIndows for Excel and other work apps, but not at home. On my HTPC, it’s iTunes, Front Row, and Handbrake for ripping. I fail to understand why it’s not more common.Oh – I will consider an Apple TV for the second TV. Not yet, and I would consider a second, used Mac Mini if the Apple TV take 3 does not include a disc player.

      1. Mark Allen

        The only thing I use Parallels for is to watch Netflix streaming stuff in IE until Netflix releases a Mac-compatible solution.

  21. Greg Solovyev

    I still find TiVo/Amazon unbox combo more appealing than either AppleTV or Roku, because it is one box that does it all. It would be great if Netflix just created an app for TiVo.

  22. andyswan

    I love my Apple desktop computer. I loooovvvvveeeee my ipod touch. I thought my apple laptop was ok. I think my Apple TV sucks donkey ass.Stay away.

    1. Craig Bromberg

      What Steven Johnson says, and more: AppleTV already streams music, both from any paired computer or from any internet radio stations featured in iTunes. This makes Take2 a true music jukebox, giving you control (not just streaming) at your stereo system. For anyone who’s got a real stereo (or home theater) ATV delivers terrific 5.1 sound. With Airport Express, you can’t control what you’re listening to; with ATV you have total control, and can even import internet radio stations into ATV through an iTunes playlist (simply drag the radio station into a playlist and then instruct ATV to stream from that playlist). I suspect that a lot more people than are being counted are using ATV for playing their music, perhaps even more than their video (or photos). How many ATV competitors do that? (Btw, same argument can be made for Flickr which ATV also natively integrates.) It’s a terrific product, notwithstanding a few flaws (e.g., occasionally losing its pw.)

      1. fredwilson

        Here the fucking problem with Apple TV:³from any internet radio stations featured in iTunes²What about from any stream on the web, period?

        1. Craig Bromberg

          hey what’s with the f bomb, buddy? i was under the impression you want civil, constructive dialogue in your to “any stream,”–yeah dig you fred. i too want it all. but you’re getting way caught up in early adopterville. apple is about architecture not technology. if you wanna live in an open source geodesic dome, cool by me (and you’ll find a lot of other people who’ll join you). but the ipod’s success shows that many more people in the consumer marketplace prefer clean white, aluminum post-war buildings with a protective moat–ipods and itunes and iphones and maca. they want a simple interface and simple technology for what they rightly understand are lifetime digital problems.i find it odd that you’re cool chasing musical ubiquity at the expense of long-term strategic innovation. apple is not “donkey-ass” (again, what’s w/ the language, dude?) it is simply doing what’s right for the company and its users by leading them to a risk-adjusted solution that users seem to like, iterating towards imperfect but market-sweeping solutions. you are a latecomer to macs so i suspect that you have that pc gene in you that says, “windoze sucks so bad, we have to tear it down w/ homebrew strategies.” again: that’s the geodesic domes way. long term mac users recognize that they have a good product that keeps getting give it up fred: where do you want to live–a geodesic dome with hand pumped showers or a cool calatrava (or maybe that’s zaha hadid) building with the latest technology built into a systemic user-based solution? the choice is between the hard intellectual work of techne or the joys of starchitecture and convenience. they’re not entirely exclusive but you should see how different they are. apple tv is imperfect but it really is a sweeping solutiion for most folks who want great music (w/o spending a grand on a sonos/rhapsody solution) or a crappy netflix solution.

          1. fredwilson

            It wasn’t aimed at you. It was aimed at Apple. A company I love and hate atthe same time. They piss me off so badly some times and their approach tocontent is the biggest place they piss me off.Sorry for the emotion but it was real.fred

          2. Craig Bromberg

            i know you have investments in bug, but if you had ever worked for a hw manufacturer (although apple is hybrid hw/sw) you would know that the focus is moving boxes; software follows. take comfort, though fred. that’s the way the entire history of computing has evolved.if you have patience, apple will get there eventually.

          3. fredwilson

            I’d prefer to find the company that will beat them there and invest in them

          4. dean collsin

            I think the problem is innovative companies dont have access to content libraries…..and VC’s dont invest in the innovative hardware/software companies where you have to ‘rip your own content’ because of perceived market share.

    2. fredwilson

      I think apple sucks donkey ass andy

  23. pchristensen

    Because Apple sells PCs?

  24. Bill D.

    I had an AppleTV and it was a pain to set up… then I had to pay for what I wanted to play and wait for it to download.At 1/3 the cost of the device, then no additional costs for the movies for me, this is a no brainer.

