Roku makes seven models of its popular set-top box for streaming video. And that’s if you only count current production and aren’t buying a used model. Here’s how to know what Roku to buy.
You can buy a TV with Roku hardware built in, but I prefer a separate device. Here’s why.
For a 720p or 1080p HDTV: What Roku to buy
If you have a 720p or 1080p HDTV and good wi fi coverage in whatever room the TV is, your choice is pretty simple. Get the $30 Roku Express. This affordable streaming device plugs into an HDMI port and has a quad-core CPU for handling demanding streaming apps. It’s the cheapest option, but for many TVs, it’s exactly the right option. There’s a really good chance the Roku Express is what Roku to buy for your situation. It does have a quad core processor, so if you have an older Roku model that’s developed buffering issues, upgrading to this Roku device is enough to solve them. Popular streaming apps use the more powerful CPU in the Roku Express to deliver a better user experience.
The pricier models also have quad core processors, of course.
The streaming stick models take up less space, but if you have room for a Roku Express, it’s less likely to have heat issues, so I recommend a Roku Express. Even though it’s the most inexpensive model, there’s a lot to like about it. Roku may be using this model to try to buy market share. Some may argue it’s too good.
For an older TV that lacks HDMI
If you have an older TV that doesn’t have HDMI, the $35 Roku Express+ is what Roku to buy. It’s identical to the Roku Express but adds a composite output for older TVs that need it. And if you ever replace the older TV with one that has HDMI, the Express+ will still work. But if you don’t need the composite output, you just waste $5.
It’s worth noting that the Roku Express+ is the only current model with a composite output.
For 4K and HDR video on a budget
If you have a 4K TV and don’t need voice control or a wired connection, get a Roku Premiere. At $40, the price is still relatively modest. This is the no-frills 4K model, but if you’re not looking to expand its memory or play your own videos off USB, this model will suit you just fine. It’s entirely possible to play your own content over the network with any Roku model, so you may not need USB anyway.
For 4K and HDR video and/or voice search
If you have a 4K TV and/or you want voice search, get a Roku Premiere+. It has the same 4K features as the Premiere but adds a voice remote. You can still plug a Premiere+ into a 720p or 1080p HDTV if you want voice control. It still works at lower resolutions too.
If voice search appeals to you, the Premiere+ is the least expensive option, and it costs half as much as a Roku Ultra. If you don’t need the Ultra’s other features, this is a good model to get.
For 720p or 1080p in tight spaces
If you have a 720p or 1080p TV in a tight space, such as a TV in a kitchen or dorm room, or a wall-mounted TV with nowhere to put a Roku box, the $50 Roku Streaming Stick is the best choice. The streaming stick form factor plugs straight into the HDMI port and you can power it from the TV’s USB port if it has one, so you don’t even need a second power outlet.
Also, the streaming stick has 802.11ac wireless networking, so in some instances, a streaming stick will work in places where the cheaper Roku boxes won’t.
For 4K and HDR in tight spaces
Predictably, the $60 Roku Streaming Stick+ adds 4K and HDR capability to the Streaming Stick. So if you have a wall-mounted 4K TV, or a 4K TV in a tight space and need the smaller form factor, the Streaming Stick+ is probably what Roku to buy.
For wired connections, or the person who wants everything
And last of all, there’s the $99 Roku Ultra, which has 4K and voice capability, a wired Ethernet port, high-speed 802.11ac wireless, a microSD card slot for memory expansion, a headphone jack for private listening, and a USB port for playing your own video. I don’t know how many people will use all of the Roku Ultra’s capabilities, and you may very well buy it just for one or two of its extra features, but its price is still lower than an Apple TV, so it’s not like the Roku Ultra is out of line, necessarily.
The other Roku models tend to give incremental improvements over one another for an extra $10. If you want wired networking, or more than incremental improvements, the Ultra is what Roku to buy.
If you don’t like paying the high premium to get the Ultra and you don’t need all of its features, there are some older models with Ethernet. Just keep in mind some of the older units won’t have 4K so make sure the model you’re looking at has what you need.