Roku 4 review: The ultimate 4K accessory for your shiny new TV
This squat little box spits out the widest variety of 4K video available today -- including Netflix, YouTube, Amazon, Vudu and M-Go -- and makes finding actual 4K TV shows and movies easier than ever. It's still early days for 4K so even those services don't have much, and newer 4K movies cost a bundle, but if you're hot to demo that new TV, I guess some 4K is better than no 4K.
Streaming videos in 4K resolution can deliver better picture quality than HD or 1080p resolution streams, but you'll need a big 4K TV, a fast Internet connection, and in the case of Netflix, the most-expensive subscription plan to take full advantage. Just don't expect a drastic improvement. Even to an image quality stickler like me the best non-4K streams from Netflix and Amazon look pretty awesome, and in my comparisons I find it difficult to tell the difference between them and actual 4K streams.
Compared with most 4K TVs, the $130 price of the Roku 4 is chump change, but in the puck-infested world of media streamers it's pretty expensive. And if you're on a budget, it's largely unnecessary. That's because your 4K TV probably already has access to Netflix and Amazon's 4K stuff, and maybe YouTube or others as well. And in the case of next-generation HDR content, which (wait for it...) promises even better quality than regular old 4K, those apps might even be more capable than Roku's. In most other ways, of course, Roku and other external streamers blow away any smart TV system.
Roku 4's competition includes the Nvidia Shield and Amazon Fire TV , both of which also handle 4K, but both ultimately fall short. Then there's Apple TV , which could offer enough useful capabilities to unseat Roku 4 as the best high-end streamer, even though it doesn't have 4K (or an Amazon video app). I'll know more once I review it. In the meantime maybe you know you like Roku better anyway, or you just want the best 4K video device available today. That's the Roku 4.
The box: A pancake packed with ports, processing
The Roku 4 looks like someone ran over a Roku 3 with a pickup truck. The new "box" is a thick, squared-off black plastic pancake, wider and deeper than other streamers but squat overall. Externally it's basically the opposite of the taller, chunkier new Apple TV.
The top is matte black and the sides glossy, slightly taller along the edges than the middle. Adornments include the big "4" up top, the trademark purple fabric Roku tag, and the discrete "Roku 4" logo on the front. The bottom is nicely rubberized to minimize slideage.
Mounted topside you'll also find the lone button, shaped like a miniature version of the Roku remote. That's appropriate because it's used to operate the remote locator function.
Roku omitted no connection. On the side there's a USB port, and around back you get the best selection of ports on any streamer available today outside the Nvidia Shield: HDMI, Ethernet, optical digital audio and a MicroSD card slot. Most other new streamers drop optical digital audio, which is the easiest way to get 5.1 channel surround to older devices that lack HDMI. And Roku has more 5.1-capable apps than anyone.
The USB port can connect to USB sticks and hard drives for playback of photo, music and video files using the Roku Media Player app (see below for testing). The MicroSD card port can take cards up to 64GB if you find the need to expand the Roku 4's storage. Like on the Fire TV, this feature is only useful for gamers (the SD card can't be access for media file playback), and of course Roku has very few games compared to Fire TV and Android TV.
One advantage over streaming sticks is the presence of an Ethernet port, and in many locations Ethernet will provide a more reliable, higher-bandwidth stream than Wi-Fi (something that's especially important for 4K streaming, which generally needs a hefty 15Mbps connection). Of course, Roku 4 supports the latest 802.11ac Wi-Fi standard, too, and it worked flawlessly in our test lab.
Roku also mentions a quad-core processor for faster response times. In my tests menu navigation and other tasks didn't seem to go noticeably faster than the already very zippy Roku 2 or 3, however, and apps like Netflix and YouTube didn't launch any faster. The same goes for other newer streaming boxes: all are plenty speedy for most users.
The cure for RLS (remote loss syndrome)
The biggest improvement on the Roku 4 remote is its cool finder function. Press the button on the top of the box and the remote emits an alarm sound -- your choice of whistle, submarine-style sonar or "Ride of the Valkyries," among others -- from wherever it happens to be hiding. It's a great feature for people who always misplace the clicker, provided you're using the actual Roku remote instead of a universal model. Now if only Roku would sell a tiny accessory speaker I could paste to my Harmony .
