Roku 2021: Which streaming player should you buy? [Video]
Video uploaded by CNET on May 11, 2021
Streaming it: Gadget Recommendations for This Year
At the days when small(er) screen has almost overthrown the big one, when the likes of Warners and Marvel have to look out for Amazon and Netflix, when HBO’s services got crashed for quite a while by the hordes of viewers rushing to watch “Mare of Easttown”, it’s only to be expected that popularity of stream-oriented devices is quickly coming on par with that of smartphones, tablets and other most-in-demand tech.
So it’s about time we, your trusty reviewers, acknowledged that by giving you as comprehensive a guide to which of these gadgets are currently creme de la creme in the field as we gave you about the aforesaid phones, smart appliances, etc., in the past. So here it goes – by category, as usual.
But – also as usual – we’ll start from the one we consider to be above all categories, the general winner, the one with the best balance of options, efficiency and convenience of use. And for now, we believe that on the whole, the Express 4K Plus model by Roku beats the rest of the competition. And there is a very tangible, quantifiable reason – or rather reasons – for that. To wit, the amount of its applications outnumbers that offered by any rival there is; its price, on the contrary, is the lowest at which you can get the titular 4K quality – and the connection between a TV and any Apple gadget – for; and on top of this all, it isn’t particularly tied to any particular streaming company. Whether you prefer the above-mentioned HBO, YouTube or anything else, you can have it with equal ease, without your device nudging you towards any of them.
Mind you, Roku shouldn’t rest on its laurels here, because Google, with its already well-known Chromecast, comes not far behind. It may be not as simple to handle, and its search capabilities look modest compared to those of Express 4K Plus, and yes, it’s more biased towards some particular services (mostly, Google’s, what a surprise, plus YouTube TV we referred to earlier), but on the other hand, it gives you access to a stunning media quality thanks to being compatible with Dolby Vision format, and if you do prefer Google environment or YouTube, using this streamer will be a breeze.
But, judging by the “bronze holder” on this podium of ours, Roku doesn’t need any reminders against complacency at the moment: its Streaming Stick Plus loses to Chromecast not by a very large margin either – and that’s despite entering its fourth year in the market. Not only is it conveniently slim (which is a plus both in terms of space and appearance), but you can get all its still-impressive features for a relatively small amount of money, especially considering the reductions on offer.
And, speaking of price, if you are really concerned about money-saving above all else (while still getting a decent piece of hardware), our advice would be going for the Fire TV Stick Lite by Amazon. Granted, it’s not up there with the easiest-to-use competitors, but you won’t get nearly as many options for this sort of price anywhere else. Alexa-equipped remote (which also works even when being out of sight line) is alone worth this particular price of admission.
However, Roku is clearly unwilling to be outdone on this front, either. Its Express model only loses to Amazon’s one by a few points – mostly due to a less advanced remote. Otherwise, it’s not nearly a shabby package: it is fitted with various slots (such as Micro USB, for example), includes a HDMI connection set, consisting of a cable and a clip, and will cost you less than $30, if you’re willing to shop around.
Now if the price is less important for you than the flexibility and handiness of use, then you might want to splurge on a rather fittingly named Roku Ultra: with it, you will really have an ultra-wide assortment of possibilities at your disposal. It’ll give you a wireless and wired connection alike, the remote sports a hotkey option (and you can choose and set these keys yourself), the accessories include headphone and remote’s finder, and Dolby Vision is a given here, too.
And since we already introduced the streaming gadget for the Google-minded, it’ll be only fair to do the Apple crowd the same favour. The crown in this category goes, predictably, to the Apple TV 4K box, which is (just as unsurprisingly) not among the cheapest on choice, but certainly most richly-featured, even if most of these extra features (AppleOne, Apple Arcade and the like) are of interest for Apple users only (except for TV picture adjustment controls).
Amazon lovers, on the other hand (with deeper pockets than those who’ll select Fire Stick iLte for its RRP, that is), will do well checking out the 4K version of Fire Stick model. On top of Alexa-supported remote and titular video quality, you’ll also get Dolby Vision HDR and an overwhelming Amazon library… for as little as $50.
And as for Roku Streambar… yes, this company casts its net wide, that’s for sure. No wonder that it wins the speaker nomination: few other players, if any, have sound buff-geared streamers on offer. And certainly none of those are as fine as this uncommonly-shaped piece of hardware which is basically rather a streaming-equipped soundbar than a soundbar-equipped streaming box. But the emphasis on practically perfect audio doesn’t come at the expense of pleasing the eye: this Streambar boasts the 4K HDR as well. And this purchase won’t bankrupt you either.
Finally, those for whom streaming is more about gaming than watching, will be glad to know that such a major name in the gaming sector as Nvidia has also entered the subject race – and lived up to its fame there, too. Its new Shield TV may set you back $150, but if there is any all-round streamer in this (or, we suspect, any other) selection, this is it. On top of aforementioned 4K and HDR and voice assistance (Google version of it in this case), it gives its owner access to a huge amount of game content along with the movies and shows (and you can play those games from Android as well as on game panel), plus throws in Steam Link, Plex and NAS connection and HDHomeRun for good measure. So, even though its price prevented it from winning our main crown, we saved it for last for a reason: if streamers are ever destined to become all-in-one entertainment centres, Shield TV may yet prove to be the first step in that evolution.