You have to give Roku credit, the brand is trying as hard as it can to stay on top of the interesting TV accessory market, even if that takes rapid evolution.
First came the announcement that Roku was going to replace all its old products with three sweeping new lines – the Roku Express, Premiere, and Ultra, with “Plus” versions available as well. Now the company is making even more changes to its line-up, streamlining the boxes to make the offering more consumer friendly.
Even with the Express, Premiere, and Ultra models, things got a little confusing: There were still “Plus” versions of each model, and no one was really sure where the Streaming Stick fit into the picture. As a result, most consumers either decided to go cheap and buy an Express, or pay the full amount for an Ultra, assuming it had to be the best. It was weird, and now Roku is making things simpler (and probably saving some money) by limiting its product variations.
The Premiere version no longer exists, and has in some ways been replaced by the Roku Streaming Stick. You can now buy either a Roku Express ($30) or an Express Plus ($40), a Roku Streaming Stick ($50) or Streaming Stick Plus ($70), or a Roku Ultra ($90).
Even the cheapest of these Rokus offers 1080p resolution, the Roku Channel, HDMI connections, Wi-Fi, and other basics. The Streaming Stick adds in some voice control features and upgrades for 4K resolution. The Ultra adds HDR, a more advanced remote, storage expansion options, and support for better Wi-Fi.
Narrowing the set-top products down to five choices makes it easier to see the differentiation – and see how these products compare to other TV accessories on the market.
The Express remains the options for those who want to save money and who do not have a smart TV yet (or don’t know that they do).
The Streaming Stick a competitor for Google Chromecast and those without much room in their entertainment system: Chromecast has the added ability to work with Google Assistant and Android devices, but otherwise the Stick Plus is quite similar. The Ultra is made to compete more directly with Apple TV and other larger, storage-oriented set-top boxes.
So, where is Roku headed after this? It seems pretty obvious that the next step is to remove the still-confusing “Plus” models entirely. The Express Plus is only made for older TV connections that won’t be around for much longer anyway, and the Stick Plus includes upgrades like 4K that are swiftly becoming standard features. Look for the Plus models to go away in the next year or so as Roku refines further.
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