Otherwise the remote is identical to that of the Roku 3. It's chunkier and looks a bit dated next to the Amazon Fire TV , Apple TV (even the old one) and Google Nexus Player remotes, but still feels natural in the hand.
Like most streaming media device clickers, and unlike the more basic remote found on the Roku 2 , it uses uses Wi-Fi Direct so it doesn't require line-of-sight to operate. You can stash your Roku 4 pretty much anywhere in your system, and point the remote anywhere, and it works fine.
The "return" button on previous Roku remotes -- not to be confused with the much more useful "back" button -- has been replaced by a little magnifying glass that summons the voice search dialog. Otherwise the buttons are basically the same.
Roku kept the A/B keys for gaming, and the volume controls to the side effect the headphone output only. I like the ability to instantly launch Netflix and Amazon, but I found the buttons for services to which I didn't subscribe (namely, Rdio) irksome and a rare departure from Roku's content-agnostic ethos. Another annoyance is the main OK key's unconventional placement better below the four-way cursor, rather than in its midst.
The Roku way to play 4K, eh?
Unless you lose your remote all the time, the main reason to spend the extra money on a Roku 4 over cheaper models is to get 4K capability. As with all external streamers, you'll need to connect it to an HDCP 2.2-capable input on your 4K TV to enable 4K playback with most copy-protected content, which includes just about everything available to stream today.
True to form, Roku offers the most apps of any streamer with 4K. At launch its apps for Netflix, YouTube, Amazon, Vudu (which has an exclusive with Roku for now), M-Go and ToonGoggles all support 4K streaming, and PLEX and the Roku Media Player app both handle local playback of 4K files.
The only 4K streaming app I know about that Roku 4 doesn't currently support is UltraFlix, found on Vizio and some other 4K TVs. It offers a hodgepodge of mostly older movies and other video. Roku's rep told me they're working to add UltraFlix as well, but couldn't tell me when.
Meanwhile Amazon Fire TV only offers 4K from Netflix and Amazon, although it says YouTube and PLEX will be added soon. Nvidia Shield has Netflix, YouTube, PLEX and numerous video player apps including VLC Player and MX Player, but it doesn't have an Amazon Video app at all.
Advantage Roku, right? Not so fast. If you have a 4K TV, chances are it already has a built-in app or three that offers 4K streaming or even downloads. That app may even support for HDR video. HDR promises even better image quality than 4K, with brighter highlights and expanded color. Amazon was the first to deliver HDR content, and offers a handful of HDR shows and movies. Vudu and Netflix will follow suit with their own HDR content later this year.
Right now no external device supports HDR, including Roku 4 (like Nvidia, Roku claims it might add such support in the future, but Amazon's Fire TV, ironically, will not). The vast majority of 4K content, of course, isn't in HDR, and of course no Smart TV system is as good as Roku's in terms of update frequency, customization and ease of use. And of course some don't support every 4K app Roku does; Vizio's M series, for example, still doesn't deliver 4K YouTube.
Roku makes 4K content easier to find than any other platform. The app store (Roku calls it a Channel Store) has a dedicated section called "4K UHD Content Available" that collects all of the apps that deliver 4K.
Even better, there's a dedicated Roku channel called "4K Spotlight." It's designed to showcase individual 4K movies, TV shows and videos. I was surprised to see a relatively solid selection at press time: 133 movies, 44 TV shows and 33 videos were listed. Selecting one takes you to the app to play it back. Most of the movies are from M-Go, Amazon and Vudu, and while a few are free (for Amazon Prime members), most cost plenty to rent (if available, it's typically $10) or buy ($20 to $30). All of the TV shows are original series from Amazon (free for Prime members) or cartoons from ToonGoggles (free, with ads). And all of the videos are from YouTube (free).
