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Why Doesn't Every Airbnb Come With a Roku?

Airbnb hosts love the Roku, and we think it beats out the Chromecast and Fire TV for vacation rentals, too.

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There's a reason most vacation rental hosts go with Roku.
Sarah Tew/CNET

If you've ever stayed at a short-term rental property -- AirbnbVrbo, HomeStay, etc. -- chances are you didn't spend a ton of time watching TV during your vacation. But on a rainy day or a lazy evening after a day of sightseeing, sometimes a good streaming TV session is in order. 

Enter Roku. You may have noticed that many vacation rentals are equipped with a Roku. And the ones that aren't, well, they probably should be. How do Airbnb hosts choose which streaming platform to use? We don't recommend putting an expensive Apple TV box in that cozy beachside cottage. A Chromecast with Google TV or an Amazon Fire TV are options too, but a Roku is our top choice for people with vacation rentals thanks to these devices' affordable price, ease of use and convenient guest mode.

Here's why so many Airbnbs come with Roku devices, and why we think it's the best choice for vacation rental hosts. And if you're a host yourself, read on for three reasons we think you should take our advice.

Read more: Best Roku to Buy in 2022

1. Roku devices are inexpensive

First off, Roku smart TVs and streaming devices offer great value -- a small Roku TV costs less than $200. If you want to splurge and create a more luxe experience for your guests, you can buy a larger Roku TV model. Our favorite Roku TV is from TCL, but Roku smart TV models are also available from other brands.

Roku has numerous streaming devices that work with any TV, but our pick is the Roku Express 4K Plus. It costs between $30 and $40 and has basically everything you need in a streamer. It's the cheapest Roku with a remote that can also control any TV, meaning guests don't have to juggle clickers.

The most basic streaming device is the Roku Express, available for $25. Though it lacks 4K and the voice control feature of its siblings, it's easy to install with an HDMI cable. The downside is that there is no TV control on the remote, so we think stepping up to the Express 4K Plus is worth it.

The $30 Roku Voice Remote Pro is also worth considering. It can be added to any Roku streamer or TV and provides a few more guest-friendly perks, the coolest being the remote finder. If the remote gets lost -- which can easily happen when there's a steady stream of guests coming in and out -- you can pinpoint its location by simply calling out to it. The Pro remote also has a headphone jack, so guests can watch their favorite shows or movies without disturbing others.

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A Roku TV and its handy voice remote.

Sarah Tew/CNET

2. Roku's system is the easiest to use

Though Amazon Fire TV and Chromecast options are also reasonably priced, Roku has them beat for simplicity. Roku devices operate smoothly and are a snap to set up, but the best part is the intuitive interface on the main screen. Guests of any age can easily navigate to apps by clicking icons for Hulu, Spotify, HBO Max, Apple TV Plus or Disney Plus

Roku's simple grid of apps wins over the rest. Compared with Amazon's clunky (and mildly infuriating) search process for Prime Video content, it's a cinch to find titles or genres on a Roku. And Chromecast with Google TV has a home menu that focuses on the content rather than on the streaming apps themselves, so it can get cluttered with shows and movies guests might not find relevant. 

3. Roku Guest Mode is a host's best friend

Hosts who don't want to share their login credentials with visitors can activate Guest Mode (formerly known as Auto Sign Out Mode) on any Roku TV or streaming player. This feature allows guests to sign in to their own subscriptions for services like Netflix, Sling or Hulu. Guest Mode can be enabled for any Roku-linked device in any room of your rental property. Airbnb hosts on Reddit give it the thumbs-up over competitors. 

In order to set up this feature, you'll need to add a PIN to your Roku account first and then launch it either directly on the device or from a remote location. Because the PIN is attached to the owner's personal account, guests won't be able to access the owner's profile to watch content or make purchases.

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Roku's Guest Mode.

Kourtnee Jackson/CNET

Once guests click on Guest Mode, they'll be prompted to enter a sign-off date, which means Roku will automatically log them out of the account when they leave. They also have the option to sign out manually anytime before their departure date. In either case, their login credentials will be removed from the system.

The home screen has default channels such as Netflix and Prime Video, but guests can add channels or stream from their personal Roku library. If they forget to log out at the end of their stay, the host can do it for them.

Google Chromecast devices offer a guest mode but it's not as sophisticated as Roku's -- it's mainly designed to let people more easily cast from their phones to the TV. Fire TV devices require an Amazon account to work, although you can set up a PIN to prevent purchases.

And because Roku devices are inexpensive, it may not hurt as much if a guest decides to snatch the host's when they leave. At least you can disable access from any location in the world.

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