The little black boxes known as Roku are one of the best ways to get into Internet video streaming. They’re affordable, easy to use, and feature a slew of different content providers. If you’ve been thinking about picking one up for yourself, you’ve probably noticed that there are quite a few different devices under the Roku banner. So what exactly is the difference between the devices? Which one should you buy? It’s a bit of a head scratcher, but we’re here to demystify the Roku product offering.
The Roku Express line of products are entry level devices. They are marketed to be a super affordable way to start streaming Internet video content to your TV. There are currently two products under the Express banner — the Roku Express and Roku Express 4K+. At the time of this writing, they are priced at $30 and $40, respectively.
Buy a Roku Express device if you:
- Want a budget-friendly streaming device.
- Don’t need as powerful of a Wi-Fi signal. (Your TV is near your router.)
The Roku Express is one of the smallest streaming boxes on the market. Users connect the little box to their TV via an HDMI and follow the on screen setup instructions. The simplified setup process means you’ll be up and running in no time. The only downside to the Roku Express is that it utilizes a weaker processor than other Roku devices. This may result in intermittent playback issues like buffering, etc.
Roku Express 4K+
While Roku used to have an Express+, the company switched to the Roku Express 4K+ to offer 4K streaming in addition to HD in a still highly affordable device. It connects just like the Roku Express. However, it also comes with an upgraded remote that allows you to control your TV’s power and volume, along with voice search support. Another benefit is more powerful Wi-Fi support for less buffering issues.
Streaming Stick Devices
The Streaming Stick line of Roku devices look very similar to the Express line. That being said, they boast some significant improvements, although they’ll cost you. The biggest difference is the fact that the Streaming Stick line uses a more powerful processor. This means users shouldn’t encounter the same playback problems that plague the Express line. Plus, these are more portable devices that work like a USB drive – but for your HDMI port.
Buy a Roku Streaming Stick if you …
- Want a more compact device.
- Need improved Wi-Fi support and processing power.
- Want support for 4K.
Roku Streaming Stick+
The Roku Streaming Stick+ replaces the original Streaming Stick. However, it’s still a slightly older device that’s being replaced by the Roku Streaming Stick 4K+. It’s comparable to the Roku Express but features long-range wireless, 4K support, and the voice/TV control remote. You can currently buy it for just $30.
Roku Streaming Stick 4K
The Roku Streaming Stick 4K boasts long-range Wi-Fi that’s twice as fast as older models. There’s support for 4K, Dolby Vision, and HDR10+. It also includes the voice/TV control remote. While it offers even more features than the Streaming Stick+, it’s the same price at $30.
Roku Streaming Stick 4K+
The Roku Streaming Stick 4K+ is nearly identical to the Streaming Stick 4K. However, the biggest difference is the Pro remote. It adds a headphone jack so you can listen privately directly from the remote. If you want to watch a movie without disturbing someone else, this is definitely the remote you want to have. Plus, it’s rechargeable. It’s a premium-priced device at $70.
The Premiere line of Roku devices are aimed at folks who want the best possible video quality as possible. As a result, both the Premiere and the Premiere+ support 4K Ultra High Definition picture. In addition, both devices support High Dynamic Range (HDR). We’re over-simplifying here, but for brevity’s sake, HDR support means that the Premiere line is capable of producing more vibrant contrast and higher levels of contrast. Be aware that these devices alone don’t deliver improved picture quality. In addition to the Roku, you must have a TV that is 4K and HDR compatible and be watching a 4K stream.
Buy a Roku Premiere if you
- Want 4K and HDR support.
- Want a budget-friendly device that supports 4K.
At $40, the Roku Premiere is one of the cheapest streaming devices that supports 4K and HDR. The biggest drawback of the Premiere is the included remote. It does not have integrated power or volume buttons. Unfortunately, this means you’ll need to switch back and forth between your Roku and TV remote. Furthermore, the remote operates on infrared, meaning you’ll need to maintain line-of-sight with the device to ensure smooth operation.
While there used to be a Roku Premiere+ that included the coveted voice/TV control remote, it’s been discontinued.
As you might have guessed, the Roku Ultra is the most powerful device in the Roku lineup. Of course, this means it is also the most expensive at $99. While this may seem steep, the Roku Ultra does have a number of features not found in any other Roku device.
