What is Roku? The top tier streaming platform fully explained

A Roku device is one of the simplest ways to satisfy all your streaming needs. Originally intended as a Netflix product, the company spun off on its own and has since become the most popular streaming device manufacturer in the U.S. 

Unlike some competitors such as Amazon or Apple, Roku focuses solely on providing access to a variety of streaming platforms rather than offering its own content. This, along with targeted advertising, has allowed the company to maintain a sort of third-party independence in offering everything from live TV to Netflix to Amazon Prime to Apple TV on its devices.

How does Roku work? 

Whether you’re into big names such as Netflix or a fan of live TV services such as Hulu and Philo, you can access them all with any Roku product and an internet connection.

Roku devices are split into three major categories: streaming players you can plug into your TV, TVs with Roku included, and audio equipment. All come with a one-off cost and a lineup of thousands of apps — also known as channels. Some channels are free; others require a monthly subscription fee. 

Here, we break down every device the company has to offer right now, along with prices and key differences so you can decide which Roku to buy for your home.

What are the different Roku devices?

Roku streaming devices

Roku currently sells nine streaming players. Although you can watch the same content with each, they differ in cost, picture quality, and other features. Some are also exclusive to certain retailers. Here’s a brief rundown of each device’s specifications:

Streaming DeviceRoku ExpressRoku Express+Roku PremiereRoku Streaming Stick+Roku Streaming Stick+ Headphone EditionRoku UltraRoku Ultra LTRoku StreambarRoku Smart Soundbar
Price$29.99$39.99$39.99$49.99$59.99$99.99$59.99$129.99$179.99
Picture quality (on compatible TVs) HDHD4K, HDR, HD4K, HDR, HD4K, HDR, HD4K, Dolby Vision, HDR, HD4K, HDR, HD4K, HDR, HD4K, HDR, HD
TV Shows + movies available500,000+500,000+500,000+500,000+500,000+500,000+500,000+500,000+500,000+
Wireless connectivityWi-FiWi-FiWi-FiWi-Fi (with advanced wireless receiver)Wi-Fi (with advanced wireless receiver)Wi-Fi (with ethernet cable option)Wi-Fi (with ethernet cable option)Wi-Fi (with advanced wireless receiver)Wi-Fi (with advanced wireless receiver)
RemoteBasic remoteVoice remoteBasic remoteVoice remoteEnhanced voice remoteEnhanced voice remoteEnhanced voice remoteVoice remoteVoice remote
Storage expansionNoNoNoNoNoUSB PortMicroSD portNoNo
Connects to TV viaHDMIHDMIHDMI (HDCP)2.2 for 4K streaming)HDMI (HDCP) 2.2 for 4K streaming)HDMI (HDCP) 2.2 for 4K streaming)HDMI (HDCP) 2.2 for 4K streaming)HDMI (HDCP) 2.2 for 4K streaming)HDMI (HDCP) 2.2 for 4K streaming)HDMI (HDCP) 2.2 for 4K streaming)
TV power, volume and mute buttonsNoYesNoYesYesYesYesYesYes

Roku Express

Highlights

  • Great entry-level price point
  • Access to same library of apps and content as more expensive Roku players
  • Simple remote with channel shortcuts

Roku Express is Roku’s cheapest, and therefore most basic, streaming player. Costing just $29.99, this tiny box won’t make a huge dent in your bank account and won’t take up much room on your TV stand either. It’s ideal if you’re looking for simple high-definition (HD) streaming. Roku Express comes with just 2 connection ports. Use them to attach the included HDMI cable to your HD TV, and to attach the power cable. Wirelessly connect the device to your internet to access the same apps and streaming services as all other Roku users.

You’ll also get a Roku remote with your Express. Along with the usual home, pause, and fast-forward buttons, it also includes shortcuts to channels such as Disney+, Hulu, and Netflix. The Express even works alongside Roku’s mobile app. The next time you want to watch a late-night movie, head to the app’s private listening function and plug your headphones into your phone or tablet. It’ll let you turn the volume up as loud as you like without waking a soul.

Who should purchase the Roku Express? If you’re looking for an inexpensive way to get into streaming your favorite shows and movies on your TV, the Roku Express is a great place to start.

Roku Express+

Highlights

  • Voice remote with TV power and volume control
  • Access to the same library of apps and content as more expensive Roku players
  • Slightly more expensive but still great entry-level price

Walmart sells an exclusive version of the Roku Express, known as Roku Express+. Initially, this $39.99 device allowed older-style TVs to stream. Now, the analog input has been replaced with Roku’s voice remote. In other words, the Express+ is identical to the Express in design and function, but it has a snazzier remote.