Unfortunately, Netflix's substantial 4K catalog isn't included among the 4K Spotlight offerings. When I asked why, Roku's rep told me "We encourage all of our content partners to participate, but some are still evaluating the opportunity." To watch 4K shows via Netflix, you'll have to hit Netflix's app directly.
I'd like to see some ability to sort the 4K offerings by price, genre or release date, and it would be even better if Roku's excellent search offered a "4K only" filter, either from within Spotlight or globally. Those are nitpicks though, and likely coming in the future as more 4K content rolls out.
So how does 4K look? As I've seen in previous viewing tests, it provided very little improvement in my experience over the best 1080p streams. I used the Sony XBR-75X950C, a high-end 75-inch TV, to judge image quality between the non-4K Roku 3 box and Roku 4.
Switching quickly between the two boxes watching "Narcos" on Netflix from a theatrical seating distance of about eight feet, the two looked basically identical. The pores on Escobar's face as he peers out the plane window, the hills and buildings of Medellín spread out below, the small letters on the wall or the flag in an office, all looked equally sharp. The same went for "Daredevil."
I've seen these same minuscule differences with most 4K material and source devices. The simple fact is that 1080p streams from Netflix, Amazon and others look so good already, that the 4K streaming tier provides little benefit.
The Roku advantage: App access and no axe to grind
Just about every streaming platform these days provides access to most of the best apps, but Roku has a big advantage over Apple TV and Google's Chromecast and Android TV streamers: an actual Amazon app. Sure you can use Apple's AirPlay and Google's screencasting features to watch Amazon videos on those devices, but the convenience of an actual app is makes for better user experience. And you don't need to use your phone or computer.
Amazon's Fire TV ecosystem actually claims a higher app total that Roku these days, with more "channels, apps and games" than any other streaming media player -- more than 3,000 by its count. Roku tells me its total is up to 2,700 video and music channels, and more than 100 games. I wonder how many apps the new Apple TV, with its newly minted app store, will claim by this time next year?
Roku's core app selection is still better than Amazon's, however, which lacks Google Play Movies and TV, M-Go, NFL, NHL, CBS All Access, Nick, Comedy Central or SiriusXM, among others. Meanwhile just about every worthwhile video and music app on Amazon is also on Roku; the only other exceptions I found were Watch ABC and file hoarder favorite Kodi.
The best part about Roku, and a major reason I've used it for years at home and recommend it to everyone ( most recently in TVs ), is the user experience. Roku doesn't sell content (yet), so unlike Apple TV, Amazon Fire TV and the Google, its interface doesn't prioritize any source of content over another.
Aside from its broad app selection, the biggest manifestation of this egalitarian approach is the fully customizeable, consumer-friendly menu system (which, incidentally, looks better than ever on the Roku 4 thanks to 1080p graphics). Much like a smartphone (and like Apple TV), Roku lets you move any app tile you want on the Home page, and remove any you don't use. You can even remove the trio of branded options on the main left navigation screen -- Movie Store, TV Store (both by M-Go) and News (by AOL On) -- via the "Home screen" menu under Settings. The menus for Amazon and Android TV don't let you arrange apps beyond showing the most recently used.
Roku also has my favorite cross-platform search. It allows you to search by title, actor, director or keyword across 20 apps, including major services Netflix, Amazon Instant Video, Hulu Plus, Crackle, CBS All Access, Starz Play, Fox Now, FXNow, HBO Go, M-Go, Time Warner Cable and Vudu (notable omissions include HBO Now, Showtime, Showtime Anytime and Sling TV). In comparison the new Chromecast app hits Netflix, Hulu, FXNow, Crackle, HBO Go, and of course YouTube and Google Play Movies, while the search catalogs of Fire TV and Android TV are more limited; both still omit Netflix results, for example.
I'm betting it will be awhile before the new Apple's TV's search equals the breadth of Roku (it will supposedly support Netflix, Hulu, HBO and Showtime at launch) but we'll see, and meanwhile the old Apple TV doesn't have cross-platform search at all.
