"So there's this thing called Netflix, and it lets you watch TV over the internet. You don't need to pay for cable or futz with an antenna. Want to check it out?"
If you've had this conversation with a friend or family member, the next question might be "How do I get it on my TV?" After you confirm that they have Wi-Fi, you might recommend a device like the Roku Express: Cheap, simple, and it plugs into their TV's HDMI port.
But what if their TV is so old it doesn't even have an HDMI port? That's when you tell them about the Roku Express Plus.
Almost as cheap and sold exclusively at Walmart, it's just like the Express but includes an analog AV cable complete with red, white and yellow plugs. There's no reason to buy the Plus if the TV you're connecting to has HDMI, but there are plenty of older TVs that don't. This little device is the best way to revive an old TV in the streaming age.
In fact, short of buying an old game console, it's one of the only ways.
If you're not familiar with Roku, it's our favorite streaming system for a few simple reasons. It's extremely easy to use and it supports more apps than any other competitor like Fire TV or Google Chromecast. In addition to big names like Netflix, Amazon, Hulu and YouTube, it has thousands of smaller apps and niche services. Some of the best, like the exclusive Roku Channel, are free (although many have ads).
Despite their cheap prices, the newest Roku players like the Express Plus are quick satisfying to use -- provided you have good Wi-Fi. And no, the Express Plus doesn't work with wired Internet connections.
Compared to HDMI the analog connection from a Roku Express Plus looks like junk, but that's not Roku's fault. It's because that yellow analog composite video signal is limited to 480i resolution, a format that has 80 percent fewer pixels than the 1080p high-def signal used by the HDMI output.
On our test 55-inch TV the graphics were blurry, smaller text was fuzzy bordering on unreadable at times, and image quality was soft as a 16-pack of Charmin. Movement caused color fringing, rainbows, jagged lines and breakup of text and on-screen objects. Colors were less saturated and washed out, and audio was stereo-only.
Of course that's par for the course on an old TV, and someone used to watching TV on a set without HDMI inputs is probably used to the picture and unlikely to complain. At least the lip-sync via the analog connection was good.
If you or someone you know wants to get more use out of that ancient set that doesn't have HDMI, one of the only games in town -- and most likely the cheapest -- is the Express Plus. This little box is simple and effective, but again, there's no reason to buy it unless you have a set that needs it. Whenever possible you should watch via HDMI, but if that's not an option, get the Plus.