Google TV vs. Roku TV: which is the better streaming OS?

Whether you’re looking for a new TV or a streaming device, the two leading smart TV platforms and user interfaces to choose from are Google TV and Roku TV. Both of these content and navigation platforms are excellent options, with many advantages in common.

For years, Google has provided the building blocks of smart TV brands from Sony to Hisense under that Android TV banner. Currently, the framework of the Android TV system is giving way to a brand new Google operating system known as Google TV. You’ll find Google’s latest OS running on Sony, Hisense, and TCL TVs, as well as first-party Google devices like Chromecast with Google TV4K and Chromecast with Google TV (HD).

On the other side of the OS coin is our other streaming friend, Roku. More than a decade ago, the Roku TV platform was featured in Roku’s line of streaming devices, allowing those without a smart TV to access hundreds of popular apps like Netflix, Hulu, YouTube and more by simply connecting a Roku player — no subscription required. Today, the Roku TV platform spans from the company’s stand-alone equipment to a host of smart TVs built on Roku’s streaming platform, with tons of features, apps and customizations to choose from.

Between Google TV and Roku TV, which smart OS will give you the best of everything? As experts and fans of both systems, we decided to break down each platform, weighing criteria such as features, available apps, and picture/sound quality. Read on to see which system is our final pick.

For this comparison, we tested Google TV with Chromecast with Google TV and Roku TV with Roku Streaming Stick+. The overall user experience may vary slightly depending on the type of TV or streaming hardware used.

Features and user experience

Phil Nickinson / Digital Trends

Right out of the gate, the Google and Roku TV platforms promise (and deliver) a user experience that’s packed to the brim with personalization options. This is prevalent even from the moment you first sign in to your new TV or start connecting to your streaming device. Let’s take a closer look at both systems, starting with Google TV.

Google TV

Unboxing the Chromecast, I was immediately prompted to proceed with the setup using the Google Home app. This is especially handy for those running their smart homes with the Google Assistant ecosystem, allowing you to easily add your new Google TV hardware to your list of existing devices. Even better, if you already use popular apps like Netflix and Max on your mobile device, Google TV will automatically add those apps to your Google TV device during setup.

One of our favorite features of Google TV is the way Google intelligently groups all of your subscriptions, movies, shows, and general viewing history into one unified home screen experience. Instead of a stagnant launch pad listing all your downloaded apps, Google TV kicks things off with a pre-selected tab called For you.

Google TV "For you" screen.Image used with permission of the copyright holder

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Here you’ll find row after row of recommendations for movies and TV shows, categorized by genre and various niches. Best of all, these are all entries pulled from the apps you uploaded to Google TV during setup, meaning everything listed should be watchable (since you’re either paying for a subscription or using a free trial). For those who want to experience Netflix or Hulu in full force, don’t worry, you can still run your individual apps. In addition, you can also buy and rent movies directly through the Google TV platform.

As part of the Google Home integration, you can also interact with your Google TV product (and other Google-compatible hardware) using the Google Assistant. For Chromecast with Google TV and Chromecast with Google TV 4K, a handy Assistant button on the included voice remote lets you call up specific movies and TV shows, ask questions, launch apps, and interact with other smart devices in your Google Home chain.

Another great feature of Google TV is the ability to “cast” content from a mobile device or laptop to your Google TV hardware. While Casting won’t fully mirror one device’s screen to another, the feature allows you to run audio or video on one peripheral and then quickly share it with another.

Roku TV

When it comes to Roku TV features, it’s fair to expect a lot from a streaming-focused company that’s been around for a long time. We’re pleased to say that the Roku platform definitely delivers … although the Google TV experience is a bit more personalized from the start.

When starting up your new Roku TV or Roku-powered device, most of your initial setup is done through the TV or player. New users will be prompted to create a Roku account. This is how Roku keeps track of which devices you own, which apps you’ve downloaded, which payment methods you use, and more.

Similar to Google TV’s mobile setup, Roku TV automatically imports apps you’ve used on other devices to your new Roku hardware. If you’re a first-time user, you’ll need to manually select which apps to add during setup or add them later using your device’s remote control.

Once you’ve created your Roku account, you’ll need to connect it to your Roku TV. From start to finish, it’s a relatively quick and painless process. After some initial firmware updates (same goes for Google TV), you’ll be ready to start using Roku.

Roku home screen.Image used with permission of the copyright holder

Compared to personalized Google TV For you launch, Roku TV opts for a slightly simpler welcome. Starting from Home tab, you’ll see all your pre-downloaded apps arranged in rows and columns that you can navigate through. Several cards, ranging from Featured Free and Cinematheque to TV shop and Streaming channels, act as filters for Roku’s expansive library of content. Borrowing or purchasing a movie, TV episode or entire season stores the purchase ua My movies and My TV shows shopping cart that you can access from any Roku device using the same Roku account.

