28.09.20

Roku introduces compact Streambar

Roku Streambar Side Angle Closer
Source: Roku

Although Roku is the largest selling brand of streaming product in the US, their presence in the rest of the world is not as broad. Seeking to expand their market, Roku TV sets and the Roku Soundbar are already available in the UK, as is their free, ad-supported, linear-oriented, Roku Channel. The most recent component of their expansion strategy is the announcement that their new Roku Streambar will be available in the UK as well as in the US.

Suffice to say, soundbars are a huge and constantly growing product category. Some are large, some not so much. Some two channel, some multi-channel with object-based surround. Some affordable, some affordable only if the budget is as large as the soundbar is likely to be. Some are from market-share leading brands, some from brands that may not be as well known, at least in certain geographies as others. 

Given all that, what options are there for a relatively new entrant into a product category and market region to set themselves apart? Roku is looking to a combination of features, performance and size as part of their plans to gain traction. Thus, their new Streambar.

If one were to sum up their approach, it might be “smarter, services, simpler and smaller”. 

For the “smarts” the Streambar includes and is based on the Roku OS that provides access to thousands of free, pay, linear and specific streaming services. While many consumers have taken to external streaming devices such as Apple TV, Fire TV, and various Android TV-based products such as Nvidia Shield, as well as Roku’s own products, the Streambar is one of the few products that combines the streamer and soundbar in one compact package. 

Exploded Roku Streambar
Despite its compact size, Roku’s new Streambar uses four drivers in a two-channel configuration. Source: Roku

That’s where the “services and simpler” comes into play. By unifying content choices in one device, and through the use of a well thought out OS, the Streambar just makes things easier. Depending on the TV, there is just an HDMI connection, and sometimes an optical audio connection. Cables for both are included. Yes, we know that this is the same setup for almost all soundbars, but the key to one with a built-in streaming device is that you are reasonably assured that new “channels” and apps will be added and updated. 

While smart TVs have some services included, their repertoire is rarely as broad as that of an external device. More importantly, most brands don’t update their list of services after two or three years. Not so with streamers, and that’s a good reason to have one. As an example, my mai 4K TV is now five years old, and its “smarts” haven’t added the more recent services or their OS updates. For that, I personally have a Roku, a Fire TV, an Apple TV 4K and an Nvidia Shield but, after all, remember who you are listening to!

That brings us to “size”. The Streambar is only 2.4-in high and 14-in wide. Despite that, there are two speakers for each channel, one forward facing and one side facing. That lets this unit sits under smaller size TVs that might be found in a kitchen, office or “second room” where a larger size soundbar might not fit. However, though we haven’t heard it in person yet, we’ll take Roku’s word that the sound is clear, immersive and loud enough. Hopefully one will be available for test soon and I’ll report back.

Roku Streambar Above Angle
Source: Roku

Along with the Streambar, Roku devices, including this one, will soon update to their Roku OS 9.4. That will deliver Apple HomeKit and AirPlay 2. Along with their existing voice command compatibility with Google Assistant and Amazon Alexa that furthers Roku’s reputation as the “Swiss Army Knife” of streamers since they will be the only devices that support all three of the major voice ecosystems. That adds to the “simpler” aspect of the product concept.

No report on a product such as this would be complete without the basics. The Streambar delivers 4K, HDR and is compatible with Roku wireless speakers and their subwoofer (where available). The remote includes controls for power and volume as well as direct access buttons for select services. Of course, it is a voice remote.

At the end of the day, the new Roku Streambar is an interesting notion. Clearly not the choice for those who want a full Dolby Atmos presentation and all the latest video features to sit below a 65-in TV. On the other hand, if you want good sound in a reasonably sized room and add a streaming device with the least hassle, the Roku Streambar will be an interesting product to consider. Part of the appeal will certainly be the price: £129 in the UK, $129.99 in the US, with availability also scheduled for Canada and Mexico.