Roku — All Devices Compared — Which is the Best?

Comparison of all Roku devices: Channels\Apps | Features | Costs | and more…
roku express vs roku streaming stick vs roku ultra
Published: 18th Aug 2020
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By Rohan Tandon

Rohan is a passionate tech journalist with a degree in English literature. He's worked as a commissi Read More..

1. Summary of Roku Devices

2. Similarities of Roku Devices

3. Differences between Roku Devices

4. Verdict: Which Roku Device Should I Buy?

 

Roku is currently one of the world’s most popular streaming devices. It was originally designed in collaboration with Netflix in 2008. Since then, through several generational turns, Roku has firmly established itself as the best in the business, rivaled by only Amazon Fire TV and, perhaps, Apple TV.

However, unlike Amazon Fire TV and Apple TV, Roku is a platform-agnostic streaming device. That means Roku doesn’t have a subscription streaming service of its own, unlike both Amazon and Apple. As such, Roku is one of the most neutral of all streaming devices. It is compatible with the widest range of devices and TVs and has some of the smartest functionalities.

As of writing, Roku has four devices on the market — Roku Express, Roku Premiere, Roku Streaming Stick+, and Roku Ultra. In this article, we compare all of the Roku devices to help you decide which one to purchase.


Summary of Roku Streaming Devices

Roku Express — Bare-Bones Excellence

roku express

Roku Express is the smallest and most bare-bones streaming device in the Roku line. Roku Express has all of the essential functionalities of other Roku devices, including their complete library of content across different streaming platforms. However, Roku Express only offers up to Full HD content quality, no HDR, and no voice control or additional smart features.

Roku Premiere — 4K HDR Minimalism

roku premiere

Roku Premiere is basically a slightly upgraded version of the Express. It has all the same core functionalities as Roku Express, with the complete Roku library of content. However, Roku Premiere provides Ultra 4K content with HDR support. It doesn’t have voice control or advanced smart features.

Roku® Streaming Stick™+ — Top-of-the-Line Streaming Device

roku streaming stick+

Roku® Streaming Stick™+ is the most advanced top-of-the-line streaming device. It provides Ultra HD 4K and HDR videos, along with advanced smart features, like voice control through the remote, compatibility with voice assistants, long-range wireless receiver, and more. Roku Streaming Stick is currently one of the world’s most reasonable streaming devices with all of these features.

Roku Ultra — Streaming Device + Headphones

roku ultra

Roku Ultra is yet another top-of-the-line streaming device. Even though it’s more expensive and supposedly better than the Streaming Stick+, I hesitate to call it a better or more advanced streaming device. Most of its improvements over the Streaming Stick+ are non-essential, i.e., you get better remote control and a pair of premium JBL headphones for private listening.


Similarities of Roku Streaming Devices

Installation

All Roku streaming devices are connected to the TV via an HDMI port. The Roku streaming devices look like small pen drives attached to the TV’s HDMI port. The devices also feature USB ports, through which you can connect them to the TV’s USB port, as long as it carries at least five volts of power.

If the TV’s USB port doesn’t have five volts of power, you can also connect the Roku device to an external power outlet via the wall adapter and USB extension cord, both of which are included in the package.

Connecting the Roku devices to the TV’s USB port is convenient and neat. However, connecting them to a power outlet will give you smoother and faster functionality, especially when it comes to Ultra 4K HDR content.

You should also note that you can connect all of the Roku streaming devices to the TV’s HDMI port. However, if you want to access the 4K HDR content quality, you’ll need a compatible 4K HDR TV with HDMI HDCP 2.2 port and a high-speed HDMI cable.

You can still use the advanced Roku devices on older TVs without HDMI, but you won’t be able to access their Ultra 4K HDR qualities, rendering them as simple as a Roku Express.

Audio Quality

All Roku devices feature the same stellar audio standards. They feature digital stereo over HDMI and DTS Digital Surround™ pass-through over HDMI ports. Most importantly, all of them feature Dolby Audio and Dolby Atmos' support, the latter of which is the most powerful audio support right now.

Dolby Atmos creates the most stunning theatrical sound experience because it projects three-dimensional moving audio that surrounds and moves around you. However, you’ll also need speakers that support Dolby Audio and Dolby Atmos.

OS & Interface

Roku is known for its stellar operating systems and interface. Most streaming platforms, especially Amazon Fire and Apple TV, have an incessant need to push their native content, which affects the general user experience. However, Roku has no such allegiances.

