By Jim Kimble / Published on July 1, 2022
Roku remains one of the most popular streaming platforms in the U.S. for cord-cutters and TV viewers in general.
Roku streaming players have a vast range and reach when it comes to TV viewing options whether you are looking to ditch cable TV or upgrade your streaming experience.
An inexpensive Roku Express or a future-proof Roku Ultra with 4K streaming capabilities can give new life to older TVs.
High-end picture resolutions such as Dolby Vision, HDR and 4K can be had on a mid-priced Roku for under $50. Roku’s latest voice remote has a rechargeable battery, and is included with Roku Ultra and Roku Streaming Stick 4K+.
Amazon Fire TV, Google Chromecast and Smart TVs with Android TV or Google TV have their own impressive features.
If you’re buying a brand new 4K or OLED TV for your living room that supports Dolby Vision or Dolby Atmos, the software that comes with the TV should be adequate. Sony uses Google TV. Samsung and LG have their own proprietary software that supports major streaming apps such as Netflix, HBO Max and Disney+.
But Roku is known best for its simplicity and robust channel store. It also has a growing library of free, ad-supported TV shows and movies through The Roku Channel.
This guide breaks down all your options and my recommendations based on years of testing, and buying new Roku models as they hit the market. I have previously rated the Roku Ultra and Roku Express 4K+ among the best streaming devices. I also have some tips and recommendations on what streamer is best when traveling with a Roku.
Table of Contents
- Roku Ultra
- Roku Express 4K Plus
- Roku Streaming Stick 4K vs Roku Streaming Stick 4K+
- Roku Express
- Roku Streambar
- Roku Frequently Asked Questions
- How does Roku work?
- What is Roku Private Listening?
- What is the difference between the Roku Voice Remote vs Roku Voice Remote Pro?
- Does Roku give you network TV stations?
- Does a Roku have a USB port?
- Can a Roku hook up to any TV?
- Where to buy a Roku
Roku Ultra is the company’s flagship streaming player, supporting 4K HDR, Dolby Vision and Dolby Atmos audio. The Ultra is the most expensive Roku streamer at $99 with the exception of the Roku Soundbar. The 2022 refresh of the Ultra added a new remote control called the Roku Voice Remote Pro.
The Roku Voice Remote Pro has a rechargeable battery, and a USB cable for charging up the remote. A built-in microphone with a range of about 12-feet will also hear you say, “Hey Roku, find my remote”.
The remote will start beeping until you find it and press a button to cease the beeping. It’s a convenient feature when you lose the remote under a couch cushion.
Roku Ultra’s remote control can control a TV’s power and volume after it goes through a simple pairing process during setup.
There are a few other features that might make buying the Roku Ultra worth the extra money.
The remote control on the Roku Ultra has a built-in headphone jack for private listening. You can program two buttons for your favorite apps. One of the most underrated perks of the Ultra is the option to use an Ethernet cord instead of WiFi.
Having a hardwired Internet connection greatly reduces the possibility of a TV picture buffering. That’s something you especially want to consider if you have an older router, or use a streaming service that supports 4K or Dolby Vision. Streaming in higher picture resolutions requires more Internet bandwidth (at least 25 Mbps download speed on some services) than HD picture resolution.
Roku Ultra supports Apple AirPlay and HomeKit. That allows you to easily share or stream photos and video directly from an iPhone, iPad or Mac.
Roku Ultra features include:
- New Voice Remote Pro with hands-free, find-my-remote feature and rechargeable battery.
- USB port for accessing external flash or hard drives.
- High-speed HDMI cable to ensure proper video and audio quality.
- Ethernet port for more stable streaming in 4K HDR and Dolby Vision.
You will need a TV that supports 4K, HDR and Dolby Vision to enjoy these higher picture resolutions.
The Roku Ultra is what I bought my parents when they made the jump and cut the cord from cable TV. They had a 55-inch 1080p television in their living room that still had a lot of life.
But the TV needed refreshed software with easy to understand menus and a universal remote control. Getting the Ultra helped me guard against buffering while streaming live TV and movies. Buying a 4K Roku streamer also made sense because the next TV my parents will buy will most likely be 4K. So the Ultra ensured a future-proof purchase.
Read more about the Roku Ultra at Roku. Purchases include free shipping.
Roku Express 4K Plus
The Roku Express 4K Plus supports 4K HDR10, but not Dolby Vision or Dolby Atmos.
But for most people, the Express 4K+ is a better value, especially if you own an older 4K Smart TV that needs a refresh.
The Express 4K Plus does not support Dolby Vision or Dolby Atmos, but it’s a somewhat moot point. Dolby Vision was introduced on Smart TVs in 2014.
Most new televisions that support Dolby Vision or Dolby Atmos already include adequate native software for a good streaming experience. If you own an older TV with Dolby Vision support, then get a Roku Ultra instead of the Express 4K Plus.
The Express 4K Plus has dual-band connectivity to WiFi, and an AC radio inside.
The remote control for the Express 4K Plus can control power and volume on your TV. And the remote control has a button for voice commands that can help you quickly search for movies or specific apps.
The private listening feature isn’t on the Express 4K Plus, but you can use private listening through the Roku mobile app. I use Bluetooth headphones for watching TV at night.
Roku Express 4K Plus supports Apple AirPlay and HomeKit. That allows you to easily share or stream photos and video directly from an iPhone, iPad or Mac.
The Roku Express 4K Plus retails for about $40.
Read more about the Roku Express 4K+ at Roku. Purchases include free shipping.
