Roku upgrade guide: Should you buy a new box?

Roku has produced dozens of streaming boxes over the last eight years. Here's why you should—or shouldn't—upgrade to a newer device.

rokustreamingstick
Credit: IDG / Jared Newman

Out of all the companies making streaming TV devices today, Roku is the most prolific, having released more than two dozen streaming players and sticks over the last eight years.

With so many Roku players in the wild, the decision on when to upgrade can be daunting. I’m generally in favor of keeping what you have for as long as you can tolerate it; but if you’re curious what you’re missing by holding out on upgrading to a new Roku, here’s a rundown.

Do you want the latest apps?

All Roku players that launched in 2010 or earlier are no longer receiving firmware updates, app updates, or new app releases. By sticking with one of these “Classic” Roku models, you’re missing out on countless new apps, including some major streaming services such as PlayStation Vue, Starz, HBO Now, and CW. Consider upgrading if you’re not getting all the content you care about.

Roku models missing out: Roku N1000, Roku SD (N1050), Roku HD (N1100 and 2000), Roku HD-XR (N1101), Roku XD (2050), and Roku XDS (2100).

Do you want universal search and watchlists?

“Classic” Roku players aren’t just lacking new apps. They’re also missing new features like universal search and Roku Feed, which lets you keep track of new TV episodes and movie price changes across multiple streaming services. All Roku players produced after 2010 include these features, both on the device itself and in Roku’s mobile apps.

Roku models missing out: Roku N1000, Roku SD (N1050), Roku HD (N1100 and 2000), Roku HD-XR (N1101), Roku XD (2050), and Roku XDS (2100).

rokuvoicesearch IDG / Jared Newman

All but the oldest Roku players allow you to search for video across multiple apps.

Do you have multiple Netflix users?

Many older Roku models—including any that launched in 2012 or earlier—run an outdated version of Netflix that doesn’t support profiles. That means users can’t get individualized recommendations or access to “Kids” mode. Avid Netflix users might want to upgrade, if only to cut down on wasted time browsing through irrelevant content.

Roku models missing out: Roku N1000, Roku SD (N1050), Roku HD (N1100, 2000, and 2500), Roku HD-XR (N1101), Roku XD (2050 and 3050), Roku XDS (2100), Roku LT (2400, 2450, 2700), Roku 2 HD (3000), Roku 2 XD (3050), Roku 2 XS (3100), Roku Streaming Stick MHL (3400, 3420), Roku 1 and SE (2710), and Roku 2 (2720).

rokunetflix Roku

If your Netflix experience doesn’t look like this, it might be time to upgrade.

Have you upgraded to a higher-end TV?

Some older Roku players don't support full high-definition video (1080p); they're limited to high definition (720p) or standard definition (480p). The newest players start at full high definition (1080p), and some support 4K (2160p) resolution and HDR (high dynamic range). If you care deeply about picture quality and have a television that supports these formats, it’s time to consider an upgrade.

Roku models missing out (limited to HD or SD): Roku N1000, Roku SD (N1050), Roku HD (N1100, 2000, and 2500), Roku LT (2400, 2450, and 2700), and Roku 2 HD (3000).

Roku models missing out (limited to full HD or lower definition): All Roku players except Roku 4, Roku Premiere, Roku Premiere+, and Roku Ultra. (Premiere+ and Ultra also support HDR.)

Roku feature chart Jared Newman

This table will help you decide which—if any—of the Roku streaming boxes is right for you.

Does your remote feel finicky?

Many early Roku remotes—and some current ones—use infrared instead of radio frequency to communicate with the box. This requires line of sight, which precludes you from mounting the Roku behind the television or hiding it inside an entertainment center cabinet. IR can also be unreliable at long range. (The only upside to IR-enabled Rokus: They’ll work with lower-end programmable universal remotes, such as Logitech Harmony models that don't support RF.)

Roku models missing out: All Roku players except Roku Streaming Stick (3400, 3420, 3500, 3600), Roku 3 (all versions), Roku 4, Roku Premiere+, and Roku Ultra.

Do you want to listen privately?

One of Roku’s neatest features is its ability to play audio through headphones, either with a supported remote control or with Roku’s mobile app. It’s a nice way to watch action films at night without waking the kids.

Roku models missing out (lacking remote private listening): Roku 3 (4200 and 4230), Roku 4, Roku Premiere+, and Roku Ultra.

Roku models missing out (lacking smartphone private listening): All Roku players except Roku Express, Roku Express+, Roku Streaming Stick (3600), Roku Premiere, Roku Premiere+, and Roku Ultra.

Roku Premiere+ and Roku Ultra Roku

Both the Roku Premiere+ and Roku Ultra let you plug headphones into their remotes.

Do you lose the remote a lot?

In recent years, Roku has introduced a handy feature for the forgetful: Press a button on the box, and a siren will sound on the remote to help you find it. Unfortunately, this feature has only been available on the priciest players.

Roku models missing out: All Roku players except Roku 4 or Roku Ultra.

Do you have connectivity problems?

With a dual-band wireless router, you can get a more reliable connection on the less-congested 5GHz frequency band, but only if your device supports it. Many older Roku models only support single-band Wi-Fi, and even some recent ones don’t support the latest 802.11ac standard. Consider upgrading if your Roku’s streaming quality doesn’t seem to match your internet speed and/or your router's capabilities.

Roku models missing out: All Roku players except Roku 4, Roku Premiere, Roku Premiere+, and Roku Ultra.

Could you use a speed boost?

Roku players have generally become much more powerful over the past few years, allowing you to scroll smoothly through menus and load apps without delay. If you’re frustrated by the performance of your current Roku, consider upgrading to one of the models below.

Roku models missing out: All Roku players except Roku 3, Roku 4, Roku Streaming Stick (3600), Roku Premiere, Roku Premiere+, and Roku Ultra.

Should you even buy a Roku?

Roku, of course, isn’t the only streaming-device maker on the market. Although Roku’s Premiere+ and Streaming Stick are fine options, you might also want to consider the competition. Check out our reviews of the Amazon Fire TV, Amazon Fire TV Stick, Apple TV, Nvidia Shield TV, and Chromecast for more details.

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