All Roku devices use the same OS and interface, which is often updated across all platforms and devices. The user interface is clean and minimalist, and the menus load instantly because they’re intentionally light-weight and minimalist.

Roku User Interface Features

  • Custom Menus: You can customize your Roku menu, positioning the apps and content based on your interests.
  • Roku Feed: You can follow movies, tv shows, actors, and directors, to receive regular updates whenever new content is uploaded.
  • Up Next: This is a section in which the latest episodes of ongoing shows automatically come up.
  • Roku Search: Roku has an extremely intuitive search, allowing you to look for content according to actors, directors, movies, tv shows, or other criteria. Furthermore, you get search results from all of your existing streaming platforms.
  • Guest Mode: All Roku devices allow you to set up guest accounts. With this feature, you can create guest accounts that can be accessed for only a specific period. Guest mode is ideal for those running hostels, hotels, or Airbnbs.

roku os user interface

Free Channels

Roku has a free ad-supported application called the Roku Channel. This is a completely free application that runs purely on revenue generated by ads. If you don’t want to subscribe to paid streaming services, and don’t mind the advertisements, you can watch some truly special movies and shows from the Roku Channel. This is accessible for all Roku devices.

roku channels and apps

Mobile Apps

All Roku devices are compatible with free apps for iOS and Android devices. Furthermore, the Roku apps are the same for all devices, and they have all the same functionalities.

Roku Mobile App Features

  • Remote Control: The Roku app turns your smartphone into an extended remote control. As such, you don’t need your remote anymore.
  • TrackPad: They feature a trackpad with which you can navigate the menu.
  • Voice Search: You can use the Roku app for voice search even if your Roku device’s remote doesn’t support voice search. However, you’ll need to tap and hold the relevant button to activate voice search.
  • Private Listening: The Roku app for all devices includes the private listening function. As such, you can connect your headphones to the smartphone, either wired or wireless. The audio will move from the soundbar to your smartphone, allowing you to listen privately without disturbing others.
  • Mirroring: The Roku app also features a screen mirroring option with which you can cast videos and photos from your smartphone to your TV. However, the screen mirroring feature is only available for some Roku TV models, such as Express (Model 3900), and Express+ (Model 3910). As such, screen mirroring is dependent on your TV rather than your streaming device.

Differences Between Roku Streaming Devices

Video Quality

The Roku devices differ significantly in video quality and compatibility.

Roku Express is a Full HD streaming device. It can provide video quality up to 1080p, with up-scaling from 720p.

Roku Premiere, Roku Streaming Stick+, and Roku Ultra are Ultra HD HDR streaming devices. As such, they provide content resolution up to 2160p at 60fps, with up-scaling from 720p. Furthermore, they support HDR10 content.

However, the 4K and HDR video output depends on the correct hardware as well. To access such video qualities, you’ll need a 4K HDR-compatible TV with an HDMI HDCP 2.2 port and high-speed HDMI cable.

Without a compatible TV, your Roku Premiere, Streaming Stick+, and Ultra will provide the same video quality as the Roku Express.

The quality difference from Full HD to Ultra HD with HDR support is significant.

4K resolution brings a lot more pixels than any other resolution, resulting in sharper and crisper content than usual. HDR, meanwhile, is concerned with color vibrance and contrast rather than resolution, providing videos with better highlights, deeper shadows, and more vibrant colors.

As of now, Roku Premiere, Roku Streaming Stick+, and Roku Ultra provide HDR10 support, which is just a step behind the best HDR quality — Dolby Vision HDR.

Summary

  • Roku Express: Full HD (1080p)
  • Roku Premiere: Ultra HD (HK) + HDR10
  • Roku Streaming Stick+: Ultra HD (HK) + HDR10
  • Roku Ultra: Ultra HD (HK) + HDR10

Remote Control

The Roku devices also have different remote controls with different features. Roku Express and Roku Premiere have simple remote controls. But Roku Streaming Stick+ and Roku Ultra have advanced remote controls.

Roku Express and Roku Premiere have standard IR remotes that include core functionality buttons and shortcut buttons. The shortcut buttons allow you to quickly and immediately access popular streaming platforms, such as Netflix, from the remote,

Roku Streaming Stick+ has an advanced voice remote with TV controls and a microphone button.

The TV buttons — power and volume — allow you to turn the TV on/off and control its volume from the Roku remote. As such, you don’t need to use multiple remotes.

The microphone button allows you to perform a voice search. You have to tap and hold the microphone button to search for movies, apps, tv shows, actors, etc.

