Roku vs. Hulu vs. Netflix vs. TiVo: The Ultimate Non-Cable Showdown

June 08, 2012           

Thanks to the benevolent (evil?) technology gods, TV is no longer just TV. At one point it was a huge box in black and white, then it was in color, and now it’s in razor thin rectangles of cinematic precision offering up more TV shows, movies and apps than our tiny, peon brains can handle. So many shows! So many!

Before descending into a puddle of dribbling, decision-averse confusion, remember that with this technology has come a bevy of TV accessories that can put Game of Thrones or America’s Next Ninja Master at your fingertips – even if these fingertips desire this content between the hours of 3 and 5am. You, my night owl friend, are no longer relegated to the land of TV infomercials. Let us review:

Roku (or other streaming players)

With the advent of the HDMI port, laptops and TVs became one. With just a cable connecting the two, whatever was playing on your laptop showed up on your television, so you could watch that inane YouTube video of the box of kittens for the zillionth time in all of its big screen glory.

THEN the problem presented that people are in fact too lazy to get up and connect their laptops every time they wanted to watch streaming content from a website, or wanted to both watch a video and type an email at the same time, so streaming players were invented. Let there be Roku.


A Roku box (or Apple TV, or any of these similar devices) is a little black box that acts as a teeny laptop that stays connected to your TV as a DVD player would (LOL DVDs). Once turned on, the Roku browser uses your wi-fi connection to present you with a buffet of programs. You can add channels both free and subscription based, ultimately resulting in permanent, round-the-clock access to all mind-numbing content available on Netflix, Hulu+, Crackle, HBO go… and a gazillion other channels. It will also stream Pandora, thus turning your TV into a stereo system as well. The Roku box itself will run about $80, but there is no monthly payment involved with it unless you decide to pay for specific channels. The price tag may seem a bit high, but with Roku, you can easily ditch your cable bill completely. Take that, cable guy.



Eliminates the need to hook your laptop up to your TV

Puts Pandora, Hulu+, Netflix, Amazon Instant Video, & more in one always-connected location


User interface is slightly difficult to toggle

Adds another remote to your stack

Internet connection is essential…but everyone has that now. Everyone.



Having a streaming player is not necessarily essential for filling your brain with endless on-demand TV content. Hulu is a subscription website that allows you to watch TV shows from your laptop, on your TV with your laptop hooked up via an HDMI cable, or on your phone with it’s handy dandy app. The show listings are endless, and they’ve even added movies. You can subscribe to your favorite shows, AND it even contains huge banks of old, canceled shows if you get the itch for some vintage entertainment. You can watch the entire Doogie Howser, M.D. series, for example.

The free content is decent, and while you could simply hop around to every network’s website to watch your shows, Hulu banks them all in one location. If the free content isn’t enough, you can pay $8 a month for unlimited content. If you intend to go the cable-bill-free route (have you SEEN a cable bill these days???), this small fee is the way to go, especially since it allows for you to watch on a Roku.



Tons of TV shows new and old, plus movies

Website based and does not require any hardware

Eliminates need to jump around to all the network websites to watch favorite shows


Content contains a few short commercials spots (even with paid “Hulu Plus” subscription)

Free content is getting more limited by the day

App & ability to play shows on Roku only function if you’re a paying Hulu+ member



We all knew where a mail-based DVD delivery service named “NET”flix was going. Well, it went there. Netflix now streams tons of movies and TV shows via their website, which you can watch in all the same ways as Hulu. The downside to Netflix is that there is no free content. All of it requires a subscription, but it rings in at the same $8 per month. Where Hulu started out with TV shows and added movies, Netflix is doing the same thing in reverse. There are some complaints that the online movie selection is dwindling on New Releases, but hey, that’s what Redbox is for. They do still offer the home delivery service for DVDs, but let’s face it – this is old news. Possibly good for grandparents and other tech-averse members of the population, however.



