How to watch YouTube videos on Roku

Stop waiting for Roku to launch an official YouTube channel and use a workaround to start streaming YouTube videos on your TV today.

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Of the 750-plus channels Roku has to offer, there's one big guy missing from the pack: YouTube.

Considering its front-and-center presence on other platforms -- like Apple TV and Samsung Smart TVs -- its conspicuous absence might seem odd. But, Roku's CEO offers a logical explanation, noting that "YouTube insists on using HTML5 for its UI," and seemingly refuses to build a Roku-specific app.

YouTube's absence hurts so bad that even third-party developers have created channels almost exclusively designed to stream YouTube, only to be pulled days or weeks later.

As of this writing, there aren't any third-party YouTube channels available (I wouldn't count on them anyhow), but there is an alternative, reliable way to watch YouTube videos on Roku that doesn't seem to be going away any time soon.

Say hello to the awkwardly-named Twonky.

With this setup, you won't be browsing videos on Roku, but instead, you'll be able to choose YouTube videos on your phone and "beam" them to your TV. And, guess what? It works impressively well.

All it requires is the installation of a Roku channel, and an app for your phone or tablet.

1. On your computer (or phone), head to http://owner.roku.com/add/. Sign in to your Roku account, and you'll be presented with a simple form asking you to enter a code for a private channel. Private channels are basically beta channels that haven't yet been approved by Roku, but are often well-supported and fully functional. Enter mytwonky, click Add, and confirm.

Screenshot by Sharon Vaknin/CNET

2. On your Roku, go to Settings > Player Info > Check for update. This will force your Roku to install the Twonky channel you added online. Once it's done updating, head back to My Channels and a new Twonky channel should appear.

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3. Connect your phone or tablet to the same Wi-Fi network as your Roku. Then, download the Twonky Beam app (iOSAndroid).

4. When you launch the Beam app, you'll be presented with a tiled list of video sources, like YouTube, Ted, and even FunnyOrDie. See, Beam will actually let you stream videos from all of the sources listed, not just YouTube. But, for the purpose of this tutorial, we'll focus on YouTube.

From the home screen of the app, swipe left to reveal what we'll call the "beam panel." Here, tap Display Device, and select Roku Video Player.

Now you're ready to start beaming YouTube videos to your TV.

5. Swipe right from the beam panel to reveal the home screen, and select YouTube. You'll be redirected to YouTube's mobile site within the app, where you can find a YouTube video as usual.

When you find a video you want to beam, you'll see a Beam button overlaid on the video. Tap to play the video, wait a few moments, and revel while the video buffers and plays on your TV screen. You can even play/pause and stop the video from the beam panel.

Extra Twonky Beam options
Twonky Beam offers a couple extra features worth checking out:

  • High-quality streaming: By default, Twonky beams videos in a mediocre bandwidth, but if your Roku is connected to the Internet via Ethernet, and you've got a pretty good connection, pump up the video quality to High.

    In the Beam app, go to Settings > Settings, and change the preferred bandwidth to High.
  • Video queue: With Twonky Beam, you can line up a list of videos that will play consecutively. From any screen, swipe left and tap Beam Queue Off to turn the feature on.

    Now head to the videos you want to queue up (even while one is playing on your Roku), tap Beam, and they'll be added to the queue. When you're ready to switch back to on-demand viewing, just tap Beam Queue On to disable it.

 

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