The remote’s voice control technology means you can launch apps and search for titles with nothing but your voice. Plus, its TV power and volume buttons allow you to control your TV with just one remote.

Who should purchase the Roku Express+? If you’re looking for a simple starter-streaming device without the need to hassle with buttons on a remote, the Roku Express+ may be a perfect fit. Sit back, tell your Roku player what you want to watch, and enjoy.

Roku Premiere

Highlights

  • 4K, HDR, and HD streaming options
  • Premium HDMI cable included
  • Simple remote with channel shortcuts

If affordable 4K streaming is what you’re after, consider Roku Premiere. This $39.99 device is almost identical to the Express — except it supports 4K playback. That means you can stream movies, sports, shows, and more in a much higher resolution than HD. 

Roku Premiere comes with a premium high-speed HDMI cable and is set up in the same way as Roku Express. Compatible TVs include HD TVs, 4K ultra-high definition (UHD) TVs, and 4K UHD high dynamic range (HDR) models. (If your TV falls into the last two categories, it’ll need to have an HDMI input that supports HDCP 2.2 to work with Roku Premiere.)

The device also works in conjunction with Roku’s app for private listening. You’ll get the same remote as Roku Express so you can shortcut your way to popular streaming services.

Who should purchase the Roku Premiere? New streamers looking for top-of-the line picture quality at an affordable price point should be sure to give this one a look.

Roku Ultra with Remote and Headphones Angle Overhead

Roku Streaming Stick+

Highlights

  • 4K, HDR, and HD streaming options
  • Voice remote with TV power and volume control.
  • Long-range wireless connectivity

Roku’s Streaming Stick+ is unlike most of the company’s other devices. This 4K streamer comes in the form of a stick, rather than a small box. You can connect it directly to your TV’s HDMI port, but it’ll still need power via the included USB power cable. The power cord features a built-in advanced wireless receiver to help boost the device’s internet connection, so you can easily place it further away from your router. Any TV that supports HD, 4K UHD, or 4K UHD HDR is compatible with Roku Streaming Stick+. 

The remote that comes with the $49.99 Streaming Stick+ is the same as the one included with the Express+. It features voice control technology, TV control buttons, and can work wirelessly, meaning you don’t have to point it directly at your TV. 

Who should purchase the Roku Streaming Stick Plus? For the money, this is one of the best 4K streaming sticks you can buy. Long-range wireless makes this a great choice for anyone with a TV that’s not right next to their router.

Roku Streaming Stick+ Headphone Edition

Highlights

  • 4K, HDR, and HD streaming options
  • Voice remote with TV power, volume control, customizable shortcuts, and headphone jack
  • Includes headphones for private listening

Best Buy exclusively sells Roku’s Streaming Stick+ Headphone Edition for $59.99. Why is it slightly more expensive? Well, it offers the same 4K streaming capabilities, but its remote is more advanced than the original stick. And it comes with a pair of Roku headphones.

The remote features voice control technology, TV control buttons, and 3 new additions: a headphone jack for easier private listening, and customizable shortcut buttons. 

Who should purchase the Roku Streaming Stick+ Headphones Edition? If you want all the benefits of the Roku Streaming Stick+ with the added ease of private listening right through the remote, this is the player for you.

Roku Ultra

Highlights

  • 4K, Dolby Vision, HDR, and HD streaming capabilities
  • Roku’s best wireless and Ethernet connectivity
  • Voice remote includes all features for Streaming Stick+ HE, plus customizable shortcuts and lost remote finder

Hardcore streamers (or those without a strong Wi-Fi connection) will want to consider Roku Ultra. The most powerful player in Roku’s horde, it can connect to the internet via an ethernet cable and can play content from an external hard drive. Costing $99.99, Roku Ultra comes as a slightly bigger box than the Express or Premiere. It supports HD, 4K, and HDR content and is compatible with any HD, 4K, or HDR TV. It also includes Bluetooth for music streaming.

Unsurprisingly, Roku includes the enhanced voice remote with all Ultra purchases. The remote also has a headphone jack for private listening, while the box boasts a Remote Finder button for when you can’t find that precious tool. 

Who should purchase the Roku Ultra? This is a serious player for the serious streamer. High-quality video and audio, high-speed and long-range connectivity, and all the best features of the other Roku players for under $100 make this a steal for your home theater setup.