Tons of movies and TV shows available anytime

Also website based, so there’s no hardware to buy

Ability to mail DVDs to your house, for an extra $8/month


There is no free content

Some grumblings heard about dwindling selection


Amazon Instant Video

A lot of people don’t know this, but Amazon has a whole bank of TV shows and movies available for instant viewing… Thousands, in fact! To view the majority of them at no cost, you must have a subscription to Amazon Prime, which runs about $80/year – but let me tell you, it is WORTH it. With Amazon Prime you get free two day shipping on the majority of items on and overnight shipping is just a flat rate of $3.99. Next time you need a last minute banana suit for this weekend’s Fruit themed costume party, you’ll thank me.

Here’s some good news, if you’re a student (or have a student’s email address, hint hint nudge nudge), you can get Amazon Prime fo’ FREE for 6 months. If you use it frequently (and methinks you will between the awesome shipping options & availability of movies/TV shows) you can decide whether or not you want to cough up the chunk ‘o change after this trial period expires. You can always split the cost and associated email addresses with friends. Not that we’re condoning that. But we are.

In addition to the freebies, you can “Rent” a ton of movies (New Releases, heyo!) on Amazon for anywhere from $1.99 (The Incredibles) to $5.99 (Piranha 3D… worth it.) These “rentals” are available instantly (no terrible download delay like with iTunes) and for 24 hours.



Similar selection of TV shows & movies to Netflix, and growing quickly

Once you’re a member of Amazon Prime you have that whole “free shipping” thing to look forward to

The instant availability of “rentals” for cheap is awesome. Feel like watching “How to Train Your Dragon” RIGHT NOW? You go Glen Coco.

Regardless of whether or not you want to purchase Amazon Prime, you still have the ability to “rent” and watch shows instantly, for a small fee


Paying $80 annually (really, you should only get Prime if you know you’ll purchase a lot from Amazon… look at the free TV/movies as a pleasant side effect.)

It doesn’t have ALL of the new releases you could hope for available to watch instantly, but it’s the best (legal) option for this right now, IMO.



Had to lump this one in there. TiVo was the first culprit on the scene telling people that no longer should we be subject to the whims of network schedulers! If we want to watch House Hunters: International at 4am, so be it! Cable was suddenly at our mercy, but then the cable companies jumped on the bandwagon and offered up their own, in-house TiVos: the DVR.


TiVo has recently made strides to set itself apart, once more. Now offering a “Premiere” product for $149 (plus monthly fees), TiVo has joined the likes of Roku & Apple TV to offer internet-y things on your TV. With the new TiVo you can access Hulu, Netflix, & Amazon Instant Video using an internet connection (heyy… that sounds familiar…). You can also browse the web (YouTube vides, etc. etc.), view photos from Picasa, Photobucket or your computer’s photo library, and listen to music on a number of online music players including Pandora & Rhapsody. Another cool feature here is the ability to schedule recordings from and transfer recorded shows to your iPhone or iPad. Yup, there’s an app for that. 2012, man… You can also apparently download the programs to your computer and burn them to DVDs. (ha… DVDs…)

Not too shabby, TiVo, not too shabby at all.



Cool app features

You can record shows from networks that don’t stream their content online (because you’re paying for cable)

If you want the benefits of a Roku but are still planning on holding on to cable, you may as well consolidate to this bad boy


TiVo is pricier at its base cost & there is a monthly subscription fee

You still need a cable subscription to take advantage of all of its features


We know there are plenty of other streaming services out there. How do you watch your TV? Movies? (psst… we won’t tell if it’s not exactly “legal”)


The illustrious author of this article, Stephanie Huey, is an itinerant writer, sub-letter of apartments and lover of craft beers. Her favorite sentences are those containing syllepsis or ones that mention Vietnamese food, of which is she is inordinately fond.

June 08, 2012   |   Posted in   by  

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Stephanie Huey

Stephanie Huey

Writer at Apartment List
The illustrious author of this article, Stephanie Huey, is an itinerant writer, sub-letter of apartments and lover of craft beers. Her favorite sentences are those containing syllepsis or ones that mention Vietnamese food, of which is she is inordinately fond.
Stephanie Huey

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