This Page is about the Roku Streaming Media Players 1,2,3,4 and stick
Roku Streaming Media PlayersThe Roku is a streaming media player, which means it takes content from the Internet and displays it on your TV. The Roku comes in six models, differentiated by performance and features. However, all models can access all 3500+ Roku channels.
Here are some other features that are common to all the models:
Full 1080p HD support
Shortcut buttons on the remote for popular channels, e.g. Netflix, Hulu, HBO GO, etc.
Search across multiple content providers
Mobile app available for casting personal media to your TV and providing remote capabilities
Ability to use the app in locations where you need to log into Wi-Fi like hotels and dorm rooms
This section explains what the main differences are between the various Roku models.
Each model includes all the features of the less expensive ones unless otherwise stated.
Roku Ultra: List Price $129.99
The Ultra is Roku’s top-of-the-line model. It supports both 4K and HDR video. (Note, however, that these features will only be of value to people who have 4K/HDR TVs and who are streaming content that is available in 4K and HDR.
The other main benefits of the Roku Ultra over the other models are:
It includes an Optical Out audio port for connecting to home theater systems.
It’s now the only model with a USB port for attaching a device to play your personal media files.
It has an enhanced remote that provides voice search and has gaming buttons.
It has a remote finder because apparently the developers have seen my living room. ?
Roku Premiere+: List Price $99.99
Here are the main benefits of the Premiere+ over the Premiere, Express+, Express, and Streaming Stick.
It supports HDR video.
It has an Ethernet port.
It comes with a more sophisticated remote control (but not the enhanced one that comes with the Ultra model):
It includes a headphone jack, so you can watch your streaming content without disturbing other people.
You don’t need to point it at the Roku player to work. (The streaming stick’s remote has this feature as well.)
Roku Premiere: List Price $79.99
Here are the main benefits of the Premiere over the Express+, Express, and Streaming Stick.
It supports 4K video.
It has a quad-core processor and 802.11ac dual-band wireless connectivity.
It offers a new feature called Night Listening Mode, that reduces loud sounds like explosions and increases soft sounds like whispering. You’re stuck with a line-of-sight remote, though.
It has a slot for a Micro SD card for additional memory to store additional apps and games if you run out of space on the box.
Roku Express/Express+: List Price $29.99/$39.99
The two Express models are the lowest-end versions, so they’re slower and don’t have most of the advanced features of the others. However the Express+ does have one very important benefit in that it is the only model now that can be used with non-HDTVs (in addition HDTVs). It has A/V ports (yellow, red, white connectors) so it is a great option for a lot of perfectly good TVs out there that just don’t happen to be HDTV. It’s also a major benefit over the other three streaming player competitors—Fire TV, Apple TV, Chromecast—which all require HDTVs.
As far as I can tell, the A/V support is the only difference between the Express and the Express+.
Roku Streaming Stick: List Price $49.99
Unlike the other 4 models, the Roku streaming stick is not a box. It’s a small stick that you plug directly into an HDMI port on your TV, which makes it a great option for wall-mounted TVs or if your TV is on a stand that doesn’t have a lot of space for a box.
In terms of features, the streaming stick is most like the Roku Premiere, but is missing the 4K support and additional Ethernet, USB, and Micro SD ports. It does, however, come with a “point anywhere” remote, but it doesn’t include a headphone jack. (Could these be any more confusing Roku?)
What can you do with a Roku?
Watch Streaming Videos
Roku’s biggest differentiator is the sheer number of channels it offers. (“Channels” is the term Roku uses for what some other streaming players call “apps.”) They have more than 2,500 channels in their public directory, including the top ones for movies and TV programming: Netflix, Amazon Video, Hulu, Google Play, HBO GO/NOW, PBS, Lifetime, YouTube, WatchESPN, WWE Network, etc. They also have channels for popular children’s, news, educational, comedy, fitness, food, and other categories of videos as well as niche content providers like ACORN TV (British series), JW Broadcasting (Christian), Crunchyroll (anime), and Pokémon TV (umm… do I really need to spell this one out? ? )
Note: Buying a Roku does not give you access to the content you can watch on it, just like buying a TV does not give you access to cable TV shows. You need to have accounts with each service that provides the content (some free, some paid) and/or subscribe to a cable/satellite package that gives you permission to access specific networks through the Roku.
Listen to Streaming Audio
The Roku supports lots of music services as well, including Amazon Music, Pandora, Spotify, iHeart Radio, and Sirius XM.
There are many free and paid games available to play on the Roku, including highly popular ones like Angry Birds Toons, Sudoku, and Jeopardy. Note that if you want to play a lot of games, you may need the extra storage capacity that comes with the Roku 2, 3, and 4 models that have a slot for a Micro SD card.
Additional Notes about Roku Channels
I’ve mentioned the various premium channels a lot because that’s probably the number one reason people buy a Roku. But there are also many free channels available to use with the player. Some of them are highly popular services like Pandora for music and Facebook to view your photos and videos on your TV. Some are specialty channels, like Allrecipes.com and TEDTalks. There are also some channels associated with broadcast and cable networks that make portions of their programming available through the Roku, such as CNN, PBS, and SyFy. And there are lots of non-video, audio, and games apps available including ones for social media, photo sharing, personal media serving, shopping, and weather info.
Browse through the channels and you may be surprised at all the additional services you can get. It took me a couple of years before I discovered that there’s an Amazon Music channel where I can play all the music I have uploaded there!
And if all those public channels aren’t enough for you, there’s a whole slew of private channels available that provide access to even more content, including iTunes Podcasts, CNN International, and NASA TV. You can find more info in this T4L post about Roku private channels.
Mirror a Mobile Device’s Screen
Unfortunately, Roku has removed screen mirroring from its entire 2016 line of streaming boxes. But it’s still available with the Streaming Stick. With this feature, if you have a compatible Windows PC, Android device, or Kindle Fire tablet, you can mirror its screen on your TV. This has a couple of benefits:
Any streaming media you can access via your compatible device you can now watch on your TV—for example, you can watch shows from broadcast and cable networks this way if there’s not a Roku-specific channel for them but they stream them on their websites or with mobile apps.
You can also see any non-streaming content from your device on your TV. Maybe you want to scroll through your Facebook or Twitter accounts on a large screen or access your email or browse match.com profiles—anything you’re doing on your device will display on your TV.
So is there anything NOT to love about the Roku?
Well, since nobody’s perfect, there are a few things:
There is no iTunes channel, so the only way to access iTunes content if you have it is via mirroring if you have a compatible device. (There’s also a private Roku channel for iTunes podcasts.)
While the Roku Ultra has voice search capabilities, there is no voice assistant like Siri for the Apple TV or Alexa for the Amazon Fire TV.
There’s no full-fledged game console so you have fewer games options than with the new Fire TV or new Apple TV.
As mentioned earlier, they removed the screen mirroring capability from all the latest models except the stick.