The inclusion of subscription services in search results may actually save you money. If you're a Netflix, Amazon Prime, Hulu Plus or HBO Go subscriber, for example, you'll see results for movies available there listed as "free" in addition to those available from pay-per-view services, with costs attached. Among current streamers only Chromecast provides the same kind of up-front pricing information.
Roku 4 has the same voice search via remote offered by the Roku 3, and it works well. Just press the button on the remote, wait for the onscreen prompt, and talk. It recognized most of my queries on the first try, and surfaced Roku's excellent results lists quickly.
On the other hand Roku doesn't have the kind of voice control and conversational search offered by Apple TV's Siri or Amazon's Alexa. I tried asking Roku 4 "What's the weather?" and all I got was the "Nothing Found" dialog. I told Roku 4 to "Play Music" and two programs came up: "Elmo's World: Let's Play Music" and "Playing for Change: Peace Through Music." While watching "Narcos" I asked Roku "What did he say?" and the video stopped, I was booted out of Netflix to the search results screen, and up popped a bunch of videos featuring 50 Cent.
If you want to talk to your streaming device about more than simply find new stuff to watch, you should probably go with Siri or Alexa.
Roku-wide upgrades: Fatter feeds, a slicker app, and hotel Wi-Fi
In conjunction with the release of Roku 4, Roku is rolling out a software upgrade to all of its devices. The main change improves the novel Feeds feature, while another allows the ability to connect to tricky guest networks, often found in hotels and dorms. Roku also has an updated mobile app for iOS and Android with better looks and a few new extras.
My Feed is a feature Roku debuted earlier this year, allowing you to "Follow" certain movies to be notified when they're available to stream. Now Roku has expanded it to TV shows, people (typically actors or directors), and more movies -- essentially anything you can search for, you can follow.
Once you follow something it appears under My Feeds with its own "card," and updates on availability and pricing changes will appear there. If a movie or TV show you follow gets a price drop, or if an actor you follow appears in a movie newly available to stream, the card shows an update. It's a great customer-friendly extra, and no other streaming device offers anything similar.
Roku's improved smartphone app can still control the device, which is great if your remote goes missing (and you forget Roku 4 has a remote finder function), as well as offer voice search (even for cheaper Roku devices), but also has a few cool new tricks. Much like Chromecast, you can create a screensaver using photos from your phone (Roku 4 has a special 4K screensaver too, with nature photos). The ability to "fling" photos from phone to TV has been improved a bit, with the addition of pinch-to-zoom and drag-to-move, for easy expansion of details.
You can also access My Feeds from the app, and coming soon you'll be able to "follow" stuff directly from the app as well. If somebody mentions a movie or TV show you want to see, you can pull out your phone and follow it, so you don't forget. I asked Roku again whether I could receive Feed update notifications on my phone or via email, rather than having to keep checking the Feed itself, but that's not available yet.
Roku also added the ability to connect to so-called "captive portal" networks, which are common to hotel and dorm rooms. It works from the device's main settings screen and, unlike I was told earlier, doesn't require the smartphone app to use. I didn't get the chance to test it yet, but check out my writeup of the same feature on the Amazon Fire TV if you're curious.
Tech talk: 4K FPS, HEVC, MKV and USB
Unlike previous Roku boxes, the 4 is aimed to compete with high-end units and packed with the requisite impenetrable specifications. Consider yourself warned, and feel free to skip this section if you don't care.
The Roku 4 has an HDMI 2.0 output for 60 and 30 frame-per-second 4K streaming. If connected to a TV that supports 4K at 60 fps, content will be streamed at 60 fps. If connected to a TV that only supports 4K at 30 fps (namely, an HDMI 1.4 rather than 2.0 input, often found on 2014 4K TVs and 2015 Vizios), the Roku 4 will stream at 30 fps or 24fps, depending on the content. In testing it delivered 4K to TVs with both HDMI versions, as long as it detected HDCP 2.2, but I was unable to confirm the frame rates with the HDMI 1.4-equipped Vizio I used.
By comparison, the new Amazon Fire TV 4K box only supports HDMI 1.4 (for 4K at 30 and 24 fps), so it can't handle the highest-bandwidth 4K content. Meanwhile the Nvidia Shield is the most versatile, with HDMI 2.0 and the ability to output 4K at 60, 30 and, with the latest software update, the ability to force 24 fps as well.
