The best soundbars can be used as an alternative to a full surround sound system and can come with extra functions that improve your entertainment experience. Surround sound systems produce excellent sound, but they take up a lot of room, require pricey equipment (think A/V receiver, speakers, streaming player), and running speaker wires across your TV room can be a big nuisance.
Roku’s Streambar, which combines a four-speaker soundbar with a streaming player, aims to alleviate some of the additional expense and setup issues by being the only A/V device you’ll need. In addition, unlike Roku’s earlier Smart Soundbar, the new Streambar is a compact gadget that can be placed in almost any location. I put the Streambar to the test for two weeks, looking at its design, setup process, audio quality, video quality, and functions.
Design: Extremely compact
The Streambar is only 14 inches broad, so it can go almost anyplace. It can be displayed on an entertainment cabinet, a fireplace mantle, a desk, or a wall. It also contains an HDMI cable, optical cable, power adapter, and voice remote with batteries, as well as two threaded mounting sockets for convenient wall mounting.
My Streambar is on the fireplace mantle in my living room, where my family only watches TV on rare occasions, so we don’t require a full surround sound system. Plus, I don’t think huge speakers would look right in my mid-century modern living area, so I’ve avoided putting shelf speakers or any other large audio system. Fortunately, the Roku on the mantle is scarcely noticeable among the candles, ornaments, and other decor, so I don’t notice it.
The Streambar is only 14 inches broad, so it can go almost anyplace. It can be displayed on an entertainment cabinet, a fireplace mantle, a desk, or a wall.
The Streambar’s front is all grille, with minimal branding to catch your eye. On the back of the Roku are all of the ports: an HDMI 2.0a ARC port, a power supply port, an optical input, and a USB 2.0 port. This makes hiding the wires for a cleaner look quite simple.
Setup Process: Finding the right HDMI port
The Streambar isn’t particularly difficult to set up, but it did cause me some difficulty. To work with an HDMI cable alone, you’ll need an HDMI ARC port. Otherwise, you’ll need to use both an HDMI and an optical connection (both of which are provided). The back ports on my 70-inch TV are tough to reach because it is so near to the wall.
I usually just leave a loosely attached HDMI cable in the back of the TV in case I need to connect an HDMI device, so I don’t have to move the TV or take it out of the mount. Unfortunately, the cable I was using was not compatible with my TV’s HDMI ARC port, thus I had to dig around behind my TV and try several HDMI slots until I discovered the proper (ARC) HDMI.
The HDMI ARC port is labeled, but it’s difficult to detect if you can’t see behind the TV. If you have an older TV, double-check that it has an HDMI ARC connector or both an HDMI and an optical port before purchasing the Streambar. Check to verify if your TV supports HDMI ARC and CEC. These functionalities may also need to be enabled in the TV’s settings.
The Roku Streambar doesn’t offer a lot of bass, but it’s a significant improvement over standard TV speakers.
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Another source of difficulty for me was the network connection. The menu indicated that cable communication was available, yet the Streambar lacks an Ethernet port. It turns out that wired connectivity requires the purchase of a separate USB adaptor. I didn’t like that the Streambar didn’t have an Ethernet connector, and that the interface didn’t know whether or not to delete or include the wired connectivity option based on my existing hardware configuration. Roku, on the other hand, can detect the finest picture on your TV and check to see if it fits the requirements. This wasn’t an easy process, and I had to repeat it a few times, but I came up with a stunning 4K image in the end.
Aside from those few little annoyances, the setup process was rather simple. The screen leads you through the process, and it takes less than 30 minutes to get everything up and running. Waiting for Roku to add your channels, waiting for any upgrades, and enrolling into all of your streaming accounts is the most time-consuming portion of the procedure.
Sound Quality: Better than expected for a soundbar this size
The Roku Streambar doesn’t offer a lot of bass, but it’s a significant improvement over standard TV speakers. The Streambar features four 1.9-inch full-range speakers with PCM and Dolby Audio compatibility. The Streambar has a full, rich, and strong sound. You can clearly hear vocalists, and there’s also a speech clarity option to improve dialogue clarity. You can even adjust the volume for nighttime or leveling. You may also use Bass Boost to boost the low frequencies, however this only improves the bass sound somewhat. Rather than making the bass punchier, it simply makes it louder.
