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Roku Streaming Devices

Roku Streaming Players Explained: Which Roku Is Best for You?

Roku Ultra might be the best Roku, but that doesn’t mean it’s the best Roku for everyone.

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Roku is one of the best-known names in streaming, and its players are some of the most popular. However, with so many devices to pick from, it can be difficult to know which Roku is the best for you?

Although the streaming players are what helped to establish the brand, Roku has evolved since then well beyond hardware. As a result, opting to buy a Roku player not only means buying a device from a trusted company with years of experience, but also one that comes with an increasingly rich user experience.

Here are the current Roku players:

  • Roku Express
  • Roku Premiere
  • Roku Streaming Stick+
  • Roku Ultra
  • Roku Smart Soundbar

But, which Roku player should you buy?

That depends. One of the benefits of Roku’s hardware lineup is that there are only a few devices to choose from, and while they share many common features, they are designed for different users and needs. This makes the which-Roku-player-should-you-buy question much easier to answer.

In this guide, we’ll briefly go over each of the options separately. This should further help to make the decision of which Roku player is best for you even clearer. Speaking of which, the actual best Roku player overall seems like a good place to start.

Roku Ultra – The best Roku overall

Roku Ultra streaming player
The ultimate Roku experience

The Roku Ultra is the best Roku player you can buy today. While those statements are usually fairly subjective, that’s not really the case here. If you want the best performance, the most features, and the best quality device Roku has to offer, then it’s the Roku Ultra. The company even says as much by referring to this device as “our ultimate streaming player.”

What makes the Roku Ultra so good?

Well, from the feature standpoint, the Roku Ultra is the most loaded player the company has made. In the company’s own words, here are the Roku Ultra’s main features:

  • Powerful quad-core processor and our best wireless
  • Fast channel launch
  • Personal shortcut buttons
  • USB, microSD, and Ethernet ports for ultimate connectivity
  • Includes Premium JBL headphones for private listening
  • Lost remote finder
  • Stream free TV, live news, sports, music, movies, and more
  • Enhanced voice remote with personal shortcut buttons and TV controls

Reading beyond the marketing spiel and the features that are worth noting include 4K HDR support, the inclusion of USB and microSD ports, and the remote control.

The latter is particularly important as similar to its players, Roku makes varying quality remotes. As you might expect, its “ultimate” player comes with the company’s ultimate remote and one of its major selling point is the included 3.5mm port. This allows the user to connect a pair of headphones for a more private listening experience.

Further adding to the value, the Roku Ultra also comes with a free pair of JBL headphones. The company markets these as “premium” although they are not particular premium in JBL terms, but likely still better than most generic headphones.

Roku Ultra Pros and Cons

ProsCons
PowerfulExpensive
Advanced remoteBasic design
Private listening
4K

Who’s the Roku Ultra for?

Put simply, the Roku Ultra is designed for those who want the best possible streaming device from the company. Whether that’s in terms of performance, wireless connection, features, specs, or just the remote.

The Roku Ultra is for the streamer who wants everyone and is willing to pay for everything.

How much does the Roku Ultra cost

While you can often find the Roku Ultra on sale, the standard price is $99.99 in the U.S. This makes the Roku Ultra the most expensive player the company offers. Well, standalone player – more on this later.

Roku Streaming Stick+ – the best Roku for most people

Roku streaming stick
Roku Streaming Stick+

Yes, the Roku Ultra is the best Roku you can buy, but in reality, the Roku Streaming Stick+ is most likely the best Roku for most people. That’s because it offers the best balance between features and price overall.

So what makes the Roku Streaming Stick+ so good?

Again, there’s no one better to give you the marketing pitch than Roku itself. So in the company’s own words, here’s what makes the Roku Streaming Stick+ so good:

  • High-performance portability
  • Brilliant picture quality
  • Smoother streaming with a long-range wireless receiver
  • Find and enjoy 4K movies with the 4K Spotlight channel
  • Stream free TV, live news, sports, music, movies, and more
  • Voice remote with TV controls

The big selling point with the Roku Streaming Stick+ is the design. With this being a stick, it is a super portable and discrete as it plugs directly into the TV without the need for any additional wires. Likewise, it’s small enough that you can slip it into your pocket or bag when heading out the door and use it elsewhere.

The main downside with the Roku Streaming Stick+ (compared to the Roku Ultra) is the Stick+ does not come with the same remote. Instead, this is a more basic remote lacking some of the premium features you get with the Ultra. For example, there’s no 3.5mm port for personal listening.

Roku Streaming Stick+ Pros and Cons

ProsCons
Medium priceMedium remote
Stick design No 3.5mm
Portable

Who’s the Roku Streaming Stick+ for?

The Roku Streaming Stick+ is largely aimed at everyone. If you’re new to streaming, then this is priced just right for a product that’s neither too cheap nor too expensive. Likewise, if you’re a more experienced streamer, then you’ll also see value in the Stick+ and especially thanks to its discreet design.

How much does the Roku Streaming Stick+ cost

The Roku Streaming Stick+ is priced at $49.99 in the U.S., making it a good option for most consumers. There are compromises compared to the Roku Ultra, but at half the price, the Roku Streaming Stick+ will provide most streamers with enough of what they need.

