Key TakeawaysThe Roku Streambar goes on sale October 15 for $129.99.It's a box that combines 4K media streaming with a set of decent speakers and a single-connection cable.You won't hate the Roku remote. Roku
If I was buying a set-top-box for my TV, I would avoid the Apple TV and anything from Google and head straight for this Roku. It packs everything you need to watch and listen to TV and movies, and nothing you don't.
Roku's Streambar combines a 4K video-streaming device with a small soundbar. Stick it under your TV set, and you're ready to go. The Roku can be used as your sole interface to the TV, controlling sound and streaming video, all with just one remote. It works with Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, Disney+, Spotify, BBC iPlayer, and more. The Streambar will be available October 15 for $129.99.
Roku's Streambar is a Joy
The Streambar combines a 4K media-streaming set-top box with a four-speaker soundbar. This can replace your television's built-in speakers, and should (in theory) be a step up in sound quality. If you have a fancy home-theater setup already, then you should consider Roku's non-speaker boxes instead.
Audio-wise, you can set the box to quieten loud commercials, boost voices, and perform some other sound-processing functions. You know how the actors' voices are always too quiet compared to the background audio and effects? This should fix that. Although, if you're streaming a badly compressed copy of a movie you found via BitTorrent, it will still sound terrible. You can also stream music and podcasts to the Roku from your phone via Bluetooth.
Once plugged into your TV via HDMI cable, you can control everything from the Roku remote (more on that later).
Why Buy This Over The Competition?
The nice thing about a purpose-built streamer like those from Roku is that it has no agenda. Or rather, their agenda is to sell as many units as they can and be compatible with as many streaming services as possible.
Whereas branded boxes try to steer you towards the maker's own channels, a Roku can be more independent. I like its “unbiased” search, which lets you search by title, actor, director, or genre, then lets you pick the cheapest place to stream the results (including free, if available).Roku
I also like that you can hook it up to your own sources. If, for instance, you store your TV shows in an online locker service like Put.io, then you can access and stream your video directly.
What about Alexa and Google Assistant? The Streambar works with those, too (all Roku devices do). It also lets you watch Apple TV+ content, and will support AirPlay (within a few weeks), which will let you stream video, music, and photos directly from your iPhone or iPad. It will also work with Apple's Homekit home automation suite, which will let you use it with Siri, for example.
"The pitch is you get everything you need in one box, with just one cable between TV and set-top box."
That's why I'm not interested in something like the Apple TV. In comparison to the Roku, it's limited, more expensive (the Apple TV 4K starts at $179), and has no speakers.
Also, the Roku remote is great. It only has a handful of buttons, you don't need a manual to use it, and you're never confused about which way up you're holding it, unlike Apple TV's Siri remote. And if you lose it, you can pick up a new one for around $12.
What About Smart TVs?
You could just use the apps that come built into your smart TV, and if you have a set that has a well-designed, easy-to-use interface, then maybe you should just stick with that. Ditto if your TV has killer speakers built in. But I prefer to disable as many of a TV's smart features as possible for security.
In 2015, for instance, Samsung's TVs were found to be eavesdropping on their owners, recording your conversations, and passing them on to third parties. The FBI also issued a warning about hackers being able to gain access to your home network via the poorly-secured web-servers that run on some smart TVs.
Bottom line? I trust Roku more than I do conversation-recording Samsung (for now).Smart TV Security & Privacy Threats You Need to Know
Ultimately, The Roku Streambar looks like a solid offering. It won't compete with a high-end soundbar, but then I don't think it's supposed to. The pitch is you get everything you need in one box, with just one cable between TV and set-top box. If I were buying a new box to go with a TV, this would definitely go on my shortlist.