On the Streambar, I watched “Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith” and the original X-Men trilogy. When Obi Wan and Anakin were fighting in the lava, I could clearly hear all of the action, as well as the background music and vocals. The music was unexpectedly immersive, and it didn’t sound overly concentrated or as if it came from a single source.
The Roku Streambar is likely to be an upgrade on its own, but you can upgrade it even further by pairing it with Roku Wireless Speakers or a Roku Wireless Subwoofer.
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Video Quality: 4K with upscaling, but no Dolby Vision
The Roku Streambar doesn’t support all of the premium video capabilities, such as Dolby Vision or 3D, but it does support HDR10 and HLG (Hybrid Log Gamma) on 4K HDR TVs. On compatible 4K TVs, it also offers 4K resolution at up to 60 frames per second, as well as upscaling from 720p to 1080p. Of course, the picture quality will vary depending on your television, but the 3480×2160 resolution on my low-cost Hisense 4K TV looked fantastic.
Features: The only device you need, but you can add on more speakers
The Roku’s major advantage is that it can serve as both a streaming player and a fully capable soundbar, all in a device that’s about the size of your forearm. The Streambar supports Bluetooth for pairing with phones and other Bluetooth devices, and it works with Alexa, Google Assistant, and Siri, in addition to its streaming and sound features.
You can ask Alexa to “Alexa, launch Hulu on Roku” or “Alexa, pause on Roku,” for example, to manage the device without touching the remote. The Roku app includes a mobile remote, and the main remote also supports voice control, allowing you to navigate menus, adjust volume, and search with your voice.
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The Roku’s greatest advantage is its dual duty as a streaming player and a fully functional soundbar.
This device is extremely convenient, intelligent, and adaptable. I can use it as a speaker for my phone’s playlist or project a YouTube video onto my TV screen thanks to Airplay and Bluetooth connectivity. Hulu, Netflix, Sling, and Spectrum are just a few of the channels available on Roku. Of course, it doesn’t contain every channel, but I’ve never been unable to find a show or movie that I wanted to watch.
Price: An amazing value
The Roku Streambar, which costs $130 (), is one of the greatest soundbars I’ve seen in terms of value for money. This small device offers a lot: streaming, sound, music, intelligence, and more. It also sounds better than most budget soundbars and costs roughly the same as some of the more expensive streaming players, such as Amazon’s latest FireTV Cube. You’ll probably be satisfied with the Roku Streambar if you need a soundbar and streaming player for a tiny space or a second TV room.
This small device offers a lot: streaming, sound, music, intelligence, and more.
Roku Streambar vs. Sonos Beam
The Sonos Beam, a smaller soundbar than the Roku Streambar, measures 2.7 by 25.6 by 3.9 inches (HWD). The Beam costs $399, which is roughly three times as much as the Roku. The Beam, on the other hand, features five class D amplifiers, four full-range woofers, one tweeter, and three passive radiators beneath the hood. The Beam also has a five-microphone array, as well as Alexa built-in and Google Assistant support. The Roku Streambar works with Alexa and other virtual assistants, but there is no built-in Assistant. One other advantage the Beam has over the Roku is the presence of an Ethernet port, which the Roku lacks.
However, the Beam does not outperform the Roku in every category. To get the most out of the Beam, you’ll need to connect a FireTV product to it, unlike the Roku, which comes with a built-in streaming player. For TVs that don’t support HDMI ARC, the Roku offers a separate optical connector, but the Beam requires an adapter. In terms of audio, the Sonos Beam is a higher-end speaker, but the Roku is far more user-friendly and well-rounded. You’ll like the Roku if you want an all-in-one gadget. You’ll prefer the Sonos Beam if you want a better-sounding smart speaker for your TV.
The Final Word
The Roku Streambar is a low-cost alternative to a bigger or more expensive audio system for compact spaces, living rooms, or auxiliary TV rooms. It has excellent audio and video quality that will meet the demands of most individuals.