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Roku unveils five new streaming boxes with prices as low as $30

The $30 Roku Express is even cheaper than Google Chromecast, and actually includes a remote, while higher-end Premiere and Ultra boxes sport 4K and HDR video.

Sarah Tew/CNET
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Update: We've now published reviews of the $30 Roku Express and the $40 Express+. We'll review the 4K Roku boxes soon.

Roku just made choosing a new streaming player five times more difficult, and at least five bucks cheaper than the competition.

The giant-killing company's products routinely slay the likes of Amazon, Google and Apple in our reviews and in sales. My go-to pick for streaming Netflix, Amazon, Hulu, Sling TV and all the rest is the $50 Roku Streaming Stick, which I called "all the streamer you need."

Evidently, Roku doesn't agree. Today it debuts five -- count 'em, five! -- new devices, all of which will go on sale in time for the holidays. Add them to the Stick, the only previous Roku product staying in the line, and you get a streaming six pack frothing over with choice.

Here's how they break down (pretty much exactly as leaked).

Roku's 2016 lineup

Model Price Available Remote 4K HDR Internet Connectors
Express $30 October Standard No No Wi-Fi only HDMI
Express+ $40 October Standard No No Wi-Fi only HDMI, analog
Streaming Stick $50 Now Point-anywhere No No Wi-Fi only HDMI
Premiere $80 October Standard Yes No Wi-Fi only HDMI
Premiere+ $100 October Point-anywhere, headphone Yes Yes Wi-Fi or wired HDMI, microSD
Ultra $130 October Adds voice search, finder Yes Yes Wi-Fi or wired HDMI, microSD, USB, optical audio

Roku Express: At $30 it's $5 cheaper than Google's popular Chromecast, making the Express the least expensive mainstream streaming device around (unless Amazon decides to give its next streaming stick away for free). The Express does everything the current Roku Stick does, like give full access to Roku's best-in-class app selection, cross-platform search and simple interface. In a quick demonstration with Roku's reps it seemed plenty speedy.

And unlike Chromecast, it actually includes a real remote control, albeit a standard IR (infrared) version you have to aim at the device. The Express is tiny, kind of "not-a-box," and I can imagine cables dragging it down.

roku-comparisons-01.jpg

Roku's $30 Express (left) and the analog-capable $40 Express Plus.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Roku Express+: For an extra $10 you get the option to output analog audio and video, courtesy of an included yellow-red-and-white breakout cable. The Express+ is designed for people who want to add streaming capability to older TVs that lack HDMI connectors. If your TV already has HDMI, however, it's better to just stick with the standard Express; the two are otherwise identical.

Roku Premiere: Last year Roku introduced the $130 Roku 4 as its first 4K-capable streamer. The $80 Premiere is its successor minus a few extras. It still has access to more 4K apps than other streamers, including Netflix, Amazon, Vudu and 12 others, and a 4K spotlight app that makes 4K shows and movies easy to find. Of course, you'll need a 4K TV to take advantage of the higher resolution. The remote is just standard infrared (IR), so you have to aim it at the box, and it lacks the extra features found on the higher-end boxes' remotes.

roku-comparisons-03.jpg

4K Rokus start with the $80 Premiere, while the $100 Premiere Plus adds HDR and a headphone-jack remote.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Roku Premiere+: Spending $100 on a 2016 Roku gets you access to high dynamic range (HDR) video from streaming apps that offer it. HDR promises improved contrast and color compared to standard 1080p and 4K video, and requires an HDR-capable TV. The remote uses wi-fi technology, so you don't have to aim it and can stash the box out of sight. It's also the least-expensive 2016 Roku to offer a headphone jack on the remote for private listening (although all of them get private listening via the Roku app). Another extra over the Premiere is an Ethernet port for wired internet connections.

Roku Ultra: The Ultra is Roku's best streamer yet. It offers everything available on the Premiere+, beefed up with a few more ports and a full-featured clicker. Its remote is the only one in the lineup to offer voice search (available on the other Rokus through its free iOS and Android app), gaming support as well as the cool remote finder function that debuted on the Roku 4.

roku-ultra-01.jpg

The Roku Ultra HD 4K player asks $130 for all the fixins'.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Get yer further details right here!

Here are a few more tidbits Roku shared in response to my questions.

  • All of the new devices allow you to listen privately via headphones using Roku's app, a feature that debuted on the 2016 Streaming Stick
  • Unlike the Roku 4, which had a fan that caused some buyers to complain about noise, the 2016 Rokus are all fanless
  • The 4K models have the same level of processing power ("quad core"), which the company says is higher than any previous Roku
  • The 4K models support Dolby Atmos soundtracks
  • The 4K models support 15 different 4K apps: Netflix, YouTube, Amazon, Vudu, Fandango, Curiosity Stream, Toon Goggles, Tastemade, UltraFlix 4K, Smithsonian Earth, Plex, Picasa, Flickr, 500px and Roku Media Player
  • The list of apps that will support HDR at launch has not yet been finalized
  • The HDR models support HDR10, not the Dolby Vision format
  • The 4K models output video at 4K/60Hz, without the 4K/24Hz option found on some devices
  • Roku had no comment on the OS and interface update recently seeded to developers

So what do you really think, Katzmaier?

The new quintet should help continue Roku's run as my favorite streaming platform. I got the chance to see all of the new boxes in person and a couple in brief action, and all seemed snappy and easy to use -- just like the Stick. I'll know more once I can do some hands-on reviews, which should be very soon according to Roku.

In the meantime? On paper the Express seems like a better deal than the Stick, but I gotta say I like the Stick's form factor a lot better -- it's so convenient just plugged into the HDMI port directly, out-of-sight behind the TV. Between the 4K boxes I anticipate liking the Premiere+ best. HDR, Ethernet and the remote extras seem worth the extra $20 for sure, while the Ultra's extras do not.

And if there's anything else you're wondering about the new Rokus I haven't covered here, leave a comment.