(Pocket-lint) – Glance at the Roku Streaming Stick 4K and you might struggle to see the difference between Roku’s top-of-the-line streaming stick introduced in 2021 and the older version, the Streaming Stick+.
The previous version has been around since around 2017, but quite a lot has changed in streaming entertainment during that time – so do you need to update your Roku?
Design and build
- Dimensions: 94.5 x 21.1 x 11.5mm / Weight: 26g
- USB for Power and long-range Wi-Fi receiver
- HDMI 2.0b
The Roku Streaming Stick models are exactly what they say on the tin: a stick rather than a box. As such, it connects directly to an HDMI socket, usually on the back of your TV, with a power cable integrating a Wi-Fi signal booster.
Over the previous generations of Roku Streaming Stick products there have only been minor changes: the original had a glossy body with matte tip where the button, LED and Mini-USB connection were; while the newer Streaming Stick 4K is uniformly matte along its entire length, and now uses Micro-USB for the power connector.
Principally, these devices are the same design, with a straightforward setup, as you just have to plug it into the HMDI socket and connect it to the power, then off you go.
These stick-shaped devices are designed to be hidden from view, with just an LED light so can see it has power, and a button you can use to power cycle if it stops working for any reason – which is a rarity in our experience.
The Streaming Stick 4K comes with a power supply, as well as the USB cable, which has a signal booster along its length to boost Wi-Fi performance. This means that the small size of the stick doesn’t potentially limit reception to your Wi-Fi network.
- Included remote with TV controls and shortcut buttons (regionally differ)
- Voice control: works with Apple AirPlay & HomeKit, Hey Google, Alexa
With the Roku hidden behind your TV, it’s the remote that you’ll spend most of your time interacting with. These have slowly evolved across Roku models, but are all simple enough, offering navigation controls in purple and additional playback controls in black.
The Roku remote also comes with shortcut buttons to major TV services that you’re likely to use and these are regionalised to a degree, to suit popular services in your country.
The remote also supports voice, meaning you can search apps or across all your platforms for the content you want to watch. This is a useful feature and works well, allowing Roku to remain a rival to Alexa on Amazon’s Fire TV Stick or Google Assistant on the Chromecast with Google TV – although Roku’s voice controls don’t extend into wider smart home controls.
The remote also integrates some TV controls, meaning you can power off your TV and control the volume. The volume adjustment is on the side of the controller, though, which is a difference compared to some of Roku’s lower positioned devices which don’t have these TV controls.
Setup and connectivity
- Google Cast, AirPlay 2, Spotify Connect
- 802.11ac MIMO dual-band Wi-Fi
We’ve mentioned that you just have to plug the Stick in to get going. But one of the first tasks is then pairing the remote, which is easy enough. It’s a Bluetooth remote so you don’t need line of sight – which is a good job, seeing as the Roku will be hidden behind your TV.
You then have to walk through a couple of screens so the Roku can test what it’s connected to and ensure that you’re using the best settings. It also gives you an opportunity to adjust things such as display and audio settings.
You’ll also get the chance to setup the remote to control your TV. There’s a slight limitation here in that the Roku remote only wants to control connected TVs – if you’re using an AV receiver or separate speakers, it can’t control that, so it’s not as flexible as the Alexa remote that you get with the Fire TV Stick, for example.
You’ll then select which streaming services you want access to and it’s quick and easy to get the main services up and running. The likes of Apple TV+, Disney+, Netflix, Amazon Video, YouTube and many others are offered. For those in the UK, there’s a full set of UK catch-up services too.
You have to individually sign-in to each of the different services within each app. Many now prompt you to scan a code and sign in on your phone which is really easy, but some still require using the on-screen keyboard for the old school username and password method. Sadly these are defined by each app, so the process is different for each, but hopefully you only have to do it once.
If you want any parental controls, again these need to be set on each individual app – there’s no umbrella setting to cover all services.
One of the attractive things about Roku is that it supports other protocols, meaning you can use AirPlay streaming, Google Cast or Spotify Connect to control your content and get it from your phone or tablet onto your TV.
There’s also the Roku mobile app. This will let you control your Roku device with your smartphone, including useful features like private listening, allowing you to divert the audio to your smartphone so you can listen using headphones. This is a great option for watching late at night when you don’t want to disturb others in the room or house.
Performance and quality
- 4K, HDR 10+, HLG, Dolby Vision
- Dolby Atmos, DTS passthrough
The main reason for considering the Roku Streaming Stick 4K is that it supports Dolby Vision. Although there’s been support for other HDR formats on a number of other devices for some time, Dolby Vision is new to Roku and for those in the UK and Europe, this is the only Roku device that supports this HDR format.
In the US, customers have had the option of the Roku Ultra which also supports Dolby Vision, but for many, it will be the Streaming Stick 4K that’s more accessible, as it’s the more affordable product.
The update also brings Roku into line with Amazon, which has offered Dolby Vision support on the Fire TV Stick 4K and above. Of course, you’ll need a TV or display that supports Dolby Vision to be able to take advantage of that high-end HDR format.
Equally, you’ll need a sound system that can deliver Dolby Atmos if you want to stream in that object-based audio format too. Assuming, of course, that the source content is mixed in it too.
What the Roku Streaming Stick 4K effectively does is plug the gap in the old Streaming Stick+’s formats, so that you know you can get the best you’re offered by the services you’re using.
We’ve also seen Roku make updates in the past to support new functions. The ability to stream HLG-format HDR content from BBC iPlayer was added, for example. Living with a Roku device often reveals these little differences, because it’s a platform that we’ve found to deliver time and time again.
With a basic user interface (UI) – it’s essentially a grid of app icons – it’s quick to get into the service that you want and resume watching. We’ve also found the connection to the Wi-Fi to be very good (as it was on the Streaming Stick+), so there’s minimal watching at lower bitrates as the quality quickly ramps up to deliver top-notch visuals.
But there’s essentially no discovery on the Roku platform. When you launch into the Chromecast with Google TV or the Amazon Fire TV Stick, you’re greeted by a glorious screen that shows you suggestions and then guides you back into watching where you left off. Roku misses out on that level of engagement.
Some will prefer not to have it, though, and will like going straight to the app (or asking via voice), whereas others might want something with a home screen that’s just a little more absorbing.
The Roku Streaming Stick 4K plugs a gap in the spec sheet of the older Roku Streaming Stick+, bringing in support for Dolby Vision and completing the support for HDR formats that many will want.
At its heart, this is a great performing Roku, sitting towards the top of the range on offer, meaning it’s a little faster, has a solid wireless connection, and comes with a remote that also offers TV controls.
Of course, one of the attractive things is that you can plug it in behind your TV and forget it’s there, with no need for a box that can be seen, as per some of Roku’s lower-positioned players.
If we were to find fault it would be nit-picking, but the remote could offer wider support for AV receivers and speakers (rather than just TVs), and it could be time that Roku’s interface evolved to be a little more engaging too.
But, fundamentally, we can’t fault the performance of the Roku Streaming Stick 4K. It has performed well across a wide range of content over the many months we’ve been using it and is our go-to streamer.
Writing by Chris Hall. Editing by Mike Lowe.