Streaming devices are becoming almost as common as TV sets are. From Apple, to Chromecast and Roku, there’s several leading players in the streaming TV market to choose from.
Recently Roku, makers of the popular and inexpensive Streaming Stick announced a suite of new streaming TV devices. New to the lineup are Roku Express and Express+, Roku Premier and Premier+, as well as Roku Ultra.
How do you know which of these streaming devices is right for you, your TV, and your needs? In this article we’ll break down what each of the new devices does and how it works. I received each of the units mentioned here for testing purposes.
What is Roku/How does it work?
Roku is a brand of TV streaming device with a proprietary operating system.
In the streaming TV world, each of the players has its own operating system, or OS. Apple has one in its Apple TV unit, and Google Chromecast also uses a separate and distinct operating system. Roku’s OS is known for being a very easy to use. I’ve tested numerous streaming devices made by Roku and have found the entire system intuitive, and smart. (See here for the basics of ‘How to stream with Roku’)
Streaming TV devices, or even streaming television sets, work by connecting to your home’s Wi-Fi to bring you television through the Internet. The streaming devices from Roku either come in the form of a stick, a small bar, or a small box, depending on the model. They can be controlled using the free Roku app via your smartphone or tablet. (The Roku app will work with both Apple and Android devices). You can also control your TV experience with Roku’s included remote, which is one of the things that makes this set up unique. If you don’t have your phone handy, or it’s being used for some other task, grabbing the remote is quick and convenient.
You will need need Wi-Fi for using the Roku streaming devices too.
Roku devices – What’s the difference?
|TV Compatibility||Remote||Headphones||HDR support||HDMI Port needed/Cables included|
|Roku Express||HD||yes||Not included||no||yes/yes|
|Roku Express+||HD or SD||yes||Not included||no||no/yes|
|Roku Premier||4K + HD||yes||Not included||no||yes/no|
|Roku Premier+||4K + HD||yes||Included||yes||yes/no|
|Roku Ultra||4K + HD||yes – with voice search||Included||yes||yes/no|
With the announcement of no less than five new Roku streaming TV devices, how can you possibly choose the one that’s right for you? Let’s break down what each of the devices does and why it might be right for your circumstances.
Some of the key differences you will encounter in these different products; some are able to connect to older television sets, while others are meant for HD TV, and still others for brand-new 4K resolution technology sets (Click here for a primer on 4K), plus there’s also options for improved colour technology with HDR or High Dynamic Range functionality. (What’s HDR? Click here to read more.)
Some of the new Roku streamers come with included headphones for private listening via the remote control. And one, the Roku Ultra, has the most features. There’s also a difference in price among the various devices. The Express is the most inexpensive streaming option in the Roku lineup, while the Ultra is top-of-the-line and has more bells and whistles.
Roku Express boasts fast 1080p HD streaming. The all-new Roku Express works with virtually any TV with an HDMI connection. In the package is a streaming player (which is the size of a small chocolate bar), a remote control, batteries, and and adhesive strip for attaching it to the side of the TV. There’s also a high-speed HDMI cable, plus a power adapter.
If you want to get specific, you get 802.11 (b/g/n compatible) networking with WEP, WPA, and WPA2 support, plus video outputs. The Express supports 720p and 1080p HD video. It will also upscale video from 720p to 1080P on HD TVs.
Key Takeaways on Roku Express:
Have an older TV without HDMI ports? The Roku Express+ works on TVs with no HDMI connection; it uses composite inputs instead (though both composite and HDMI cables are in the box). This means you can now turn your older TV into a smart streaming TV. Just plug in the three composite cables to the back of your TV, then plug the other end into the Express+.
Key Takeaways on Roku Express+:
-perfect for older TVs; ones with no HDMI port
The new Roku Premiere is primarily meant for 4K Ultra HD TVs with HDMI connections, though it will work on HD sets. Just plug your Roku Premiere directly into your TV or receiver using a High Speed HDMI Cable (not included in this kit). If you’re after 4K video resolution, you’ll need to ensure you have a compatible 4K TV and 4K content; just having a 4K streamer isn’t enough.
Roku Premiere promises brilliant picture quality to your 4K UHD or 1080p HD TV with crisp, life-like images that practically jump off the screen. You don’t even need to hunt down 4K content; the Roku 4K Spotlight channel helps to find made-in-4K.
One other heads up; when streaming higher resolution and improved quality 4K video, you’ll need to make sure your Wi-Fi system has enough bandwidth.
With Premiere you get a faster processor which will help cut down on buffering. There’s also automatic upscaling – 720p to 1080p on HD TVs and 720p/1080p to 4K 60fps Ultra HD on 4K UHD TVs.
Key Takeaways on Roku Premiere:
-for 4K TVs
-works on HD TVs too (good if you’re planning to upgrade to 4K soon)
Premiere+ is also for 4K-ready viewing. By upgrading to the Roku Premiere+, you not only get more powerful and faster streaming device you also get more colour-rich HDR picture quality.
What will the addition of HDR mean? You’ll see rich, realistic colour detail—even in the darkest shadows and brightest highlights—when you stream HDR content on a compatible HDR TV. HDR displays a wider range of colors, brighter whites, and deeper blacks to create more natural, beautiful, and true-to-life imagery.
There’s also an enhanced remote with headphones, allowing you to listen privately and quietly if that’s what you need.
The fast quad-core processor and 802.11ac dual-band wireless gets you to your favourite shows fast, with smooth and responsive navigation and channels that launch quickly.
Key Takeaways on Roku Premiere+:
-has HDR colour support
-enhanced remote with headphones
The top of the line player; Roku Ultra has 4K capabilities, HDR, a faster processor, plus an Ethernet 10/100 Port, 802.11ac dual band wireless, and a digital optical audio port, giving you a lot of connection options.
It also contains an enhanced remote with voice search for finding content without typing, plus it has gaming buttons, as well as headphones for private listening. If you lose the remote, the streaming device will find it for you and guide you to it. Read Shelly’s full review of the Ultra here, and watch her video for a quick look:
Additional features of the Ultra include the ability to use the remote control no matter where it’s pointed.
Key Takeaways on Roku Ultra:
-4K + HDR
-more connection ports
-enhanced remote with headphones
-find lost remote
-voice search content
Quick recap – Roku Streaming devices
To recap, if you have an older television set, the Roku Express+ is the one for you. If you have a newer HDTV set but a limited budget, go with Roku Express. If you have a 4KTV or plan to get one soon, Move up to Roku Premiere. If the best possible picture is what you want, along with private listening, upgrade to Roku Premier+. If you want all the bells and whistles mentioned in this article, but more connection options and features galore, do not pass go, do not collect $200, go directly to Roku Ultra.