You should also note that using a voice remote control isn’t the only way to access the microphone or voice search feature. As mentioned previously, you can also access a voice search from your Roku app.

As such, voice search is available for all Roku devices. However, Roku Streaming Stick+ permits voice search from the remote control.

Roku Ultra has an even more advanced remote control and comes with two personalized shortcut buttons, a remote finder, and a pair of premium JBL headphones for private listening.

The personalized shortcut keys can be customized according to your preference. For example, you can customize them to directly search for a particular show, genre, or actor. You can also customize them to play a specific playlist or streaming platform.

The remote finder is a pretty nifty feature for those who constantly lose their remote controls. You have to simply press a button on the Roku device and the remote will release a sound.

Finally, the Roku Ultra remote comes with a premium JBL headphone. You can connect the JBL headphone to the remote control and listen to the content without disturbing others. The other Roku devices also have private listening, but they don’t come with a pair of JBL headphones.

Summary

  • Roku Express: Simple Remote
  • Roku Premiere: Simple Remote
  • Roku Streaming Stick+: Voice Remote with TV Buttons
  • Roku Ultra: Voice Remote with TV Buttons + Personalized Shortcuts + Remote Finder + JBL Headphones

Comparison of Roku Streaming Devices

Roku Express

Roku Premiere

Roku® Streaming Stick™+

Roku Ultra

Key Features

Picture Quality

Full HD

Full HD + Ultra HD + HDR

Full HD + Ultra HD + HDR

Full HD + Ultra HD + HDR

The Roku Channel

Wireless Connectivity

802.11 b/g/n single-band wireless

802.11 b/g/n single-band wireless

802.11ac dual-band MIMO

802.11ac dual-band MIMO

Remote Control

Simple

Simple

Advanced

Advanced

Connection to TV

HDMI

HDMI® (4K video via HDCP 2.2 HDMI®)

HDMI® (4K video via HDCP 2.2 HDMI®)

HDMI® (4K video via HDCP 2.2 HDMI®)

Specifications

Quad-Core Processor

Full HD (1080p)

Ultra HD (4K)

x

HDR (High Dynamic Range)

x

Wireless: 802.11 b/g/n Single-Band Wireless

x

x

Wireless: 802.11ac Dual-Band MIMO

x

x

Long-Range Wireless Receiver

x

x

Dolby Audio™

Remote Control

Shortcut Keys

Personalized Shortcut Keys

x

x

x

Voice Search

x

x

TV Buttons

x

x

Private Listening

JBL Headphones

x

x

x

OS

Smart Search

Roku Feed

Guest Mode

Mobile Apps

iOS & Android App

Track Pad

Voice Search

Private Listening

Mirroring

Cost

£29.99

£39.99

£49.99

£79.99


Verdict: Which Roku Device Should I Buy?

The differences between the Roku devices can be summarized as such:

  • Roku Express: Full HD + Simple Remote
  • Roku Premiere: Ultra HD & HDR + Simple Remote
  • Roku Streaming Stick+: Ultra HD & HDR + Voice Remote with TV Buttons
  • Roku Ultra: Ultra HD & HDR + Voice Remote with TV Buttons & Remote Finder + JBL Headphones

However, the specific Roku device you should purchase depends entirely on your needs and current TV capabilities.

You should get a Roku Express if:

  • You only need essential features.
  • You don’t need Ultra HD, or your current TV doesn’t support Ultra HD & HDR content.
  • You’re comfortable using your smartphone as an advanced remote.
  • You want the cheapest streaming device possible.

You should get a Roku Premiere if:

  • You have a 4K HDR-compatible TV with HDMI HDCP 2.2 port.
  • You want the best video quality possible.
  • You don’t need voice control on your remote.

You should get a Roku Streaming Stick+ if:

  • You have a 4K HDR-compatible TV with HDMI HDCP 2.2 port.
  • You want the best video quality possible.
  • You want a single remote to control your TV and Roku device.
  • You prefer using your remote rather than your smartphone to control the Roku device.
  • You want the best device possible, and the budget isn’t an issue.

You should get a Roku Ultra if:

  • You have a 4K HDR-compatible TV with HDMI HDCP 2.2 port.
  • You want a single remote to control your TV and Roku device.
  • You constantly lose your remote control.
  • You’re keen on setting personalized shortcuts.
  • You like the deal — getting headphones with the remote control.
  • Budget is no issue and you can splurge.

Based on these guidelines, I hope you’ll find the ideal Roku streaming device for your needs!

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