Video at 24 fps is considered the standard for film-based movies and TV shows, while 60 is advantageous for fast-moving content like sports. If you consider yourself a stickler for film, like me, the Shield seems to have the advantage. That said, when I watched 24p material on the Roku, its processing did an excellent job maintaining the correct cadence, despite being delivered to the TV at 60 fps. Still, I'd like to Roku include an option to deliver 4K/24p to HDMI 2.0-equipped TVs as well.
The Roku 4 is very good at playing back video files, but not quite as proficient as the Nvidia Shield in this area. If you're a file hoarder with a lot of local stuff you want to pipe to the TV, Shield is a better bet.
I tried a few 4K test files encoded with HEVC compression playing via the Roku Media Player app and it worked well, delivering full 4K resolution. On the other hand, most of the files at 4K encoded with the older H.264 method failed. I'm guessing that's an issue with the app, and unfortunately on Roku (as opposed to Android-powered devices like Nvidia Shield) there aren't many alternative apps for local file playback.
With non-4K file playback, Roku handled a tough 1080p MKV-encoded file at 120Mbps, so it shouldn't have any trouble with Blu-ray rips. It also played uncompressed Blu-ray rips.
In comparison, the Nvidia Shield had no problems playing back anything I tried via the VLC Player and MX Player apps, including both encoding methods at 4K. It also recognized all three hard drives I attached (two 500GB USB-powered drive and a 2TB drive with its own power source). The Roku 4 only recognized the 2TB drive, although it had no issues with my test 128GB USB stick.
For what it's worth, the Amazon Fire TV didn't play back any files in full 4K resolution, although Amazon says 4K media playback will be available as the apps get upgraded to handle it.
I also tried network file playback via the Plex app. It worked well but even with my robust network and server, neither Shield nor Roku could maintain 4K resolution over Wi-Fi -- although both services say they support Plex in 4K (conclusion: if you want guaranteed 4K over your home network, use Ethernet). Amazon says 4K support is coming to its Plex app soon.
If you have a 4K TV with a 10-bit HDMI connection option, you may appreciate that Roku 4 has a matching setting in its menu system. I didn't test it however.
Conclusion: Great if you want the best Roku, but not the best value
In my book the best streaming player for the money is still the Roku 2. The Roku 4 costs twice as much for the privilege of 4K streaming, along with a few other niceties like the remote finder and an optical output. But none of those extras are worth it for most people.
But let's say you just bought a 4K TV, you don't want to use its built-in apps and you don't mind paying extra to get the very slightly better quality afforded by 4K streaming. Or maybe you just want the best Roku yet. In that case, the Roku 4 is for you.
TCL 55" Class 4-Series 4K UHD HDR Roku Smart TV - 55S425
The 4-Series 4K TCL Roku TV delivers stunning picture performance while bringing all your favorite content through a simple, intuitive interface in a sleek modern design.
4K Ultra HD Resolution
Stunning Ultra HD offers four times the resolution of Full HD for enhanced clarity and detail.
High Dynamic Range (HDR) Technology
Delivers bright and accurate colors for a lifelike viewing experience.
4K Creative Pro Upscaling
TCL’s proprietary 4K Creative Pro upscaling engine allows you to view your HD content in near 4K quality.
Your favorite broadcast TV, streaming channels, gaming console, and other devices are front-and-center. No more flipping through inputs or wading through complicated menus. Like apps on a smartphone, all your favorites are at your fingertips from the instant you turn it on. Choose from thousands of streaming channels that feature over 500,000 movie and TV episodes plus live sports, news, music, kids and family, food, science and tech, fitness, foreign language, and so much more.
Cable, Antenna & streaming Friendly
The best way to watch all of your favorite content – whether you stream it, pay for a cable or satellite subscription, or use the built-in tuner to enjoy free over-the-air channels – the TCL Roku TV makes it easy to enjoy it all.
