Roku Express – Best Streaming Media Player

roku express

If you're in the market for a new streaming device to watch movies and shows on your TV, you'll quickly find that there is an almost overwhelming number of options. Do you need a box or a simple plug-and-play stick? Do you want your new device to output in 4K? Do you want it to be able to play games, cast video from your phone, or access your iTunes movie library? There are devices out there that can do some or all of these things, but if all you want is a simple, easy-to-use device you can set up in minutes and use to watch your favorite movies and shows, the Roku Express might just be your best bet.

One last important spec to note is that the Roku Express cannot connect to newer, less crowded 5 GHz WiFi networks: only to standard 2.4 GHz networks. This won't be a concern for most consumers, but as more and more WiFi networks move to 5 GHz it might become one in the future.

What Is the Roku Express?

The Roku Express is a tiny, low-profile streaming box from one of the most trusted companies in the streaming device market. Released in October of 2017, it's simple to use and grants you access to popular streaming video services like Netflix, HBO, and YouTube. All you have to do is plug it into an HDMI port on your TV to get started. From there, you'll connect it to your home WiFi network, download and sign into the apps you use, and you're ready to go.

In addition to its ease of use, the Roku Express is exceptionally fast for a budget device. You can quickly browse through menus, click in and out of descriptions and shows, and switch apps without missing a beat. The biggest downside for the Roku Express is its infrared remote; it needs to be pointed directly at the box to register. Other products have remotes that don't need a clear line of sight.

Product Specs

As a budget device, the Roku Express doesn't output video in 4K resolution. This isn't a concern unless you own a 4K TV and want to get the most out of it. The tradeoff is a fast, intuitive experience with Roku's well-designed menus and wealth of apps. The user interface is easy to navigate and more customizable than many competitors' menus, with great search tools that make it a snap to find the content you're looking for. 

The only knock against Roku's menus comes from individual apps, some of which present outdated interfaces in Roku's system. Using HBO Now, for example, is a better experience on an Amazon Fire TV Stick than on the Roku Express.

While higher-priced Roku devices build features like a headphone jack and voice search into the Roku remote, the Express forgoes those features in favor of a mobile app. If you download the app, you'll be able to use voice search with your phone or tablet. Plugging headphones into the device will allow you to listen privately and will automatically mute the sound on your TV; perfect for watching late at night while the rest of the family sleeps.

How It Compares

We picked a few similar products available on the market to see how they compare. 

Roku Express | Easy High Definition (HD) Streaming Media Player...
  • Simple setup with an included High Speed HDMI Cable
  • Easy to use remote, intuitive navigation
  • 500,000+movies and TV episodes, with voice search across 1,000+ top channels. Plus, catch hit movies, popular shows and...

Ease of Use

All you have to do is plug the included HDMI cable into your TV, plug the USB power adapter into a free USB port on your TV or into an outlet, and you're ready to start streaming. The remote lacks voice control and a headphone jack, forcing users to use a paired mobile app to access these features. This isn't a huge headache, but it isn't as easy as having those features included in the remote.

Program Options

The Roku Express supports all the apps you expect, including Netflix, HBONow, Playstation Vue, Sling, Hulu, and Amazon Prime Instant Video. It also includes a Roku channel with a great selection of free movies. There are ads in the movies, often interrupting at awkward moments, but they're infrequent enough to make the channel a worthwhile feature. The lack of 4K support is the only negative here, but it keeps the price so low it's a fair tradeoff.

Design Quality 

Roku's own menus are well-designed and a breeze to navigate, made even easier when using voice control with the paired app. Some of the apps themselves are dated, making them a little uglier and more difficult to navigate than on other devices. Still, the Roku Express is snappy enough to move through even these menus quickly enough that it's only a minor annoyance.

Warranty

Roku offers a 1-year limited warranty on all of its products. As long as any problems are due to defects in manufacturing, you'll be able to get a new or rebuilt Roku Express from the company within that one-year window. In addition, you can return it for any reason within 30 days of purchase.

Pros

  • Low price
  • Easy to use
  • Fast

Cons

  • No 4K support
  • Some apps run outdated versions
  • Remote must be pointed at the box to work
Fire TV Stick with Alexa Voice Remote, streaming media player -...
  • Our best-selling Fire TV Stick, with the 1st Gen Alexa Voice Remote.
  • Enjoy tens of thousands of channels, apps, and Alexa skills with access to over 500,000 movies and TV episodes. Enjoy...
  • Access millions of websites such as YouTube, Facebook, and Reddit with browsers like Silk and Firefox.

