April 11, 2021
Which Roku should I buy in 2021? We compare the Streaming Stick Plus, Ultra, Express and more

Which Roku should I buy in 2021? We compare the Streaming Stick Plus, Ultra, Express and more


Looking for a new Roku? You aren’t alone. When it comes to bringing the seemingly endless number of streaming services to your TV, Roku stands out for its affordable pricing, solid features and excellent performance. While Amazon, Apple and Google all have impressive streaming players too, we’ve found that nothing matches Roku’s simplicity and value. 

But with a large portfolio of players ranging from a basic $25 Express to the midrange $50 Streaming Stick Plus to the top-tier $100 Ultra — not to mention soundbars and even speakers — picking the right Roku for your needs isn’t easy. 

Struggling to figure out which one to get? We’re here to help.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Roku’s Streaming Stick Plus may have debuted in 2017, but thanks to software updates it’s still our go-to choice for nearly anyone thinking of getting a Roku — or even a Chromecast with Google TV or Amazon Fire TV Stick 4K. At $50 it’s affordable, supports 4K HDR and takes advantage of the latest Roku features including Apple AirPlay for casting from an iOS or Mac device. Unlike the cheaper Premiere, it includes Roku’s superb voice remote with the ability to control your TV’s volume and power. While it lacks Dolby Vision and a wired Ethernet port (both present on the $100 Ultra), most people will likely be just fine without either.

Read our Streaming Stick Plus review.

Sarah Tew/CNET

The Roku Ultra is nearly identical to the Streaming Stick Plus as far as functionality, with a few additional features. It’s a box, not a streaming stick; it supports Ethernet for wired connectivity; and it can take advantage of Dolby Vision for 4K HDR streaming. It also has a few nifty remote features including an improved bundled controller that has a headphone jack and two programmable buttons plus a remote finder feature to help you locate it when it inevitably gets lost under the couch. 

Most will be happy saving the $50 difference and getting the Streaming Stick Plus, but if you want the best Roku has to offer, the Ultra is for you.

Read our Roku Ultra (2020) review.

Sarah Tew/CNET

The Roku Express is the company’s most basic streamer, and it keeps things simple. It can use all the apps on Roku’s platform, but streams are limited to HD (not 4K) and the remote is the bare-bones IR option that lacks voice controls and requires you to point at the tiny box. It’s not flashy, but it gets the job done and comes with everything you might need (including an HDMI cable) in the box.

Read our Roku Express (2019) review.

Roku

The Roku Premiere runs $5 more than the Express and adds support for 4K HDR and AirPlay. Everything you need is still included in the box. The remote still is Roku’s basic, but the extra processing power should come in handy for keeping things running smoothly in the future. We still, however, prefer the Streaming Stick Plus, thanks to its inclusion of the better voice remote.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Looking for an audio upgrade as well as a new Roku? Check out the Streambar. This compact soundbar plugs into your TV’s HDMI ARC port, improving the sound for all of your sources from cable boxes to game consoles. The best part is that it’s also a 4K HDR-capable Roku streamer itself. We’ve found the Streambar easy to set up, and it sounds good for the size, particularly with dialogue. If you want stronger bass, however, consider adding Roku’s wireless subwoofer ($180).

Read our Roku Streambar review.

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