    1. puggsly

      Sorry Bill but $99 is not a third of $229 ($199 refurb apple store) it is closer to half. As for the pain to setup, that is just ignorance. If you have a wireless network there is no setup (ok a password if it is secure). Ethernet is just a bit easier, plug it in and you are on the net.Now sure it’s more complex if you want to stream content from your computer. I mean you have to type in a 5 digit code into iTunes. Ok so not very complex but it is more!Roku has one advantage, which is a subscription model. If I could add a large back stock of older content to my appleTV for $9/month I’d be all over it as long as the content was not total crap (which much of the netflix streaming content is but still this is the one Ruko win)The advantages for AppleTV are a bit more:1) Exactly the opposite of what the author indicates, AppleTV has a vastly greater quantity of free streamed content via YouTube and Podcasts.2) Photo access. If you just can’t figure out your computer for streaming then get over it. Post to flickr and you are set. You can also get both photos and video content streamed from .mac.3) Quality. Even on the best internet connect Roku equates at best to the standard def AppleTV content. For me AppleTV was the most cost effective way to get HD movie content to my TV. 4) Computer Optional: I didn’t think I’d care about this because I like iTunes but there is something to be said for surfing your content directly from the device and the AppleTV UI is very good.5) New content. As much as I would like the back catalog, I want new movies too. Apple is making new movies available the same day as the DVD’s and has an ever growing catalog of HD content (currently 372 titles)6) Push Streaming. AppleTV also supports AirTunes so you can control it from your computer to push music to your home theater (and other airtunes devices). A cool side note is that when streaming this way your remote controls your computer.So between the two AppleTV gets my vote. And Fred, calm down and get a grip. Why are you bashing on Apple for not streaming everything on the internet but you give Roku a pass? Roku only streams netflix content! No ABC, NBC, CBS or HULU! At least I know the AppleTV has the hardware to allow Apple to continue to expand the product as they did with the take 2 software update. Hell, I’m more angry at netflix for not just negotiate a contract with apple to put this same service on AppleTV so we don’t have to have this conversation.

      1. fredwilson

        PuggslyIf and when apple makes it possible to stream anything on the web on anappletv or an iphone, I’ll calm down and get a gripUntil then I am going to keep pushing for a fully open platformIf I can do it on the web, why can’t I do it on an apple tv or an iphone?fred

  25. Antman

    Brand Fred, Brand! A professor of mine (James Schrager) at the University of Chicago GBS, liked to talk about image products, he would argue Cars, Clothes, Bars, Restaurants were all Image businesses. To be successfull you had to have the right image promote the heck out of it, cause it could end at any time. Traditionally, PC’s and technology have not been image businesses. They have been what he would categorize them as New Technology or Information Network businesses.I think Apple is turning much of the Technology world into an Image business, it doesn’t matter (as much) which is better, but which is cooler. Currently, Apple is the coolest. I don’t think they would loose any poll right now. Didn’t the I-Phone beat blackberry on ya poll the other day?

    1. fredwilson

      The iphone/blackberry poll was closeBlackberry is an incredible brandMy kids all want blackberries not iphones because blackberries are thecoolest in their worldfred

  26. md123456

    what about slingcatcher? (the sling media device anounced over a year ago and yet to be launched) obviously too early to know but sounds like it covers all the shortcomings of these other devices.And as a side note, I can’t believe that blackberries are actually cooler in your kids world, are you serious? In my world its the device for first year analysts and secretaries…that’s what’s going to ruin their brand I think…it used to be a status symbol, now its a status symbol to be important enough NOT to have one (but have an iPhone…a brothers got to stay connected somehow 🙂

  27. Jason Preston

    I agree with you on Apple’s backwards-looking model of video and audio. Back when Apple announced movie rentals on Apple TV, I wrote a whole post explaining how apple’s rental model is a full five steps backwards from where we’ve gotten to with Netflix.(Apple rentals are priced per unit and expire, whereas a good rental system is priced as a subscription, and limits the number of concurrent films available. Nobody in today’s culture should have to put the effort into renting a movie during the RIGHT 24 hour period. What happens if you have to run out for an emergency halfway through your film and don’t get back in time? Sorry, you have to pay again).OK this is turning into a longer comment than I meant.My main point is that while AppleTV is probably a sleeker solution, I would much prefer the netflix model for movie watching. I currently use Netflix streaming through the Media Center I have hooked up to my TV, and that works well for me.

  28. david hyman

    pretty logo.i can’t speak for both as i’ve only used appletv. they’ve done a great job improving it since launch. i can now buy music and rent tv shows/movies without having to have my laptop open requiring it’s access to itunes. their quantity and quality of movies for rental has massively increased. we actually use the thing!i also like using airfoil on my laptop to stream rhapsody to the appletv. slick.

  29. vovka

    apple fanboy motto: vote often, vote early, overwhelm all internet pollsNo internet poll regarding apple will ever yield insight.

    1. Scott

      Not supporting divx right out of the box is my biggest complaint with the apple tv. Having just hacked my friends I find it odd that I should even have to do so. The interface is nice but I miss features that my tivo had. Playback position remembering etc most importantly. Sometimes I can’t watch a show completely through in one setting. Hopefully some of the hacking community can build such functionality into their addins.

  30. Rob

    Streaming is not a good option in rural areas, like where I live, due to slower sat connections. Until something can be done about that, Apple TV seems a good option for us.

  31. chris

    Probably pretty simple anwser.The people who have Apple TV vote for Apple TVThe people who have the Roku vote for Roku.I’m still confused as to which way to go, but I’d strongly prefer $8.99 a month for unlimited streaming to $3.99 to $4.99 per movie!Chris

    1. junbug

      what i really like is netflix, i am a fan of apple since all my 4 computers are mac and i tried the apple tv but got to say it get expensive to rent one by one, what i got is a xbox and i have netflix included in, so for 199.00 i get games music and netflix and with the 8.99 a month i get unlimited instant stream movies, so i watch 4 movies in two days and with that alone i paid my subscription with net flix LOL so hands down netflix to save you money 🙂

      1. fredwilson

        Have you tried boxee on apple tv?