Do I need to buy a new Roku?
If you’re looking for faster performance, 4K HDR streaming and voice-search, you will probably want to upgrade your Roku.
Five new Roku streaming players just made their debut this fall. The new Roku players range in price from $30 to $100. The Roku stick now dominates the lineup. There’s four of them and one streaming box. Each model has a much faster processor than the prior generation that was released around this time last year.
And two of the five players now support 4K Ultra HD, HDR, 1080p and 720p streaming. The remote control for three of the new Roku devices got a significant upgrade, too.
There are new dedicated buttons for different streaming apps. Hulu and HBO NOW are on the Ultra remote. On the Roku Streaming Stick+ that I recently bought, there are dedicated buttons for Hulu and PlayStation Vue.
(Buttons for Amazon Video and Google Play are now gone, but not the apps.) All this may sound pretty good, but you may be asking, ‘Which Roku stick is best for me?’
Good question. Keep reading.
Improved TV Everywhere support, voice-search with Roku OS 8
Aside from these hardware upgrades, all newer Roku streaming players are getting a software upgrade to Roku OS 8.
The best part of the update?
You’ll only have to sign in once to authenticate all of your TV Everywhere apps. This will be a big deal for cord cutters, who subscribe to PlayStation Vue, fuboTV or DirecTV Now. Those three live streaming platforms have the strongest TV Everywhere support among its competitors.
One great advantage to TV Everywhere support is the extra programming. Some of the best apps out there have live streams of channels that might not be part of your pay-TV subscription.
Take a look at the FX Now app. It offers on-demand movies and shows. And there are multiple live feeds of FX channels being broadcasted across the U.S. With other apps like FOX Sports GO, you might be able to tap into a live feed of a regional sports network depending on where you live.
Roku has also been working on its voice recognition software. Voice search is a new feature for Roku. It’s a feature that the Amazon Fire TV devices have had for months.
The 4K Spotlight app, an aggregator for 4K content, now breaks down shows available in 4K and HDR in different categories.
Best overall value: Roku Streaming Stick+ ($70)
The standout model is the Roku Streaming Stick+ for $70.
It supports 4K Ultra HD, HDR, and 1080p/720p streaming. The price of this Roku stick is the same as the all-new Amazon Fire TV, which also supports 4K HDR. A WiFi antenna designed to improve reception really sets this model apart from its four siblings.
Roku says the range on the Streaming Stick+ is four times as powerful than previous devices. So you may not need a WiFi extender to stream from that hard-to-reach area of your house. The antenna attachment plugs into a USB port on the back of your TV. It only works with the Streaming Stick Plus, nothing else.
With the new remote, ability to stream 4K HDR and added WiFi antenna, it has the most new features than any of the other streamers.
Best streaming player for living room TV: Roku Ultra ($100)
This new, faster version of Roku Ultra is $30 cheaper than the previous generation. The new Ultra streams 4K Ultra HD and HDR supported content.
There’s a remote headphone jack for private listening, and the remote-finder from last year’s model is still here too.
Roku decided to drop from its lineup the Premiere and Premiere+ models released last year, making the new Ultra the only full-sized box left. The Ultra has a wired Ethernet port, and an SD card slot to expand memory. The optical audio output has been taken away with this model.
The new remote also controls TV power and volume.
If I’m looking for a streaming player for my living room TV, I generally prefer a box that has an Ethernet port compared to a Roku stick. I use PlayStation Vue and other live streaming platforms, so I don’t want any lag due to my Internet connection because I have a bunch of devices competing for WiFi. So I would pick up a Roku Ultra for my primary TV.
Roku Streaming Stick ($50): entry-level for remote with TV volume, power
You’ll need this model if, at minimum, you want a Roku remote with power and volume buttons for your TV.
This model is an upgraded version of the widely popular Roku Streaming Stick that came out last year. This Roku stick only supports HD streaming, but has the new remote control with voice search capabilities, and buttons for TV power and volume.
Roku Express vs Roku Express Plus ($30/$40): What’s the difference?
The Roku Express was introduced last year as an inexpensive entry-level streamer. It had access to all the same apps as more expensive Rokus, but the Express was a lot slower.
Roku has fixed the problem with a processor that the company says is five times faster than before. It’s a huge improvement. The Express can now quickly access platforms like Sling TV or Netflix without any noticeable delay. It also costs less than the Amazon Fire TV Stick and Chomecast. The Express Plus got an improved processor too and it’s just as fast. But the Express Plus is geared for older TVs that need analog cable to connect instead of a HDMI port.
Buying a 2017 Roku stick vs 2016 Roku
Whenever a new generation of streaming players is released, it’s a general practice for companies to shed their older inventory. It can make for a touch decision on which Roku is best to buy.
Right now, you’ll find 2016 versions of Roku Ultra, and the discontinued Roku Premiere and Roku Premiere+ at reduced prices. Should you buy one? Usually, I air toward taking advantage of these kinds of sales. This particular situation is different.
The price difference between a new 2017 Roku and last year’s model is small. For a few dollars more, you’re getting much faster performance, a remote control with more features, and the ability to stream 4K and HDR in some models.
Streaming platforms like DirecTV Now have already announced plans to support live streaming in 4K HDR by 2018.
The value of a new Roku vs a 2016 model will also be worth it in the long run if you upgrade to a 4K HDR television in the next couple of years. If you already own a 4K TV, then you’ll be able to enjoy a better picture from a Roku Streaming Stick+ or Roku Ultra.
Founder and Editor of The Cord Cutting Report. Before launching the site in 2016, he worked for more than two decades as a staff writer or correspondent for a number of daily newspapers, including The Boston Globe. His enthusiasm for tech began with the Atari 2600. Follow @james_kimble