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So you’ve decided you want to invest in a streaming box, established Roku is the right choice for you, and now you’re in the shop looking at rows and rows of different Roku products. But how do you know which one to buy?
It’s not easy; since launching back in 2008, Roku has released an eye-watering 24 different set-top boxes and streaming sticks. Some of them added major improvements, while some only offered incremental upgrades. A quick look at the Roku Wikipedia page will reveal just how diverse the number of features are.
The current offering is split into five products – the Roku Streaming Stick, and the Roku 1, 2, 3, and 4. This article looks at what each product can offer, and tries to ascertain which one is right for you.
(Note: Before I dive into the details, it’s important to make one thing clear: The graphical user interface (GUI) on your TV will be identical regardless of which option you choose – a more expensive box will not unlock more channels, reduce the cost of subscription channels, or provide you with more customizable options.)
The Streaming Stick is Roku’s basic offering and is going head-to-head with Google’s Chromecast in the marketplace.
Unlike the rest of the Roku products, this is not a set-top box. Rather, it resembles a USB memory stick that plugs directly into the HDMI port on your television. Power is supplied from either a USB port on your TV itself or from a wall socket. This makes it great if you’re short of shelf space or have a wall-mounted TV.
It’s $10 more expensive than the Chromecast, but comes with a remote. Only you can decide whether the trade-off is worth it (though it does have some additional features that the Chromecast lacks, such as Miracast and an on-screen GUI).
If you have never experienced a more expensive Roku product, it might seem perfect – but drawbacks include a slower processor, the lack of Ethernet ports (for wired connectivity), and USB ports (for watching local media). The USB port issue can be negated by installing Plex, but the Ethernet port could be a deal-breaker if your wireless Internet connection is patchy.
At the other end of the scale is the Roku 4. It’s Roku’s premium product and was only released in late 2015. It’s still not available in lots of markets, including the UK.
This is hands-down the best streaming box on the market today, leaving rival products such as Apple TV and Amazon Fire in the dust.
Its biggest selling point is its support for 4K Ultra HD. 4K televisions are still a relatively new phenomenon and are a long way from being standard in living rooms around the world, but by offering support, Roku hopes to steal a march on its competitors (Apple received a lot of criticism for leaving 4K support out of its latest Apple TV device).
Because it comes pre-loaded with Roku OS7 and ships with the all-new enhanced remote, it also boasts some other cool features. For example, it includes a tool called “My Feed,” which will notify you when new content for your favorite shows becomes available, you can use the remote to voice-search for shows and movies, and it has a remote finding feature – just press a button on the box and your remote will sound an alert.
Lastly, it’s also the company’s first release that includes an optical audio out connection. If you use a sound bar or other audio receiver, this is a huge bonus.
Take my advice and don’t buy a Roku 1. It’s almost three years old and is starting to show its age. For the same price, the Streaming Stick is a much better option.
Unlike the stick, the Roku 1 does not offer Miracast, uses older Wi-Fi technology, doesn’t have the latest Netflix app that supports user profiles, and won’t let you mirror your smartphone screen. Its only advantage is that it offers old-school A/V cables, so if you’ve got a really old TV that doesn’t have an HDMI port, it will work.
But what about the Roku 2 and 3?
A lot of people don’t realize that hardware-wise, these products are now identical; they both received a makeover in April 2015.
They both weigh five ounces and both have dimensions of 3.5″ x 3.5″ x 1″. They both offer 1080p HD support, boast the same 900 MHz, and include Ethernet, USB, and microSD ports.
So, what’s the difference?
It all boils down to the remote control. The remote on the Roku 3 comes with a headphone jack for private listening, a microphone for voice search, and motion control for games. Thanks to Wi-Fi direct, it’s also “point anywhere” rather than infrared-based.
Are the remote’s features worth an extra $30? Only you can decide.
So, Which Roku Should You Buy?
Despite the seemingly confusing choices, a conclusion is surprisingly simple to reach:
- If want the full Roku experience for as little investment as possible, buy the Streaming Stick over the Roku 1.
- If want to play a lot of games or watch a lot of programs with headphones, buy the Roku 3 over the Roku 2. Otherwise, use the Roku 2 alongside the official app.
- If you want the latest-and-greatest, and/or have a 4K TV, buy the Roku 4.
What about if you already have a Roku 2/3 – should you upgrade to a Roku 4? Personally, I don’t think it offers enough improvements over the Roku 2/3 to justify upgrading, but you might think otherwise.
Still confused? Head to Roku’s website for a side-by-side comparison of what each product can offer.
Which Roku do you have? What do you like about it compared to the other Roku offerings? What one thing do you wish the company would change? As ever, you can let us know your thoughts and opinions in the comments below!