Roku Streaming Stick 4K vs Roku Streaming Stick 4K+
The Roku Streaming Stick 4K is a follow up to the 2017 model called the Roku Streaming Stick+.
The Streaming Stick 4K supports Dolby Vision, and 4K HDR. You can also use Apple Airplay with the Streaming Stick+. Roku says the Streaming Stick+ has long-range WiFi capabilities. The Roku Streaming Stick 4K retails at $50.
Generally speaking, the Express 4K Plus is a better value compared to the Streaming Stick 4K unless you want Dolby Vision.
The Google Chromecast with Google TV is a better streamer at the $50 price point. A Chromecast lets you cast nearly any app from a smartphone. And Google TV has a better system of showing you programs and movies from most of your streaming services on one screen.
The Streaming Stick 4K includes a remote control that can function as a universal remote for your TV, controlling power and volume. The remote has voice command support. Picture resolution includes HD, HDR, 4K and Dolby Vision.
The Roku Streaming Stick 4K+ has all the same features as the Roku Streaming Stick 4K with one exception.
The 4K+ streaming player includes the Voice Remote Pro with its rechargeable battery and lost-remote feature. It’s the same remote control that’s included with the Roku Ultra.
Read more about the Roku Streaming Stick 4K at Roku. Purchases include free shipping.
The Roku Express is the entry-level, budget streaming player at $30. Its picture resolution is High Definition (1080p or 720p). So it’s suitable for an older TV that lacks 4K.
The remote control with the Roku Express has no voice commands. The Express plugs into a HDMI port just like its more expensive siblings. A HDMI cord is included so you don’t have to buy an extra cord to start streaming.
Roku Express has all the same streaming capabilities in HD resolution, including Netflix, Disney+, Amazon Prime and HBO Max.
Read more about the Roku Express at Roku. Purchases include free shipping.
The Roku Streambar is a 2.0-channel soundbar that does double duty as a streaming player and speaker system.
The Streambar supports 4K HDR picture resolution, Dolby Audio, but not Dolby Vision or Dolby Atmos. The soundbar is compact at 32 inches. It processes 5.1 audio, and improves vocal clarity.
The Roku Soundbar does not have a subwoofer included. A Roku Subwoofer can be purchased separately.The lack of bass on the Roku Soundbar can be noticeable while watching an action movie or a scene that demands a little more punch in the audio department.
But overall, it delivers a significant improvement from internal TV speakers. The Roku Soundbar remote control has voice search, and can control the audio and power to a TV.
The Roku Streambar retails for $129.99. Read more about the Roku Streambar at Roku. Purchases include free shipping.
Roku Frequently Asked Questions
Here are some basic Roku questions readers often want to know before buying a new Roku streamer.
How does Roku work?
A Roku plugs into the HDMI port on the back of a television. The software is updated regularly and becomes the new streaming hub for your television every time you turn it on.
Roku excels at being intuitive and simple to use. The menu has a grid of apps that you can arrange in whatever order you like.
Roku serves up its own slate of free, ad-supported movies and TV shows on The Roku Channel. Roku Originals also include free, short form comedies, dramas and mysteries.
The Featured Free section does a good job of aggregating free TV shows and movies from a number of TV Everywhere apps.
Using Featured Free cuts down on the time it takes to find something to watch because you don’t need to dive into a bunch of different apps or even sign into them to watch a show.
What is Roku Private Listening?
Private Listening allows you to receive audio from your TV on earbuds or headphones while using a Roku or Roku TV.
The Private Listening feature is available through some Roku remote controls that include a headphone jack. You can also use the Roku app on a smartphone for private listening through Bluetooth-connected earbuds or headphones.
Private listening has a couple of benefits.
When you’re watching a movie at night that has sudden upticks in pitch and volume, you won’t have to constantly jump for the remote control to turn down the volume. It helps ensure that other people sleeping in a nearby room will not get woken up by your nighttime streaming.
Watching TV with a quality set of earbuds or headphones helps pick up the nuance of smaller sounds that you might not hear from a soundbar (such as a storm drain trickling rain, crunchy footsteps down an alley and low voices).
What is the difference between the Roku Voice Remote vs Roku Voice Remote Pro?
The Roku Voice Remote Pro was released in 2022, and adds a rechargeable battery, and a lost-remote control feature. Private listening is also included on the Voice Remote Pro.
The button layout on the Pro looks the same as other Roku remote controls, but the dimensions of the remote itself is slightly thinner and lighter in the hand.
The Voice Remote Pro can be purchased separately for $30.
The Remote Pro works with most recent Roku players, including all Roku TV models and Roku soundbars.
By comparison, the Voice Remote requires two AA batteries. It has a button for voice commands, TV power and volume.
Does Roku give you network TV stations?
No, not on its own. But there are a number of streaming services, and options for local channels that are available on Roku, including some free and budget options that are far cheaper than a cable TV subscription.
Does a Roku have a USB port?
Only the Roku Ultra has a USB port that supports streaming from a USB flash drive or external hard drive. You can access movie and picture files under the Roku Media Player hub.
Can a Roku hook up to any TV?
Yes. Regardless of whether you are looking to upgrade an older TV, or even a newer Samsung or LG TV, a Roku will be compatible. The TV just needs a HDMI port to connect to a Roku player. The HDMI port is typically located on the back of a television.
Where to buy a Roku
You can buy any Roku streaming player, remote control or soundbar directly from the Roku website, and get free shipping on any order.
It’s the first place worth checking because Roku has the ability to offer exclusive discounts or pricing.
There are a number of easy options for checkout. You can use Paypal, Google Pay (G Pay) or your Roku account when you make a purchase.
Here are some options to buy Roku devices.
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