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6 Jan 2021

Is Roku's new combination sound bar and TV streamer a perfect fusion of sound and vision?

TV streaming specialist Roku has branched into sound bars with the Roku Streambar. We see how it compares with sound bars from LG and Samsung
Roku Streambar setup with TV

Released in October 2020, the £130 Roku Streambar is the first of its kind: a sound bar with a built in 4K streamer. In theory, that means you can watch Ultra High Definition (UHD) television in full 4k, with the boosted audio of a sound bar.

It's far from the first time we've seen two things combined to make something new, which can be a recipe for success.Smartwatches, for example, perform the functions of what once took multiple separate devices, from telling the time to tracking your pulse or giving directions. Meanwhile smart doorbells combine the classic doorbell with a wireless camera.

And it's hard to even imagine a time before chocolate and peanuts came together.

Roku's innovation makes sense. If you're looking to get the best TV viewing experience, the tinny built-in speakers probably aren't going to cut it, which is where a sound bar comes in. And building in a TV streamer means one less gadget to plug in to your TV, and one less remote to lose between your sofa cushions.

But at this price, we see plenty of sound bars that just aren't good enough. We took the Roku Streambar for a spin in our test labs to see how it fared.

Looking for a more conventional sound bar? Take a look at top picks from our experts in our guide on how to buy the best sound bar.

Roku Streambar: £130

Roku Streambar close up
  • Built-in 4K streamer
  • Allows you to cast videos or images from your phone, laptop or tablet to your TV
  • Acts as a Bluetooth speaker
  • Compatible with Alexa, for voice control

At just £130, this model is at the cheaper end of the sound bar price spectrum. For this price it packs in quite a few features, which could make it a popular choice for budget-conscious buyers.

The streaming function works well, but that's no great surprise; it's extremely rare for TV streamers to totally fail our tests.

Notably absent is Dolby Atmos, the latest in virtual surround-sound technology. This feature allows sound bars to emit sounds at different heights, bouncing audio off ceilings to give an impression of sound coming from all around you. It's no great surprise not to find it here - we usually see it in more expensive models. But it's something to watch out for in future if combination streamer/sound bars catch on.

Ease of use could be better

A point against the Streambar: it's among the most involved sound bars we've encountered to set up and use. You'll need an internet connection and a separate device, such as a laptop or phone, to set up your account before you can do anything. Many sound bars are good to go the second you plug them in, so this isn't the best start, though the setup is fairly comparable with other TV streamers.

To control the sound bar, you'll need to use the remote to dive into a series of on-screen sub-menus, which can also be a pain.

None of these niggles are deal breakers though if the sound quality is any good. So what did our panel of sound experts have to say about it?

Read our full Roku Streambar review to find out.

The case for keeping things separate

Just because two technologies can be combined, doesn't mean they need to be. Most sound bars are built specifically for sound, so the Streambar has some tough competition on this front. Plus, if you've already got a built in TV streamer or you're looking for specific high-end sound bar features, a standalone sound bar might be better for you.

Here are some alternative sound bars at a range of price points to consider.

If you're already happy with how your TV sounds, buying a standalone TV Streamer could be much cheaper. See our Best Buys to find one that suits your TV.

LG SJ3: £119

Sound Bars LG SJ3

This beefy sound bar is best suited to larger TVs, and comes with a wireless subwoofer, which should improve bass.

There's no HDMI port, which can make it harder to connect to devices (such as your 4K TV streamer). There's no built-in display either, which can make sound bars trickier to use.

But for this price, it offers a good range of features, including Bluetooth connectivity. This means you can pair the sound bar with your smartphone, tablet or laptop and use it as a wireless speaker.

So how does it sound? Read our LG SJ3 review to find out.

Samsung HW-S61T: £149

Samsung HW-S61T product image

This compact and stylish sound bar has a built in subwoofer, and will look great in a minimalist room.

It comes with wi-fi functionality so you can control it with a smartphone app, though we find this works better with Samsung Android phones. It also works as a Bluetooth speaker, and can be set up for voice control with Amazon Alexa.

So can big sounds come from small packages? Read our full Samsung HW-S61T review to find out.

Samsung HW-Q70T: £459

Sound bars Samsung HW-Q70T

This mid-range sound bar costs substantially more than the others we've highlighted here, but for that price you get more bells and whistles, including Dolby Atmos.

There's also a wireless subwoofer, which should boost bass, as well as wi-fi connected features. And if you already have a Samsung QLED TV, you can combine the sound of the TV speakers and sound bar, which supposedly gives you greater depth.

These features are all well and good, but does the sound justify the price? Read our full Samsung HW-Q70T review to find out.

Other recently tested sound bars

The Roku Streambar is one of nearly a dozen sound bars we've just put through their paces in our lab. Use the links below to see the full reviews of some of the most popular models that we've recently tested, or head over to our sound bar reviews page for the full list.