Roku Ultra LT

Highlights

  • 4K, HDR, and HD streaming capabilities
  • Includes microSD port for additional storage
  • Long-range wireless and Ethernet connectivity

For a slightly cheaper alternative, there’s Roku Ultra LT. A Walmart exclusive, this box-shaped device has lost a few Ultra features in order to retail for $59.99. There’s no Remote Finder button and no USB port to connect an external drive. However, there is a microSD port for expanded storage.

Roku Ultra LT customers will still get the enhanced voice remote — with additional Roku headphones — and can enjoy the same 4K HDR picture quality (minus Dolby Vision) and optional ethernet connection.

Who should purchase the Roku Ultra LT? If you want most of what Roku’s top Ultra player has to offer but can do without a few bells and whistles for $40 less, then this is a great option for you.

Live TV on Roku

Besides an extensive catalog of available streaming content, all Roku players also include access to dozens of live TV channels via the Roku Channel. You can also add your own favorite channels and subscriptions to your home screen with a few clicks. Roku claims that these live channels all boast fewer ads than traditional broadcast TV.

Roku Home Screen

Roku TV

Don’t want to add yet another box to your TV stand? Not a fan of having extra cables lying around? Enter Roku TVs. Roku allows a range of TV brands, including TCL, Hisense, and Sharp, to integrate the entire Roku experience into various TV models. That means you don’t have to buy or set up an additional player, and you don’t have to use a separate remote.

Like all Roku devices, Roku TVs can connect to Alexa or Google Assistant to make your home smarter. And if you connect an HDTV antenna to your TV, you can see what’s airing live locally and what’s streaming on the same screen. Some Roku TVs even come with a voice control remote, further enhancing your viewing experience.

How much you’ll spend and the picture quality you’ll receive will depend on the model you pick. TCL currently has one of the widest Roku TV selections, ranging from 32-inch HD displays to mega 75-inch 4K Ultra HD designs. Expect to pay around $80 for the cheapest model and up to $3,400 for the biggest, most feature-heavy option if you purchase your TV from Amazon. Hisense has a similar range, with prices starting at just over $100 and going up to $1,000.

Roku Audio

In 2018, Roku made its debut in the audio world with Roku TV Wireless Speakers. Roku TV owners who want a hassle-free way to upgrade their sound can buy this product for $199.99. Both the left and right speakers will wirelessly talk to your TV and are fitted with Bluetooth to stream music, podcasts, and more.

The speakers come with 2 remotes: the usual Roku TV remote with an added microphone, and a smaller version that works away from your TV. Rather handily, both can be controlled with your voice. The speakers are also incredibly easy to set up. Once they’re powered up, simply hold down the home button for five seconds, and your TV will automatically connect.

More recently, Roku unveiled three audio additions: the $179.99 Roku Smart Soundbar, the $129.99 Roku Streambar, and the $179.99 Roku Wireless Subwoofer. Let’s start with the two soundbars. Crucially, unlike the speakers, these more compact products work with any TV. And they don’t just provide better quality audio and Bluetooth capabilities. They also double as streaming players. The only real difference between the two soundbars — as reflected in the price difference — is the range and audio quality.

Plug either soundbar into an HDMI ARC port to access Roku’s apps and 4K playback. (You’ll need a 4K TV for that part.) Other features include a Roku voice remote, Alexa and Google Assistant compatibility, and Night Mode, which alters the volume during particularly quiet and loud scenes. 

Roku’s subwoofer will help you create a home theater setting. It boosts the bass of content you watch or listen to, but only works when paired with the soundbar, speakers, or both. Unitingthree wireless products (one soundbar, the speakers, and subwoofer) will result in the ultimate surround sound system. Not only can you say goodbye to pesky wires, but you can also control all the settings via Roku’s on-screen menu. To connect all three, hold down the Roku remote’s home button.

The final cut

Invest in a Roku device, and you’ll be able to access every major streaming service in one menu. With a selection to suit most budgets, you don’t have to splash serious cash to enjoy Roku’s simplicity. And, thanks to their teeny tiny sizes, you don’t have to move things around to fit one of these streaming players next to your TV. 

If you don’t want a separate device, a Roku TV is your best bet. Again, these come in a range of prices to please those who want to spend a minimal amount and those who don’t mind dropping hundreds — or even thousands. 

Lastly, there are Roku’s speakers, soundbars, and subwoofers. Catering to the audio-obsessed, these devices will boost any household’s streaming experience. 

With voice control technology, advanced wireless features, and more, Roku is a great option for any smart homesmart home must-have. Try one, or a combination, of the above to find the perfect addition for your space.