Roku devices represent one of the easiest, most convenient, most user-friendly ways of getting dozens of smart streaming apps up on your big screen TV—and these sticks and boxes and Roku television sets also come with access to a host of free channels with thousands of hours of ad-supported content. These are the ones that you absolutely must install.
To add a new channel on your Roku hardware, press the home button on your remote, and then select Streaming Channels from the options on screen. If you can’t see the specific channel that you’re after, use the integrated search function to find it.
Crackle is one of your best options for watching films and TV shows free of charge on your Roku device (albeit with a few commercial breaks along the way). The quality isn’t always the best—obviously studios want to make money from their best stuff—but you can still find top-tier movies such as Let The Right One In, Tell No One, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, and Hunt For The Wilderpeople. It’s also a great option for turning up hidden gems in lesser-known content categories, such as foreign cinema or music documentaries.
If local news and current affairs are what you’re most interested in, NewsON is very much worth checking out. It pulls together almost 200 newscasts from around the United States, all just a couple of seconds away, and as well as watching them live, you can go back up to 48 hours to see what’s been happening. It means you can catch up on your local area from wherever you happen to be, of course, and it also gives you the opportunity of checking out the local perspective on any national or international stories that might be breaking.
Popcornflix has a pile of free movies and television shows for you to dive into, offering one of the best selections in terms of both breadth and quality when it comes to free content. From award-winning classics to modern popular hits to little-known titles that deserve a wider audience, there’s no shortage of options: At the time of writing, the channel is carrying movies such as We Need To Talk About Kevin, Troll Hunter, and The Exorcist, as well as TV shows including Merlin and Kitchen Nightmares.
Add Vevo to your Roku channels if you’re at all interested in music videos, of any description and genre. Dozens and dozens of themed channels will guide you towards the music that you love or that you might love, and just about every major artist is represented here (as well as plenty of minor ones too). The channel does well at mixing new and emerging artists with older classics too, and you can save videos to a playlist as well. There is a premium option if you want to remove the ads and need an unlimited number of skips.
With one of the better TV and movie catalogs on the Roku platform—covering everything from chiller film The Ring to British comedy classic Father Ted—FilmRise impresses in its simplicity, and the way it focuses on the business of serving up the best stuff for you to enjoy. If you’re not sure what to watch, you can browse through the titles that FilmRise is featuring, or dive into the genre categories that are built into the app for some inspiration. As well as plenty of content for adults, FilmRise also offers a lot of kids programming, too.
Instead of switching off your brain in front of a TV show you’ve seen a thousand times already, why not turn your Roku into a trigger for education and inspiration? The free TED channel brings you more than 2,000 of the famous TED (Technology, Entertainment, Design) talks to the screen of your choice, so you can hear about everything from the physics of airplanes to the psychology of happiness. The talks vary a lot in terms of their length, so however much time you have free, you’ll always be able to find one to fit in.
Pluto TV is a regular fixture in picks of the best free Roku channels out there (of the thousands available), and with good reason: You get hundreds or even thousands of sources of news, sports, music, shows, and movies, all with a straightforward interface that makes it easy to get to the good stuff as quickly as possible. It’s fair to say you’ll never run out of content to watch, and the variety that’s on offer is to the credit of Pluto TV—the movie selection, for example, runs the gamut from the uplifting Short Term 12 to the rather weird Dogtooth.
One for the kids here, if you’ve got any at home (or any who visit on a regular basis): PBS Kids will serve up an endless supply of child-friendly content free of charge, covering both on-demand shows as well as programming being broadcast on your local PBS station. You’ve got access to series including Sesame Street, Arthur, Curious George, and Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood, and everything about the interface is built with younger viewers in mind. There are several kid-centered apps on the Roku platform, but this is hard to beat.
The Amazon-owned FreeVee is precisely what it sounds like: free Amazon Prime Video… kinda. The streaming service is available on all major smart TV platforms and offers original content, like the new Judy Justice (with, fittingly, Judge Judy). The movie selection is good, too, if you’re not married to watching something specific. The selection isn’t quite as extensive as Prime Video proper, as originals like The Boys are only available during special preview weekends, but there’s still quite a bit to watch here.
Don’t neglect The Roku Channel, which covers TV shows, movies, kids’ entertainment, and rolling 24/7 news as well—in fact, there’s a case to be made that you might never need to leave Roku’s own channel to use any others (a variety of premium subscriptions are also available through the channel). Movies like Donnie Darko and television series such as 24 are available through the channel, and while it might not have the very latest content on offer, there’s an impressive level of quality throughout.