Roku Stick vs Express vs Ultra: Which Streaming Device Is Best for You?


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Roku's streaming stick and box lineup just got even more complicated, as the company recently killed off its Premiere devices, updated others and added a brand new item: the Streaming Stick+. So, which one's right for you?

Here's our guide to which Roku device you need, depending on the TV you own and the features you want.

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Row 0 - Cell 0 Roku ExpressRoku Express+Roku Streaming StickRoku Streaming Stick+Roku Ultra
Picture quality1080p1080p1080p1080p; 4K up to 60fps1080p; 4K up to 60fps
RemotePlain remotePlain remoteTV power and volume buttons, voice commandsTV power and volume buttons, voice commandsHeadphone jack for private listening
PortsHDMIHDMI, A/V cable composite portHDMIHDMI® (4K video via HDCP 2.2 HDMI®)HDMI® (4K video via HDCP 2.2 HDMI®)
Connectivity802.11 b/g/n802.11 b/g/n802.11ac dual-band MIMO802.11ac dual-band MIMO w/ advanced wireless receiver; extended range802.11ac dual-band MIMO and Ethernet Port

What's The Same

All Rokus get access to the new OS 8 update, which allows the voice-command enabled devices to understand commands given in natural language. This way, you can just say "Launch Netflix" or "show me movies starring Michael Keaton" and get results. It also packs a new single sign-on option, so cable login credentials don't need to entered repeatedly into different apps.

Plus, a new 4K Spotlight Channel means those with the super-high-res TVs can instantly find the content that supports their sets.

Express vs Streaming Stick vs Ultra

Rokus are broken down into three categories: the low-end Express, the compact Streaming Stick and the Ultra, the best-in-class option.

Going low doesn't mean less content

The $29.99 Express is best for those who want to get into the platform at the minimum price. Not only does it pack the same "more than 500,000 channels" set you get with its siblings, but it costs 40 percent less than a Streaming Stick and 60 percent less than an Ultra.

It also includes a remote and HDMI output (it sends content to TVs at resolutions up to 1080p). While the Express used to mean a slightly slower experience, Roku's promising its newly available 2nd generation models pack five times as much speed.

Why you'd stick to the Stick

Those with a little more money can get a lot more. The $49.99 Roku Streaming Stick (which slots into an HDMI port in the back of your TV) offers a faster 802.11ac modem (the Express packs an older b/g/n) and its remote control accepts voice commands.

The Stick's remote also beats the one in the Express model, by including TV power and volume buttons, so you can turn everything on without juggling controllers. Some might also prefer the stick model for the purely aesthetic reason of hiding the dongle behind your TV so you're not cluttering your living room. 

How ultra is a Roku Ultra?

You get more by paying more, as the $69.99 Streaming Stick+ and $99.99 Ultra, output in 4K Ultra HD (up to 60 frames per second) and the more colorful and vivid HDR (High Dynamic Range), in addition to the 1080p output option you also find in the regular Streaming Stick and both Express models.

The Ultra also offers the best remote, as its includes a headphone jack so you can listen to your shows and movies privately, and those around you can sleep or work in peace. The Ultra's box also offers more options, as it can go online via its Ethernet port, rather than depend on Wi-Fi, and it includes a microSD port and USB port for watching video locally.

And while the Roku platform isn't beloved by gamers, the Ultra's remote includes A and B buttons for those few titles (such as Snake and Solitaire) that are available for it.

Express vs Express+

If you'd prefer to connect over composite A/V cables, rather than via HDMI, you'll want to spent a little more for the $39.99 Roku Express+, currently a Walmart exclusive.

Streaming Stick vs Streaming Stick+

In addition to offering the 4K Ultra HD streaming and HDR picture that you used to need an Ultra for, the $69.99 Streaming Stick+ has one perk that isn't even found in the Ultra: advanced wireless streaming for four times as much range.


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Henry T. Casey
Managing Editor (Entertainment, Streaming)

Henry is a managing editor at Tom’s Guide covering streaming media, laptops and all things Apple, reviewing devices and services for the past seven years. Prior to joining Tom's Guide, he reviewed software and hardware for TechRadar Pro, and interviewed artists for Patek Philippe International Magazine. He's also covered the wild world of professional wrestling for Cageside Seats, interviewing athletes and other industry veterans.