Another excellent streaming player from Roku that’s easy to use, features excellent voice integration and a strong streaming performance. If you don’t fancy Alexa or Google, there’s no better choice than Roku.
- Excellent streaming performance
- Good feature set and app selection
- Supports all main HDR formats
- Stable Wi-Fi connection
- Remote could feel better to use, only controls Roku stick
- Missing a few apps here and there
- No HDMI extender (but one is available)
- UKRRP: £49.99
- 4K HDR supportSupports HDR10, HLG, HDR10+ and Dolby Vision
- Long Range Wi-FiRoku claims wireless connection is 2x faster than before
- AirPlay 2 and HomeKitCast content from iOS devices and connect to Apple smart home
You can count on Roku to deliver with its streaming devices. Whether it’s producing another player, expanding into soundbars or producing a smart TV, Roku is as reliable a name in the streaming world as there is.
But it doesn’t have the streaming market to itself. It’s up against Amazon, Google and new players like Strong are looking to muscle in. But if there’s one rival the Streaming Stick 4K wants to beat, it is Amazon’s Fire TV Stick 4K Max.
Roku’s contender supports Dolby Vision, bringing the HDR format below the £50 mark and undercuts Amazon’s premium Fire TV Stick in the process. Should you go for Roku or plump for Amazon?
- It’s a stick
- Doesn’t come with a HDMI extender
- Remote feels a little insubstantial
The Express 4K and Premiere were unconventional looking, the Streaming Stick 4K is less so. This is a stick and very obviously so. It plugs into the HDMI slot like a Fire TV Stick, though it’s not packaged with a HDMI extender. You can, however, order one for free from the Roku site.
The inconvenience of not having the HDMI extender is that it can’t easily slot into downward-facing ports; the solution is simple – just plug it into the side-facing HDMI port if you have one.
It comes with a power adapter to plug into the mains or extension cable. You could plug it into the TV’s USB terminal and power through there, but not even Roku seems keen for you to do that.
There’s a reset button in case hell breaks loose and you have to start again, and a status light that shows if everything is a-ok.
I don’t love the remote, which is the same as the one packaged with the Streambar. I’ve never quite liked how the buttons feel, and the build quality is a little plasticky. Most won’t mind since the buttons are responsive enough – I wish the presses felt snappier. Volume and mute buttons are on the side, the power button can turn off your TV and there are quick access keys for the likes of Netflix, Apple TV+, Spotify and Rakuten TV.
A slightly irritating aspect is that the remote can’t control the TV beyond volume, power or any other connected devices – just the Streaming Stick 4K; nor can the remote for your TV control the Roku, so the number of remotes you have doubles. It’s why I’m an advocate for the Roku app.
Interface and apps
- Plenty of content
- Roku app support
- Good curation
Like day into night, the weekday into the weekend and Manchester United looking tactically inept, Roku’s interface is nothing if not consistent. The main screen is divided into Home, My Feed, Search, Streaming channels, and Settings. It’s barely changed in appearance but why bother when it clearly works so well?
To explain each row, Home is where the main apps are, and a press of the ‘*’ button allows them to be customised, re-arranged or removed entirely (who still watches Funny or Die these days?).
Streaming Channels is home to 100+ channels and free to-watch Roku Channel where you’ll find ad-supported Roku Original content (with more on the way). There’s some decent stuff but don’t go in expecting Apple TV+’s Foundation or Netflix’s Arcane League of Legends. This is smaller scale, smaller budget and largely entertaining fare.
At the time of review the Roku Channel features some classics (Jonathan Demme’s Stop Making Sense, Cube), underseen and underrated films (Shattered Glass and the Wachowski’s Bound) and some absolute duds (Frank Miller’s The Spirit). So quality varies like any other free service.
My Feed is where you can find films and TV shows to watch, track and be notified when they pop up on a service via the +Roku feature. Handily it’ll tell you whether a film or series is available in a subscription you have, the resolution and whether it can be bought or rented (with prices included to help make that all important decision).
There’s text-based search via the remote, text-based search via the app (quicker) and voice search on both remote and app. Settings cover everything from wallpapers to audio formats, AirPlay and HomeKit set-up, HDR, software updates and more.
The app I prefer to the remote. Its home page has had a rejig – a little slicker in appearance with the number of clicks needed to get to content reduced, and there’s more curated categories than I remember. If it’s an option between the remote and app, the app offers way more functionality like the recently added Save List that collates titles you’ve added to watch later like Google TV’s Watch List or Sky’s Playlist.
