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Choice paralysis is so very real, especially in the streaming era. Not only can you watch pretty much every scene ever committed to film at the click of a button, but you also have dozens of choices when it comes to what device you’ll use to watch. If you want to buy a new Roku, there are eight separate devices on the market, plus a whole host of TVs with Roku already integrated. These days, you can’t just go to an electronics store and stare hopelessly at a wall of Rokus until an associate recognizes the terror in your eyes. Hopefully, this article will get you some better results.
Roku is one of the more dominant streaming devices, with five different tiers available at practically every major realtor — not to mention more than a dozen different brands of televisions that come with the Roku software already installed. You can even kill two tech birds with one tech stone and buy a Roku Smart Soundbar, which is exactly what it sounds like: a professional grade Bluetooth soundbar with a built-in Roku player.
All devices are compatible with the free Roku Mobile App, which allows you to use your phone as a remote control, voice search, cast personal photos and videos to your TV, and even listen privately to what’s playing on your phone. They also use the same Roku operating system, which includes access to hundreds of TV shows and movies for free via The Roku Channel; search functionality by title, actor, or director; screen mirroring for Android and Windows devices; night listening mode; and updates on content availability and price changes via the Roku Feed.
And they are all compatible with your favorite streaming services, with the exception of the newly launched HBO Max and Peacock. While deals are still being ironed out with those corporate powers that be, it’s expected that they’ll arrive on Roku soon. (In the meantime, you can subscribe to HBO through Amazon Prime or Hulu and access all that sweet, sweet “Sopranos” content through those apps.)
Where the Rokus begin to differ is in the features offered — voice capability built into the remote; Ethernet or USB ports; even premium headphones that plug into the remote for private viewing. Still scratching your head? Read on.
What is Roku Express?
These tiny devices connect to your TV via HDMI cable to give you 1080p HD picture quality, and once connected, you’ll have full access to Roku’s 500,000-plus available movies and TV episodes, free channels, and more. The difference between the Roku Express and the Roku Express+ is really just the remote, which has voice capabilities on the plus — and the fact that the Roku Express+ is only available for sale at Walmart.
What is Roku Premiere?
The next step up is the Roku Premiere, which has the same basic capabilities of the Express and connects to your TV via HDMI cable. It comes with a simple remote and no voice features, but it has 4K Ultra HD and HDR picture capabilities. It’s priced the same as the Roku Express+.
Roku Premiere: $38.99, Amazon
What is the Roku Stick?
The company’s Streaming Stick options come in two tiers, the StreamingStick+ and the StreamingStick+ HE. Both have up to 4K and HDR picture capabilities and voice remotes, though the HE remote also has a headphone jack (and comes with a pair of headphones). Rather than connect via HDMI cable, the sticks can be inserted directly into the HDMI jack on your TV.
What is a Roku Ultra?
The highest tier devices are the Roku Ultra LT and the Roku Ultra, which connect to your TV via HDMI cable and give 1080p HD, 4K Ultra HD, and HDR picture quality. Each can connect to the internet via wifi or an Ethernet port, and can expand their storage via microSD only (Ultra LT) or, in the case of the Ultra, microSD and USB. Their voice remotes both have headphone jacks, and the Ultra LT comes with a regular pair while the Ultra will upgrade you to premium JBL headphones. The Ultra also has personal shortcut buttons and remote finder.
What is Roku Soundbar?
If you’re in the market for a sound bar but would also like that piece of technology to multitask (it’s 2020, we’re all multitasking!), Roku’s Smart Soundbar (available for $179.99 at Amazon) will give you premium sound AND a built-in Roku player that attaches to your TV via an HDMI cable. It comes with a voice remote and is also Bluetooth compatible, giving you crisp dialogue and dynamic bass so you can be a living meme when the “Succession” theme drops.
What is Roku TV?
If you’re in the market for a new streaming device AND a new TV, there are also multiple options. The TCL brand is available in 43-inch and 50-inch versions (priced at $229 and $269.99 over at Amazon), while the Hisense version starts at 40 inches ($189.99 at Amazon). If you’re after an RCA, it comes in 40-inch, 43-inch, 50-inch, 55-inch, and 65-inch sizes (priced from $189.99 to $439.99 at Walmart). There’s a 32-inch Sanyo ($125 at Walmart); a 50-inch Philips ($259.88 at Sam’s Club); and a 70-inch Element ($499.99 at Walmart, reduced from $798), and more.