If you’re trying to figure out which Roku player to buy, the answer can get complicated quickly.
Roku offers seven standalone streaming products, with prices ranging from $30 to $180. To add further confusion, some cheaper models have features that pricier options don’t, and a couple of its streaming players even double as TV soundbars.
With last week’s Roku Ultra revamp and some upcoming deals on Roku devices, now’s a good time to run through the options. I’ve reviewed all of these devices myself, so all of this is based on personal experience.
Of course, Roku isn’t the only option if you’re in the market for a streaming player—there’s also Fire TV, Chromecast, Apple TV, and Android TV devices to consider—but if you already enjoy Roku’s straightforward interface and useful features, here’s how to pick between models:
The Roku decision flowchart
Don’t feel like reading through the differences between Roku models? I’ve put together a flowchart that will walk you through the Roku device buying process.
Jared Newman / Foundry
You may note that I’ve left the $30 Roku Express out of the flow chart. As always, I discourage folks from buying this model, whose remote lacks voice control, “point anywhere” RF connectivity, and TV volume and power buttons. Unless you’re using a separate universal remote already, spend the extra $10 on the Roku Express+ at minimum.
While you’re at it, beware of outdated Roku models that still linger on store shelves, such as the Roku Streaming Stick+ from 2017 (not to be confused with the Roku Streaming Stick 4K+) and the Roku Ultra without the new Voice Remote Pro. Watch what you’re buying and avoid moldy gear unless you’re getting an incredible deal.
Roku Express 4K+ — For basic 4K streaming
- Snappy performance, 4K resolution, and a capable remote
- Nice touches like private listening and closed-caption replay
- Adds Apple AirPlay to any TV for cheap
- Wi-Fi performance could be better
- No unified streaming guide to browse through
The $40 Roku Express 4K+ is a solid pick if you don’t need Dolby Vision HDR, as it still supports 4K video, HDR10, and HDR10+. Unless you have a TV with Dolby Vision support for scene-based color adjustments, you won’t notice any difference in picture quality.
Note, however, that the Roku Express 4K+ uses the outdated Wi-Fi 4 standard, which can result in weaker connectivity at long range, especially on the 5GHz band that’s typically less congested. It does support wired ethernet connectivity via a third-party adapter, and it has an infrared receiver for universal remotes, neither of which are available with the step-up Roku Streaming Stick 4K.
Roku Streaming Stick 4K — The all-around option
- Fast, fluid performance with dependable Wi-Fi connectivity
- Easy-to-operate interface with powerful voice control features
- Full of nice touches that other cheap streamers lack, such as AirPlay and a Replay button
- Discovering and tracking shows could be a lot easier
- No Dolby Atmos support or IR control for external sound systems
- Only supports wireless connections
Compared to the Express 4K+, Roku’s Streaming Stick 4K adds Dolby Vision HDR support and uses the newer Wi-Fi 5 standard, which allows for longer-range connections on the less-crowded 5GHz band of newer routers. Roku also houses the Wi-Fi radios a separate module built into the power cord, which helps facilitate a stronger connection overall.
The Streaming Stick 4K is also more portable than other models, as its HDMI connection is built into the streaming dongle itself, and its USB cable can plug directly into the USB port for power on many TVs. That means it’s better for travel, though might still want to bring a power cord and HDMI extender with you. (Roku will send you the latter for free upon request.)
Those improvements, and the mere $10 upcharge over the Express 4K+, make the Roku Streaming Stick 4K+ the best option for most buyers.
Roku Streaming Stick 4K+ — For a fancier remote
- Includes Roku's Voice Remote Pro
- Remote has a rechargeable battery, headphone jack, and "remote finder" function
- Costs $20 more than the otherwise identical Streaming Stick 4K
The Roku Streaming Stick 4K+ is exactly the same as the Streaming Stick 4K, except it bundles Roku’s Voice Remote Pro for $20 extra. This remote has a rechargeable battery, support for hands-free “Hey Roku” voice commands, two programmable buttons for launching your favorite apps, a headphone jack for private listening, and a “remote finder” function that you can trigger the Roku’s mobile app.
Those are nice-to-have features, but keep in mind the Voice Remote Pro is also available as a $30 standalone purchase. If you get a deal on the Streaming Stick 4K, you can always upgrade remotes later without penalty.
Roku Ultra (2022) — For all the frills
- Includes Roku's Voice Remote Pro
- USB port for playing media from local storage
- The only current-gen Roku with an ethernet port in addition to dual-band Wi-Fi connectivity
- Not significantly faster than less-expensive models
- Roku's most expensive player
The Cadillac of Roku models includes an ethernet port, a USB port for local media playback, and an infrared receiver for third-party universal remotes. It’s also Roku’s fastest streamer, though the difference in performance from other models isn’t drastic.
The Roku Streaming Stick 4K+ will still be the best option for folks who want Roku’s fanciest remote control, but the Ultra still fills a few niche use cases and caters to those who just want Roku’s top-tier hardware.
Roku Streambar — An entry-level soundbar with an integrated streamer
- A pretty good soundbar integrated with a very good media streamer
- Can be upgraded with a wireless subwoofer and surround speakers
- Can also stream content from a NAS box or USB drive
- Not as good as a speaker as it is a streamer
- A little weak on bass response
- No Dolby Vision support
The Roku Streambar is unique in that it’s a soundbar and streaming box in one. Plug it into your TV’s HDMI-ARC slot (or use both HDMI and optical audio ports), and it’ll deliver better sound alongside Roku’s streaming interface.
Roku Streambar Pro — A big step up in audio performance
- Solid audio performance for the price
- Effective virtual surround mode
- Alexa, Google Assistant, HomeKit, and AirPlay 2 support
- Hit-or-miss music performance
- Only one HDMI port
- Expansion upgrades (subwoofer and surrounds) are pricey
The Streambar Pro delivers a wider soundstage, virtual surround sound, and comes with a better remote control that includes a headphone jack, programmable buttons, and a remote finder function. (It’s still a step down from the Voice Remote Pro, however, with no rechargeable battery or hands-free voice control.)
Of course, you can always use any Roku device with any TV soundbar, but the Roku Streambar and Roku Streambar Pro are worth considering if you want simpler setup and helpful on-screen sound controls. Just note that neither of them support Dolby Vision HDR or Dolby Atmos.
Roku deals to watch for
Now that you’ve surveyed the Roku landscape, keep in mind that Roku devices frequently go on sale. Here are some upcoming sales that Roku has confirmed to TechHive:
- May 15 through May 29: The Roku Streambar will be $30 off, at $100.
- May 29 through June 4: The Roku Express 4K will be $10 off, at $30, while the Roku Express will be $5 off, at $25.
- June 5 through June 18: The Roku Streaming Stick 4K will be $10 off, at $40, and the Roku Streambar Pro will be $30 off, at $150.
Look for these deals on Roku’s website and at most major retailers.
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