Roku has always boasted about the massive number of apps and channels under its watch, and there does seem to be a channel for anything with apps for learning languages to some very excitable-looking, oddly named channels for children (HappyKids, Blippi).
UK viewers get access to catch-up and on-demand apps such as iPlayer and All 4. US users can count on availability for the likes of Hulu, HBO Max, Showtime, FandangoNow and Crackle. Then there’s the usual bunch: Netflix, Disney+, Amazon Prime Video, Apple TV, NOW; BBC Sounds, Deezer, Tidal and Spotify; BT Sport, UFC, NBA, F1 TV, Peloton and more.
A few apps are AWOL – there’s no FiiT, no Amazon Music, TikTok, Facebook Watch (if you care about that), or Roxi. The number of channels swells Roku’s number but for the big, popular apps, I’d wager Amazon has more.
- Excellent streaming
- Good feature set
- Stable Wi-Fi connection
Your TV and internet connection will determine the quality of the Roku’s video performance. The better it is in both cases, the better the Roku will be. Like the purpose of any streamer, the Roku functions as a gateway to content.
There’s support for HDR10, HDR10+, HLG and Dolby Vision, so all the main HDR formats are covered. No matter what TV you have, the Roku can at least allow the TV to optimise its picture quality as best it can.
Streaming looks great, whether it’s HD or 4K HDR. Sense8 in Ultra HD 4K on Netflix packs plenty of detail from the settings to close-up of actors faces, while Severance and Foundation on Apple TV+ look great in Dolby Vision on a Sony A8 OLED, so black levels, and contrast naturally impress.
The Streaming Stick 4K brings no streaming issues with Peaky Blinders in HD on iPlayer, though as usual, iPlayer presents its usual underwhelming compression and soft look with HD sources (not the Roku’s fault I should add).
Audio support includes digital stereo, and passthrough of DTS Digital Surround and Dolby audio up to Dolby Atmos. The performance is similar to previous Roku players I’ve tested, it’s big, loud and amps up the bass for a punchy, energetic and dynamic performance.
But streaming through a Vizio Atmos system, it’s not the most subtle or detailed with films or music, the Amazon Fire TV Stick Max 4K rustles up more nuanced, definition and ascribes a more measured sense of bass, as well as more clarity at the top end of the frequency range.
Roku claims the Streaming Stick 4K’s long range receiver can summon to 2x higher Wi-Fi speeds, and the connection has been stable through testing. I found it didn’t take long to get up to speed buffering video, while streaming podcasts (and scrubbing back and forwards) on an AirPlay 2 connection presented no issues.
In the three weeks I’ve used the Roku, I’ve encountered two issues: one where the connection cut out and bounced me back to the home screen and another where on start-up the stick didn’t connect to the ‘net, the status light flashing white, which required the ‘turn off, turn on’ solution to fix.
Navigation with either remote and app is swift, and voice search seems a little faster when using app but there’s not much difference. Interesting if you’re in an app’s log-in page and start a search, it brings up both search results for the app you’re and general results to your query.
There’s still no Chromecast, but you can cast either Netflix or YouTube with the DIAL protocol. Alexa and Google assistants are supported through an external device (such as an Echo or Home speaker). If you’re in Apple’s HomeKit ecosystem, you can string your compatible Apple smart devices with Streaming Stick 4K, too.
Should you buy it?
If you want to keep things simple The Roku Streaming Stick 4K is not the first to offer Dolby Vision/HDR10+ below £50, but if you’re not interested in Alexa, believe simplicity is a must in your home cinema set-up and prefer a more platform agnostic approach, then its Roku all the way.
If you want a slightly better streaming performance The Roku and Amazon are evenly matched when it comes to video streaming, and the cheaper price of the Roku helps, but the Fire TV Stick 4K Max offers a better audio performance with films and music if that is a concern.
At the beginning of this review, I mentioned how reliable and consistent Roku are, and the Streaming Stick is another great example of that. The Streaming Stick 4K is very easy to use, and the constant sense of improvement adds more convenience with each big update. Its voice search in particular is very useful, the range of app options and smarts it offers is large and its streaming performance is, by and large, excellent. If you’re not one for the Amazon ecosystem the Roku Streaming Stick 4K is a compelling alternative.
How we test
We test every video streamer we review thoroughly over an extended period of time. We use industry-standard tests to compare features properly. We’ll always tell you what we find. We never, ever, accept money to review a product.
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Tested for three weeks
Tested with 4K, HDR and HD content
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The Stick+ is the cheaper model of the two, sports a different design and doesn’t support Dolby Vision.