After using a gaming console as my primary media streaming device for years, I have finally retired the device in favor of a more modern streaming device. While there are several competitors in the streaming device market, these entry-level streaming sticks are probably best identified by three devices: Google’s Chromecast, Amazon’s Fire Stick, and Roku’s Streaming Stick. You can find numerous reviews of the three products, but after some internal debate, I’ve settled for the latest Roku Streaming Stick (model 3800). Amazon and Google both prioritize their own services through their devices, and the cold war between Google and Amazon makes one wonder whether staying out of the fight might be for the best in the short term.
How Does the Roku Work?
The Roku is a pretty simple streaming device. Depending on which device you get, the device will either look like a USB drive that fits into your television’s HDMI port or it will look like a slightly more refined cable set-top box. The device supports a number of apps (or “channels” in Roku parlance) that support streaming content from the internet to your television. Channels include everything from internet standards like Youtube to set-top standards like HBO and Showtime. For standard internet streaming services like Youtube, every user will have standard access to content after installing the channel. For cable stations that offer a Roku channel (like HBO, Showtime, CNN, and others), the channel will require you to use your television cable/satellite provider’s credentials before you receive standard access. Without those credentials, the channels will have very limited content options. In other words, if you’re a “cord-cutter,” some of the Roku’s channels will be severely limited. Having said that, credentials from more flexible services like Sling TV will also work with these apps if you have general access to the channel using that service.
Obviously, due to how the Roku works, the device will need to have access to your internet. Additionally, none of the devices (except the Ultra) offer an ethernet port, so you’ll need a wi-fi network in your home that can support the bandwidth for streaming.
Is the Roku Worth It?
Yes. Whether you chose the Roku, a Chromecast, or an Amazon Fire Stick, the feature-set of these streaming sticks is pretty compelling. In my particular case, the Roku is replacing a Playstation 3. The Playstation 3, when browsing Youtube, uses a whopping 180w of power per hour. The Roku uses 3-4w. So in addition to any advantages offered by the feature-set of the Roku, it’s an immediate savings of about $20 a year just in power usage costs. This first device will be attached to a television that doesn’t support 4k resolution, so the slightly cheaper 1080p streamer is more than sufficient. With the entry-level Roku Streaming Stick costing less than $40, there is at least a compelling power-efficiency reason to upgrade legacy devices. These streaming sticks are super efficient when it comes to power usage, and you aren’t likely to find a device that sips power better (whether you chose the Roku, a Chromecast, or an Amazon Fire Stick). For most of these devices, you won’t even need to plug the device into the wall since they can pull all of the power necessary from any USB port on your television.
Comparing Roku Devices
Perhaps the most complicated part of buying a Roku is figuring out which model you actually need. Roku’s official product page currently lists five different products. If you go to Amazon, however, you’ll find an entire page of Roku devices. In my opinion, however, the answer for which Roku device is appropriate is fairly easy:
- Do you not have an HDMI port on your television? Then you probably want the Roku Express+ (model 3910)
- Do you have an HDMI port and a 1080p television? Then you probably want the Roku Streaming Stick (model 3800)
- Do you have an HDMI port and a 4k television? Then you’ll want the Roku Streaming Stick+ (model 3810)
- Lastly, do you find that the Roku devices just don’t have enough options and features? Then you should look at the Roku Ultra and then buy something else – there are too many other good devices in that price range, and the Ultra just isn’t compelling.
So far, I have no complaints regarding the Roku Device. The device works with Home Assistant, so that platform can be used to integrate the Roku into your smart home setup. Additionally, it’s just a super convenient device for streaming media. More importantly, if you’re like me and you have been using a gaming console for these services, the Roku is substantially more energy efficient, offers a better remote, and has more channels/apps that you can use for media than your gaming system likely provides. It’s just a pretty darn good device.