Picking The Right Roku: 5 Current Models Compared

The 2021 holiday shopping season is in full swing, so now seemed like the perfect time to take inventory of Roku’s current streaming device lineup. The company offers hardware that regularly retails for $30 along with options approaching or exceeding $100. So what are shoppers actually getting for that money? Conversely, what are you sacrificing if you opt for a more affordable device?

If you’re trying to decide on the best streaming gift for that special someone, or for yourself (we’re not here to judge!), then you’ve clicked on the right article.

And while Roku did provide these devices to us for free for their original reviews, we are under no obligation to provide a favorable account of any of them. Our opinions remain 100 percent our own.

(Editor’s Note: This article is based on our recent video, which you can check out at the embedded link below.)

The Current Roku Lineup

While we don’t have every single variant Roku currently sells in our offices, we do have a solid collection that represents a wide array of price points within the company’s 2021 arsenal.

At the budget end is the 1080p Roku Express, which normally retails for around $29.99, though you might find it available for $19.99 or so during the holidays.

This is on the more affordable end of the pricing spectrum, so you shouldn’t expect the latest bells and whistles in the box. In fact, the Express tops out at 1080p resolution, rather than the 4K output of higher-end devices, so keep in mind what kind of TV you intend to use with this device.

For not much more money, the Express 4K+ unsurprisingly increases the maximum resolution support to 4K and normally retails for $39.99. As such, it represents a balance of sorts between price and capabilities, offering a solid feature set for a low entry price.

Next up the pricing ladder is the Streaming Stick 4K. This takes the earlier Streaming Stick+ and adds in better performance and more features into a travel-friendly package. It usually retails for $49.99, though again, keep an eye out for sales.

The top spot in Roku’s lineup still belongs to the 2020 Roku Ultra, which normally runs for $99.99. With the Ultra, we’re dealing with the most feature-rich and highest-performing of Roku’s dedicated streaming devices. But not everyone necessarily needs Ultra-levels of performance or features, so we’ll have to dig deeper to see if that price premium is worth it to you.

We also have one of Roku’s 2-in-1 audio solutions on hand. The Roku Streambar combines the convenience of a traditional soundbar with built-in streaming hardware, so you can upgrade both the audio and streaming capabilities of an old TV through a single, compact device. The Streambar regularly retails for $129.99, though we have seen it discounted down to $79.99 for the holidays.

Beyond the regular Streambar, Roku also sells a larger model, known as the Streambar Pro. This is essentially a rebranded version of the older Smart Soundbar, but the concept is still the same. We don’t have this model on hand to test, but it’s usually available for $179.99.

Beyond those options, Roku also sells a few variants and store exclusives, which we’ll explore later in this article.

Comparing Hardware Specs and Features

Click on the image to view the chart in a separate tab.

Generally speaking, you’ll see more impressive and more extensive features and support the higher up you go on the pricing ladder. There’s a notable jump in capabilities and performance when you move from the Express to the Express 4K+, for example. Moving up to the Streaming Stick+ may seem like a less dramatic improvement by comparison, but it does offer Dolby Vision HDR output, which could be useful on TVs that support the advanced High Dynamic Range standard.

Meanwhile, the top-of-the-line Ultra, with its higher price tag, offers more RAM for potentially better performance, Dolby Atmos support, a USB port for local media playback, an Ethernet port, and a more advanced remote control in the box.

Speaking of remotes, here’s a quick overview of the input devices bundled with the company’s hardware.

Click on the image to view the chart in a separate tab.

And while the Streambar normally retails for more than the Ultra, it’s important to note a lot of that cost is wrapped up in the speaker portion of the device. As we’ll see soon, it’s performance as a streaming device can’t quite match the $99.99 Ultra.

And as you scan the charts above, definitely consider the type of display you’re intending to use with any of these streaming devices. If this purchase is destined for a 1080p TV and price is a major concern, you might want to concentrate on the more affordable options. Yes, the higher-end, 4K-capable devices would also work just fine, but the added cost and feature set might not be worth it in that particular use case.

Conversely, if you’re looking to stream on a 4K TV with Dolby Vision HDR, it might be worth concentrating on the higher-end options that support that particular HDR standard.

In other words: Keep your actual use case in mind when weighing which device is right for you or that special someone.

Performance Benchmarks

In addition to the different feature sets these devices offer, you’ll also experience different levels of overall performance depending on which one you choose. To be clear, even the cheapest option in Roku’s lineup should do just fine as an everyday streamer, but if you’re interested in getting to your apps quickly and smoothly switching between apps without a whole lot of waiting, you might want to check out the results below.

To gauge performance, we loaded a series of apps and tested how quickly each device got each app up and running. And you might notice Netflix shows up at the start and end of our testing, and that’s to see if the device could get the app loaded any faster on that second attempt.

That can be a good sign a given device is better equipped to juggle multiple streaming apps and load each one quickly.

Click on the image to view the chart in a separate tab.

When it comes to overall performance, there’s a pretty solid correlation between overall price and performance in this face-off.

The Express 4K+ did manage a slight win over the pricier Streaming Stick 4K, but the overall time was within a few seconds of each other. So it’s safe to say they’re roughly equal in terms of performance.

And as we mentioned earlier, the Streambar technically does cost more than the $100 Ultra (at least when it’s not on sale), but it can’t match the Ultra’s overall time. In fact, you can expect a little better than a Roku Express-level of performance to go along with that four-speaker setup. Put another way, a significant portion of the Streambar’s value stems from its compact convenience — rather than its overall streaming performance.

Other Roku Options to Consider

Like we mentioned earlier, the company offers a number of variants, including options through specific retailers like Best Buy and Walmart.

At Best Buy, there’s the Streaming Stick + Headphone Edition, which takes the older Streaming Stick + (the Streaming Stick 4K’s predecessor) and adds in some headphones and a remote control that supports Roku’s Private Listening mode. That version normally retails for around $59.99, though keep an eye out for holiday deals.

Walmart has a few options of its own, including the Express 4K, which is a more affordable version of the Express 4K+. That lower cost is due to a less advanced remote control in the box. The Ultra LT is available at a cheaper price than the current Ultra and it cuts a few features — namely built-in Dolby Atmos support and a USB port for local media playback.

The most recent Walmart-exclusive addition is called the Roku LE, which the company announced just ahead of Black Friday 2021. The design resembles recent Express models and the 1080p streamer retails for the budget price of $15.

Meanwhile, if you’re interested in the Streaming Stick 4K, but wish it had a more advanced remote, Roku does offer the Streaming Stick 4K+ package, which includes the same streaming device, but bundles in the top-of-the-line Voice Remote Pro with rechargeable battery. That version retails for around $69.99.

Wrapping It All Up…

We hope this roundup helped you make some sense of Roku’s current device lineup. And if you’re shopping for the special cord cutter and streamer on your list, maybe this article makes your purchasing decisions just a little bit easier.

And it’s worth repeating once more that we’re in the middle of the holiday shopping season, so keep an eye out for discounts and deals that might bring out-of-reach options more within your budget. Or maybe those discounts make already affordable gifts even cheaper!

A great way to keep up on the latest deals is through our deals hub, which you can check out right here.

Happy shopping!

Current Roku Lineup