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Roku Express+ review: Resurrect an old TV with streaming video for cheap

The tiny Roku Express+ can infuse older analog-only TVs with Netflix, Amazon, YouTube, Hulu and other modern streaming apps for an inexpensive price.

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David Katzmaier
David_Katzmaier.jpg

David Katzmaier

Editorial Director -- TVs and streaming

David has reviewed TVs, streaming services, streaming devices and home entertainment gear at CNET since 2002. He is an ISF certified, NIST trained calibrator and developed CNET's TV test procedure himself. Previously David wrote reviews and features for Sound & Vision magazine and eTown.com. He is known to two people on Twitter as "The Cormac McCarthy of consumer electronics."

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3 min read

These days just about everything you connect to a TV has an HDMI output. Those little connections deliver pristine digital audio and video in a single cheap cable, with better fidelity than any analog jacks. If you have the choice, you should always connect your AV gear via HDMI.

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Roku Express+

The Good

The Roku Express+ has an analog audio/video output, allowing it to connect to older TVs. It's cheap, easy to use and loaded with streaming apps, including the latest version of Netflix.

The Bad

It's slower, especially with Netflix, than other HDMI-only devices that cost just a few bucks more.

The Bottom Line

With its affordable price, analog video capability and access to Roku's best-in-class platform, the Express+ is a no-brainer buy for people who want to bring streaming video to an older TV.

But thousands of people don't have that choice. They own and watch TVs every day, some 20 years old or more, that don't have HDMI inputs. They might consider these televisions perfectly good and be loath to upgrade to a new HDTV.

The $40 Roku Express+ is made just for them. This little box, smaller than its own remote control, is packed with streaming apps including Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Video, YouTube and thousands more. Numerous other devices can do the same thing, but unless you buy an adapter, none of them work with analog video, so none can connect directly to older TVs.

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Sarah Tew/CNET

The Express+ is basically an analog-capable version of the $30 Roku Express, complete with Roku's best-in-class app selection, simple interface and comprehensive search. If the TV you're going to connect has an HDMI input, there's little reason to get the Express+.

On the other hand the Express+ also has HDMI, so it might be worth grabbing if you anticipate needing the analog outputs at some point -- for example, that trip to Grandma's house. Of course, Grandma's house will need good Wi-Fi to stream video.

The only physical difference between the two tiny Rokus is the Express+ has a little minijack port on the back labeled AV out, into which you plug the included red, white and yellow cable that in turn gets plugged into the TV. It even includes a sticker you can use to affix the little box to a TV or AV cabinet, and avoid having it get dragged around by cables. A short HDMI cable comes in the box too.

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The Express has an AV output for old TVs in addition to HDMI for new ones.

Sarah Tew/CNET

In testing the two budget Rokus performed about the same -- quick enough, but not as smooth or speedy as Roku's $50 Streaming Stick. As expected the standard-definition, analog video connection of the Express+ looked much worse than the high-definition HDMI connection, but no worse than any other standard-def analog video.

I also compared the Express+ directly to last year's Roku 1, the company's previous analog-capable box. Again performance was basically the same. In some apps like Hulu, the Express+ was a split-second faster, but in others like Amazon Video, YouTube and Sling TV, the two analog Rokus navigated and loaded video at the same speed.

The exception was Netflix. Along with many older Rokus, the Roku 1 lacks the latest version of the Netflix app. That means it's missing Netflix's profiles for individual family members, and its menus have an extremely basic look that's more of a pain to browse. The newer version can be a bit slower on the Express+ than the Roku 1, but that's a small price to pay for a much better experience overall. Even if you own an older analog Roku, it might be worth getting an Express+ just for its superior Netflix experience.

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The Express lets you use Roku's phone app to listen to the audio of what you're watching via headphones.

Sarah Tew/CNET

And here's another reason: unlike older Rokus, the Express+ also gets the nifty headphone "private listening" feature via the Roku app for Apple and Android phones. Just plug a pair of headphones into your phone, hit the headphone icon, and audio get muted on the TV and comes through the 'phones instead. It worked well in my testing, although it occasionally dropped out if I didn't plug in my headphones before starting a stream. Roku says it's working on a fix for that issue.

Overall the Express+ is a great way to bring the joys of streaming video to an older TV that lacks HDMI. For more details, including why I consider Roku the best streaming platform overall, check out my review of the Roku Express and Roku Streaming Stick.

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8.0

Roku Express+

Score Breakdown

Design 7Ecosystem 10Features 7Performance 6Value 8