Buy a Roku Ultra if you …
- Want the pro remote with built-in headphone jack.
- Want superior processing power and long-range Wi-Fi support.
- Need expandable storage.
- Want to view USB photos and videos with your Roku without casting.
The Roku Ultra supports both 4K Ultra High Definition and HDR. What really separates the Ultra from the rest of the pack is the addition of a microSD card slot and USB port. This allows users to expand the built-in storage of the Ultra, as well as play files from a USB drive.
The Ultra also features a beefed-up remote. In addition to voice control and power/volume buttons, it also has a remote finder feature and a headphone jack that allows you to watch your favorite content without disturbing others.
Finally, the Roku Ultra also has an Ethernet port, allowing you to hardwire the device to your router. So if you have spotty Wi-Fi or are testing the limits of your Wi-Fi with much 4K streaming, the Ultra may be the box for you.
Retailer Exclusive Models
Roku has partnered with Walmart and Best Buy to offer three exclusive Roku devices. These are variations on current Roku sticks and tend to offer a mid-range price between comparable Roku devices.
The Roku Express 4K gives you everything the Roku Express 4K+ offers except the upgraded remote. If you’re fine with a simple remote, though, you get 4K, HD, and HDR support for $30, which is the same price as the Roku Express.
The Roku Ultra LT is a slightly stripped-down version of the Roku Ultra and is just $80. It still has the Pro remote but doesn’t have a USB port or SD card slot for extra storage. However, at $20 cheaper, it’s a good price if you don’t need the storage.
Best Buy-Exclusive Roku
The Roku Streaming Stick+ 4K is exactly like the Roku Streaming Stick 4K+, including the Pro remote. However, it’s slightly cheaper at $60.
Alternatives to Roku Sticks
A Roku TV is a smart TV with Roku built in and one way to get the power of Roku without any of the devices mentioned above. Roku has partnered with many well-known TV manufacturers, such as TCL, Philips, RCA, JVC, Sanyo, and Hisense, to offer a wide variety of options and sizes.
One of the most popular options among customers is TCL. The 40-inch TCL 1080p Smart Roku TV is $350, while the 50-inch model is $500.
Opt for a Roku TV if your TV is older and doesn’t support HDMI connections. Or, if you’re just ready to buy a new TV, get a smart one that has a large library of streaming apps available.
A more unconventional option is the Roku Streambar. This gives you the benefits of Roku along with the cinematic sound you’d expect from a sound bar. It includes a voice remote with headphone jack. It also offers support for HD, 4K, and HDR. While the base Streambar is $180, you can upgrade to the Streambar Pro Set for $295, which includes two wireless speakers.
Consider the Streambar if you want better sound along with Roku’s increasing app/channel library.
Frequently Asked Questions
1. Do I have to buy a new Roku stick to get an upgraded remote?
If you want a voice control/TV control remote or the Pro remote with headphone jack, you don’t need a new Roku device. You can buy a separate remote for $20 that works with Roku sticks and Roku TVs. You can get the Pro remote for $30.
2. Can I watch the Roku Channel without a Roku device?
Roku has it’s own Roku Channel with on-demand and live channels. You can watch from any browser for free (as long as you’re not in incognito or private browsing modes). You’ll want to create a free account to save items to watch later and save your place on a show or movie.
3. What if my TV doesn’t support HDMI?
Originally, Roku offered a device that used composite cables (the yellow/red/white cables) instead of HDMI, but that device has been discontinued. Instead, you can try an HDMI-to-composite converter for $17. This allows you to plug the Roku into the converter.
Some users have said it didn’t work with their Roku, while others raved about how well it worked.
Which Roku streaming media player is best for you depends on your needs. Ask yourself the following questions: Do I have a 4K TV (or am I planning on getting one)? Does voice control sound like something I’d use? Do I want something I can easily take with me? How much am I willing to spend? Answering these questions should help you narrow down your options.
Another question to ask is whether you want to use YouTube. At the time of writing, Google and Roku are feuding, and Roku may lose YouTube.
Want apps that aren’t available in the Roku store? Learn how to sideload apps on Roku and other streaming devices.
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