Roku Premiere – the basic 4K Roku

Roku streaming box player
Roku Premiere with 4K

The Roku Premiere is all about 4K. That’s not to say it’s the company’s best 4K device – it’s not. Instead, 4K is its main selling point. Arguably, 4K is the Roku Premiere’s only selling point.

What makes the Roku Premiere so good?

Once again, we’ll leave the sales pitch to the company. Here’s why Roku says you should buy the Roku Premiere:

  • Easy to use with a simple setup
  • Includes Premium high speed HDMI cable
  • Find and enjoy 4K movies with the 4K Spotlight channel
  • Stream free TV, live news, sports, music, movies, and more
  • Simple remote

As you can see, even Roku struggles to offer any real selling points and that’s sort of the point with the Roku Premiere. It’s designed to be cheap, and offer 4K, and that’s about it.

Roku Premiere Pros and Cons

ProsCons
4KLacks features
Basic remote

Who’s the Roku Premiere for?

Technically, Roku positions the Roku Premiere as its cheapest 4K player and while that’s true, it’s hard to recommend this one based on that alone – especially when the Stick+ is so close in price.

Essentially, if you want the cheapest Roku with 4K then that’s the Roku Premiere.

How much does the Roku Premiere cost

The Roku Premiere costs $39.99 making it one of the cheapest ways to get involved with 4K streaming. However, with only $10 between the Roku Premiere and the Streaming Stick+, most buyers will be better off paying the extra few dollars and getting the better remote, and more portable design.

Roku Express – the best Roku on a budget

Roku streaming player

The Roku Express is the prototypical Roku. Considering this is a company that’s all about affordability and usability, the Roku Express sums both of these points up perfectly. It’s as cheap as a Roku gets, and yet offers an experience akin to the rest of the Roku player family. Yes, the features are limited compared to those other devices, but extra features is not why you should be considering the Roku Express.

What makes the Roku Express so good?

Want to know what makes the Roku Express so good? We’ll let Roku tell you that:

  • Easy to use with a simple setup
  • Includes high speed HDMI cable
  • Stream free TV, live news, sports, music, movies, and more
  • Simple remote with channel shortcut buttons

To sum up the Roku Express, this is the ultimate entry-level player from the company and while the price is right, there are some things to be aware of. The most important is the lack of 4K support. If 4K is important to you, then look elsewhere.

Roku Express Pros and Cons

ProsCons
Low priceNo 4K
Starter deviceBasic remote

Who’s the Roku Express for?

Without any shadow of a doubt, the Roku Express is for those new to streaming, or for use in a second/kids room. By design, this is a cheap player and that makes it ideal for those simply looking for a low-cost, but useful player.

How much does the Roku Express cost

The Roku Express costs just $29.99 and can often be picked up even cheaper than that. For less than $30, there are few better ways to get involved with streaming than the Roku Express.

Roku Smart Soundbar – the Roku to avoid

Roku streaming soundbar
Roku’s streaming soundbar

Last, but not least, is the Roku Smart Soundbar and this one has been left until now as it is unlike any of the other Rokus on this list. Therefore, consider this more of an honorable mention than necessarily a Roku player in the traditional sense.

What makes the Roku Smart Soundbar so good?

For the last time, it’s over to you Roku:

  • Adds exceptional sound and powerful streaming to any TV
  • Premium sound quality with crisp dialogue & dynamic bass
  • Stream with the built-in Roku player or a Bluetooth device
  • Simple setup with included premium high speed HDMI cable
  • Stream free TV, live news, sports, movies, music, and more
  • Coming soon! Expandable with Roku Wireless Speakers for immersive surround sound
  • Voice remote with TV power and volume buttons

Essentially, the Roku Smart Soundbar is a soundbar and a streaming player all rolled into one. One of the main benefits of this dual-design is the freeing up of space thanks to the removal of a physical steaming player. The downside is, if you want to upgrade the soundbar at some point, you’ll suddenly end up in need of a new streaming player as well.

Roku Smart Soundbar Pros and Cons

ProsCons
Space-savingExpensive
Sound quality2-in-1s can be a problem
4K Minimal specs

Who’s the Roku Smart Soundbar for?

In reality, the Roku Smart Soundbar is for very few people. If you are in need of combining a soundbar with a TV operating system, then the Roku Smart Soundbar will do the job. However, it’s not the most sensible idea to opt for a device like this. Instead, anyone in need of a new soundbar will be better off actually buying a soundbar without the TV operating system built-in. That’s not meant to be a slight on Roku as the same is true for any soundbar pretending to be a streaming player.

How much does the Roku Smart Soundbar cost

Considering this is both a streaming player and a soundbar, the Roku Smart Soundbar costs $179.99. This officially makes the Roku Smart Soundbar the most expensive first-party player the company offers.

The bottom line

We said earlier that one of the good things about Roku’s player portfolio is the ease of understanding which one is right for you.

Best Roku player summary:

Reason Roku
Cheapest RokuRoku Express
Cheapest with 4KRoku Premiere
Best for featuresRoku Streaming Stick+
Best overallRoku Ultra
Best for audio soundbarRoku Smart Soundbar
John Finn

By John Finn

John started Streaming Clarity to help consumers navigate the live TV streaming and subscription service landscape. John has been writing about technology and TV-related services and devices since 2014 and believes the best streaming approach is to bounce between services as needed. Contact John via email at john@streamingclarity.com or on Twitter

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