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Where Google TV builds its own For you recommendations based on the apps you use and your viewing history, Roku TV is a little less intuitive. Yes, Roku TV will be able to recommend specific movies and shows to you based on your viewing history; but unlike Google TV, you won’t find recommendations from Netflix and other streaming apps.

Movie Store page for Roku.Image used with permission of the copyright holder

If you like using voice assistants to complement your viewing experience, you’ll be glad to know that Roku TV is compatible with Alexa, Google Assistant and Apple HomeKit. With Alexa and Google Assistant, you’ll be able to use voice commands to launch and control a handful of Roku apps, though not every app has full support for the voice assistant.

If you’re a fan of all things Apple, Roku TV lets you use HomeKit and AirPlay 2 to extend your Roku experience. Similar to Alexa and Google Assistant, HomeKit controls include play/pause commands, power on, volume control, and basic remote functions.

With AirPlay 2 support, you’ll also be able to “cast” audio or video from certain apps on your iOS or macOS device to your Roku TV product, similar to Google TV’s broadcast feature. Note that not all Roku hardware supports the full HomeKit/AirPlay 2 experience.

Both Google TV and Roku TV offer a quick and easy multi-step setup process, intelligent and customizable features, and robust voice assistant integration. That said, while Roku TV offers plenty, the endless options can be hard to digest. With Google TV, by default For you site consolidates all your subscriptions and personalized viewing into one impeccably curated launch screen.

Winner: Google TV

Available applications

The bread and butter of both streaming platforms, Google TV and Roku TV users have access to huge libraries of popular apps, as well as some third-party gems that may have escaped notice (an advantage one system has over the other).

Google TV is currently home to more than 8,000 streaming apps, including support for most of the major players like Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime Video, and more. You can add apps to your Google TV platform at any time by going to applications and selecting/downloading one (or more) of your choice.

While 8,000-plus is nothing to sneeze at, Roku TV users can choose from close to 40,000 apps. While many of these are official Roku channels, there are pages upon pages of third-party apps available for download as well. If you’re a fan of a certain movie genre (western, film noir, foreign horror), we guarantee there’s an app tailored for you and your niche in the Roku Channel Store.

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Roku Channel Store.Image used with permission of the copyright holder

In terms of breadth, Roku TV includes a wider variety of first- and third-party apps, including a channel library numbering in the thousands. Well done, Roku TV. You earned a point here.

Winner: Roku TV

Image and sound quality

Currently, Google TV supports Dolby Digital, Dolby Digital Plus, Dolby Vision and Dolby Atmos, along with 4K viewing at up to 60Hz. Note that if you’re using a streaming device powered by Google TV, only Chromecast with Google TV 4K will give you support for Dolby Vision and 4K/60Hz. Also, not every app in the Google TV lineup is compatible with today’s top video and audio codecs. If an app you love doesn’t automatically run Atmos, there’s a good chance that a future Google TV firmware update will allow that app to handle Google TV properly, allowing you to watch Atmos audio and Vision.

You can adjust the picture/sound settings for your Google TV product by going to settings card and selecting Display and sound.

What about Roku TV? The short answer, at least when it comes to 4K, Dolby Vision and Dolby Atmos, is yes. You’ll also be able to take advantage of premium picture and sound codecs from several Roku TVs (mostly TCL), as well as the Roku Ultra. Which codec versions your TV or device will support will depend on the model year and the firmware it’s running.

For Roku TV products, you can adjust the picture/sound settings by going to settingsthen selecting Screen type (for a picture) or Audio.

We’re giving this one to Google TV though. While Roku TV products offer decent support for today’s leading image and audio codecs, overall support for high-end visual and audio content is a little higher with Google TV.

Winner: Google TV

The point

Chromecast with Google TV plus remote control.

Let’s go with Google TV, friends. Of course, Google isn’t exactly new to streaming with Android TV having been around for a while, but as a revamped TV streaming platform, Google TV is pretty amazing. From a highly personalized home screen to intuitive Google Assistant support, Google Home integration and picture/sound capabilities, Google TVs are a great stand-alone purchase and great additions to the existing Google ecosystem.

Now don’t get us wrong: we do Enough love to Roku TV! In fact, when it comes to available apps and overall voice assistant integration, Roku is slightly ahead of Google. That said, Roku has been around for a while and, in some ways, we’re still looking to them to surprise and delight us in the many ways that Google TV does, with the latter having been around for a much shorter time.

And so now the battle is over… at least for now. Congratulations, Google TV. You won us over. Continue to impress.

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