The Fire TV Stick with Alexa Voice remote is priced comparably to the Roku Express and has the added benefit of Amazon's Alexa being built in. Like the Express, it's lightning-fast to navigate and simple to set up. In order to enable Alexa, your TV must be on. Once it is, you can ask Alexa about the weather, tell her to play your favorite Netflix series, or even dim your lights if you have Alexa linked up to a smart-home hub.

The biggest drawback to the Fire TV Stick at the moment is its menus, which relentlessly push Amazon's content over that of other streaming services rather than presenting a neutral display like the Roku Express's. 

Ease of Use

Much like the Roku Express, the Amazon Fire TV Stick is a simple plug-and-play device that's easy to set up and navigate. You'll have to dig a little more to get to apps like Netflix though, because the device's menus prioritize Amazon's content over others'. On the plus side, the Alexa-enabled remote makes voice search simple and effective, and the remote doesn't have to be pointing directly at the Fire TV Stick to work.

Program Options

The Fire TV Stick has all the apps you would expect from a device like this, minus video rental apps. That means no Vudu or Google Play. If you own or like to rent movies from those services, you won't be able to watch them on this device, as it only allows purchased and rented movies from Amazon.

Design Quality

The Fire TV Stick is a low-profile device that hides behind your TV, and the remote is slim and easy to use. The only design issues with this device come with Amazon's user interface, which puts Amazon content front and center. A new interface is reportedly coming by the end of the year, but for now this remains a drawback.

Warranty

Amazon offers only a 90-day limited warranty on this device, with optional 2 and 3-year extended warranties available for an added cost. This is a far cry from Roku's included 1-year limited warranty.

Pros

  • Easy and quick to navigate
  • Alexa included in remote
  • Simple set-up

Cons

  • Can only purchase and rent movies from Amazon
  • User interface prioritizes Amazon content over other apps
  • No 4K support
  • 90-day warranty is more limited than Roku's
NVIDIA SHIELD TV Gaming Edition | 4K HDR Streaming Media Player with...
  • World Class performance - blazing fast and versatile enough to be a streamer, game console, media server, and smart home...
  • 4K HDR home Theater - enjoy the ultimate visual experience with 4K HDR quality, immersive sound with Dolby Atoms and...
  • GeForce Now Beta access - transform your shield TV into a powerful GeForce-powered PC gaming rig. Play hundreds of...

The NVidia Shield TV 4K HDR Streaming Media Player is a unique high-end device that runs on the Android TV platform and offers a wealth of features. It supports all the expected apps and can also play video files of almost any format from a USB drive. It outputs video in 4K and supports HDR, providing a world-class picture for those with high-end TVs.

On top of that, it supports ChromeCast and features the ability to stream games from a PC or from the games streaming service GeForce NOW. All of these great features come at a much higher cost than the Roku Express or Amazon Fire TV Stick, though.

Ease of Use

The NVidia Shield is easy to set up and use for such a feature-rich device. The interface is easy to understand, especially for anyone who has used Android TV before.

Program Options

This device supports just about any app you can think of, and many of the most important like Netflix, Youtube, Vudu, and Amazon Prime Video output in 4K resolution. Netflix and Amazon also support HDR for an even richer picture. 

Design Quality

The NVidia Shield is a box that sits in your media center, not a low-profile dongle like the Amazon Fire TV Stick. It's small, but the geometric pattern on its surface won't appeal to everyone. The menus, controller, and remote are all well-designed, though.

Warranty

NVidia offers a one-year limited warranty for the Shield TV.

Pros

  • 4K and HDR support
  • Can stream games from a PC or GeForce NOW
  • Plays videos from USB devices
  • Supports Chromecast

Cons

  • High price
  • Some features like gaming appeal mostly to the tech-savvy

Conclusion

Which streaming device is right for you will depend on what you want out of it. If you're looking for a premium experience and love Apple products, the Apple TV is your best bet. If you want something that can double as a gaming machine and price is no concern, the NVidia Shield TV is for you.

If, however, you're looking for an inexpensive device that can stream all of your favorite media apps with ease, it's hard to beat the Roku Express. Its low price, ease of use, and wealth of apps more than make up for its few shortcomings. We award the Roku Express four out of five stars.

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