Scott Wasser is an award-winning newspaper, magazine, and web editor, writer and photographer, and longtime freelancer in the AV industry. He was the editor of Digital TV & Sound magazine and assistant editor of Robb Report's Home Entertainment. Scott's passions in AV tend toward the affordable, and he specializes in soundbars, smart remotes, and other more mainstream IoT-type products, as well as car audio.
One side of the small box containing Roku's Streambar consists simply of six silver words that stand out on an otherwise solid background in the company's familiar shade of purple. The words read: "Just wait until you hear this."
I could hardly wait – not because I expected much from a combination soundbar/media streamer smaller than a loaf of bread, but because Roku has a track record of consistently exceeding my expectations with every new device I've tested. But cynic that I am, I was skeptical this 14-inch soundbar could keep that streak going.
I didn't have to wait long to find out. It took just 21 minutes and 34 seconds from the time I began opening the Streambar box until it was on my bedroom dresser, plugged into AC, and connected to my Samsung TV via HDMI 2.0a and optical cables. The latter was necessary because my TV is old enough that its HDMI port doesn't support Audio Return Channel (ARC), which the Streambar will on newer TVs.
Like other Rokus, the setup process is simple enough for your grandparents to follow. It begins with six simple steps outlined in a Quick Start Guide, followed by step-by-step onscreen directions. In my case, the initial setup included connecting Roku's Wireless Subwoofer to the Streambar. That took less than a minute or two, which you can subtract from the 21:34 if you don't have a Roku sub (the only kind that works with the Streambar).
If 22 minutes from start to finish seems like a long time to set up a soundbar and streaming player, you may not have unboxed and connected either lately. I've spent that long in some cases just rummaging through my cable drawer looking for an optical or HDMI cable because a new device didn't come with one. No such issues with the Streambar, which has both of those cables in its box and, in typical Roku fashion, even has a couple of fresh batteries for its RF/IR remote.
RF means the Snickers bar-size remote can control all the standard Roku streaming media player functions without having to point it at the Streambar. IR capability means it also can turn older TVs like mine on and off. The remote also has a built-in microphone to work with Roku's ever-expanding list of voice-command functions, but it doesn't have the earphone jack found on Roku's top-of-the-line remotes.
The Streambar's setup included the device activation process required by all Roku streamers. That took just a minute or two because I already have a Roku account. It will take newcomers a bit longer because they'll have to register with Roku and provide a credit card number. There's no fee for registering with the company or activating a device, but Roku wants a valid credit card on file in case you purchase a subscription or pay-per-view content from one of the thousands of streaming services it offers.
Once the Streambar was activated, it offered to download several channels and presented free trials and subscription discounts on a bunch of others. I skipped them all and simply let the device download the channels I already access on my other Roku devices. It's an automatic process, but with 131 such channels it took long enough for me to spend 5 or 10 minutes with my Nespresso coffeemaker.
When I returned to the TV – latte in hand – it was ready to stream. Solely assessed as a streaming device, it is very capable. It delivers 4K/HDR video and Dolby Digital (but not Atmos) audio, and features Roku's intuitive interface, which is acclaimed for its simplicity.
By now, you're probably asking, "But what about its sound?" Just wait until you hear this: It's amazing. I can't believe this wee device with its four 1.9-inch, full-range drivers is so capable of filling my 16.5 by 15-foot bedroom with booming sound. Its soundstage extends from wall-to-wall, thanks to a pair of speakers angled outward.
Initial impressions are that tonal range is great with music or video. And dialogue clarity is exceptional. I'd like a little more bass if the Streambar was in a media room instead of my bedroom, but the only real downside is that the few audio functions available in Roku's setup menu can't be accessed while video or music is being played.
In the meantime, I'm looking forward to spending a lot more time with the Streambar so we can provide you with a comprehensive review of Roku's initially impressive little device.
• Roku's TV Wireless Speakers will work as satellites with the new Streambar. Check out our review.
• Here's a review of Roku's other soundbar and optional Wireless Subwoofer
• Take a look at our picks for the best media streamers for 2020