Editors' note: The Roku LT reviewed here is scheduled to be available through Amazon the week of November 18.
Before Google's $35 Chromecast, the Roku LT was the original impossibly priced streamer that seemed too good to be true, offering up tons of streaming content in a tiny box for just $50.
The Roku LT hasn't changed much since its introduction in 2011 as Roku's online-only budget box. You get the full Roku experience, now up to 1,000 channels, including Netflix, Amazon Instant, HBO Go, Hulu Plus, Pandora, MLB.TV, Amazon Cloud Player, and Vudu. There's still no YouTube app, although there are some decent workarounds. The Roku LT's video output is limited to 720p, but only the most picky viewers will notice much of a difference.
The box's exterior changed this fall, keeping its quirky purple look, but matching the sleek design of Roku's other streamers. The LT doesn't have the neat remote with a headphone jack found on the Roku 2 and Roku 3, but its simple clicker is still a good one, with convenient direct access buttons for services like Netflix and Amazon Instant. (And a Blockbuster button nobody but Blockbuster executives were asking for.)
For most buyers, the Roku LT is still a better value than the Chromecast. It's only $15 more, but offers up much more content; the Chromecast is still limited to Netflix, YouTube, Hulu Plus, Pandora, and Google's media apps. And the Roku LT's onscreen interface means you don't need a smartphone or tablet to control it.
If you're buying a streaming box for your primary TV, I still recommend spending extra for the Roku 3. Yes, it's twice as much, but it's still relatively affordable and its improvements -- especially its speed and the headphone-jack-toting remote -- make it worth it for a device you're likely to use frequently. But if you're looking for a streamer in a secondary location, like a bedroom or basement, the Roku LT is a fantastic option and an unbeatable value.
720p image quality: Does it matter?
If you're a techie, the Roku LT's 720p output may strike you as frustratingly backward; it's rare to see any device sport anything less than 1080p these days. But as annoying as that outdated spec may seem, the real-world difference is surprisingly minor.
I compared the Roku LT with the Roku 3, flipping between two similarly calibrated inputs on the Sharp PRO-60X5FD. I primarily used the excellent-looking "Sherlock" as my reference material, and the difference was subtle at best. If I had to describe the differences, I'd say the Roku 3's image was ever-so-slightly sharper and the colors just a tad richer, but my overwhelming opinion was the two images looked nearly identical. The bottom line is the Roku LT's image quality looks excellent, and I'd say the vast majority of buyers wouldn't be able to tell there's anything "downgraded" about the experience.