Roku Expands Media Streamer Line With 5 Models

Roku Express
Roku Express. Roku

When it comes to internet streaming, for many, the Roku brand is usually the first that comes to mind (unless you are a dedicated Apple TV fan), as the pioneering company not only provides several ways to access streaming content (Box, Stick, and TVs with Roku Built-in), but also provides access to the most streaming content using a single device ( over 3,500 channels and still growing).

In a continuing effort to stay on top, Roku has announced a new media streaming box product line in addition to its previously updated Streaming Stick.

The five new entries are the Roku Express, Express+, Premiere, Premiere+, and Ultra.

Roku has designed this new group as replacements for the 1, 2, 3, and 4 model media streamers that were originally introduced in 2015.

What All 5 Models Have In Common

All five new models in Roku's product line are standalone media streamers that provide access, as mentioned in the introduction, to up to 3,500 channels (location dependent) of internet streaming content. Channels range from popular services, such as Netflix, Vudu, Amazon Instant Video, Hulu, Pandora, iHeart Radio, to niche channels such as, Local News Nationwide, Crunchy Roll, Euronews, and lots more. For complete channel listings and descriptions, check out the Roku What's On Page.

Note: Although there are many free internet streaming channels, there are also many that require an additional subscription or pay-per-view fees in order to access content.

In addition to the master list of internet streaming channels, Roku also provides a comprehensive Search and Discovery feature for the top 100 channels that shows what programs and movies are available, as well as a "coming soon" feature that will remind you when they will be available. You can bookmark desired TV shows and movies and place them in a "My Feed" category.

Another convenience is that Roku provides the ability for owners to take their Roku box traveling and use it in a hotel, someone else's house, or even a dorm room. Using your mobile phone, tablet, laptop, or a PC, just log into your Roku Account, follow the instructions, and you are all set to use your Roku device and account.

In terms of connectivity, all the Roku media streamers provide an HDMI output for connection to an HD or 4K Ultra HD TV. In addition, all players include Wifi for easy connection to a home network for internet access. Also of note is that some of the available apps also allow users to access content on locally stored PC or media server content if connected via a home network.

If you own a smartphone, Roku also provides a mobile app for iOS and Android devices that provide even more flexibility. The mobile app n provides Voice Search, as well as duplicating several menu categories that are a part of the Roku TV onscreen menu system, allowing you to control Roku players directly from your compatible mobile device.

In addition, using Roku's Play On feature, you can use a compatible smartphone or tablet to send videos and photos to your Roku box and see them on your TV screen.

Now that you know what Roku offers across the board in its media streamers, let's find out how each differs.

Roku Express (Model 3700)

  • Basic compact media streamer(1.4 x 3.3 x 0.7 inches) that includes the features listed above, with 1080p video resolution output and 720p to 1080p upscaling.
  • Dolby Digital surround sound pass-through compatible.
  • Standard remote control with popular internet channel shortcut buttons.
  • HDMI cable and USB power cable included in the box.

Express+ (Model 3710)

The Express+ is the same as the Express, including package contents, with the addition of a composite video/analog stereo output for connection to older TVs that may not have an HDMI input connection.

It must be noted that 1080p output resolution and Dolby Digital pass-through not available via the composite video/analog audio output connections.

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Premiere (Model 4620)

The Roku Premiere takes things up a notch with the ability to stream 4K content as well as providing native 4K resolution output with 4K upscaling for 720p and 1080p content sources.

Note: To stream 4K content, you need a fast broadband speed, for details, refer to my articles: Internet Speed Requirements For Video Streaming, How To Stream Netflix in 4K, and Streaming VUDU In 4K - What You Need To Know.

The Premiere also incorporates a "Night Listening Mode", which compresses the volume peaks present in movies and TV programs so that dialog is more intelligible and things such as explosions are not too loud.

The Premiere includes the same remote control as the Express and Express Plus.

Finally, the Premier has a larger physical footprint with the following dimensions of 4.9 x 4.9 x 0.85 inches (still pretty small).

Premiere+ (Model 4630)

The Premiere+ includes the core features of the Premiere with some additions.

In terms of 4K Streaming the Premiere+ can also pass-through HDR pass-through for enhanced contrast and brightness from selected encoded content.

Note: To display HDR content properly, you also need an HDR-compatible TV or video projector.

For more flexible internet connectivity, the Premiere+ provides both built-in Wifi and Ethernet.

For added channel app storage, the Premiere+ features a MicroSD card slot.

One last addition is the incorporation of a headphone/earphone jack in the remote control for convenient private listening. In other words, the remote control also serves as wireless headphone receiver. Earphones are included in the package.

Ultra (Model 4640)

The Roku Ultra takes the flagship spot in Roku's media streamer product line.

The Ultra provides five additions over the Premiere+.

The first addition is the inclusion of a digital optical audio output connection option that makes it convenience to use the Ultra with sound bars and home theater receivers.

In addition to internet streaming, the Ultra also includes a side-mounted USB port for access to audio, video, and still image files stored on Flash Drives or other compatible USB connectable storage devices.

The incorporation a microphone in the remote control to facilitate voice search features without having to use a smartphone.

The addition of gaming buttons on the remote control for easier game play.

The addition of a speaker in the remote control for finding the remote control if misplaced.

Final Take - For Now

With the product line outlined above, Roku is aggressively moving to maintain its top spot in the media streamer landscape, especially when you add in its Streaming Stick and Roku TV products into the mix.

For example, the Express comes in at lower suggested price than Google's Chromecast, and the introduction of 4K at the less-than-$99 price point is important to note.

Speaking of 4K, with three 4K-enabled product options, consumers have more choices that fit their needs and budget.

On the other hand, if you are a gaming fan, one advantage that Amazon has is that they offer a 4K streaming player option that includes a full game controller, rather than just extra buttons on the remote.

For those that do not have Smart TVs, but the TV they do have has an HDMI input connection, Roku is excellent choice to bring the streaming experience home. However, even if you have a Smart TV, Roku offers the most comprehensive selection of internet streaming content channels, making it a perfect complement.

It will be interesting to see how Google, Amazon, and Apple respond to Roku's product offerings on their next round media streaming products.

For a look at several internet streaming product options, check out my continually updated listing of Best Media Streaming and Network Media Players. 

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