Powerful Mobile App
Turn your smartphone or tablet into a convenient streaming companion. Use it as a remote, plug in headphones for private listening, search with your voice or keyboard, and share your own videos, music, and photos to your TV. Plus, cast movies and web videos to your TV with Netflix and YouTube mobile apps.
The super-simple Roku TV remote has only 20 buttons to make navigating easier. With around half the buttons of a traditional TV remote, you won’t have to struggle to find the button you need
Roku 4 review: The best Roku player, but not for the money
Out of all the products in Roku’s lineup—and there are many—the Roku 4 is the one that doesn’t quite fit.
Physically, it’s nearly four times larger than Roku’s other three hockey-puck-shaped players, and it’s the only one that needs an internal cooling fan. And at $130, it’s also the most expensive. These are the compromises Roku had to make to pack in a more powerful processor, which in turn allows the Roku 4 to stream 4K Ultra HD video.
With or without the higher-resolution video, the Roku 4 is only a minor improvement over the $100 Roku 3. Its other key selling points—optical audio out, 802.11ac Wi-Fi, a neat remote finder feature—are fine additions, but they don’t alter the core Roku formula. They also don’t help solve any of Roku’s underlying problems, which are starting to become more apparent as more competitive media streamers arrive.
Give the Roku 4 credit for this: It’s shown a major commitment to 4K content in its first few months on the market. Beyond just Netflix and Amazon Video, 4K apps are available from M-Go, Vudu, Ultraflix, Plex, YouTube, Smithsonian Earth, 500px, and Flickr. No other media streamer offers this deep of a 4K catalog.
Roku wants to make sure you’re aware of this. The Roku 4 includes a “4K Spotlight” app, which lists all available 4K apps and links to some of their best content. It’s not as convenient as it should be—from the app, it’s hard to distinguish rentals from downloads, or to figure out how much anything costs—but at least it points you in the right direction.
Whether you’ll actually notice all those extra pixels is another matter. As I wrote in my Roku 4 vs. Amazon Fire TV comparison, the difference in picture quality from 1080p full HD to 2160p Ultra HD is subtle at best—and imperceptible at worst. Flipping between resolutions with a variety of content, I’ve struggled to notice the improvement on my 70-inch Vizio 2015 M-Series television. If you own a 4K TV, buying a Roku 4 will largely be about the feeling of getting your money’s worth.
King of the apps, but aging
4K content aside, Roku’s biggest strength has always been its app catalog, and while other media streamers are closing the gap, Roku remains more thorough overall. Nearly every big-name app you might want is available, plus a long tail of offbeat apps, like this collection of classic TV, and this channel for Kung Fu movies. (Check out our streaming app showdown to see how Roku compares with Chromecast, Apple TV, Fire TV, and Android TV.)
The Roku catalog is so extensive because it’s been around the longest, and because the platform offers simple tools for app makers. But over time, these strengths are becoming liabilities. Roku’s ready-made app templates, used by some major services like HBO Go and PBS, are showing their age; those apps on other platforms simply look more polished. While Roku does offer more extensive app-building tools, not all developers are taking advantage.
Another concern is Roku’s continued reliance on a basic app launcher, which can feel inefficient when you’re unsure what to watch. Other platforms have come up with creative approaches to this problem: Fire TV scatters Amazon Prime videos all over its home screen and menus, the new Apple TV previews content from your favorite apps as you scroll over them, Android TV has a recommendations bar that any app can feed into, and Chromecast offers a companion app with featured content from across its app catalog.
The closest Roku gets is its “Roku Feed” feature, which lets you flag TV shows, actors, and upcoming movies, and get notified as they arrive on major streaming services. The concept is clever—it’s sort of like a modern-day interpretation of the DVR—but it needs more ways to browse for content and sort through items you’ve already added.
When you do know what you want, Roku 4 does offer voice search in its remote control and companion smartphone app, just like the cheaper Roku 3. Searching for a title brings up a list of streaming services where that video is available, and the list of sources Roku taps into—including Netflix, Amazon, Hulu, HBO Go, CBS All Access, Crackle, and Vudu, among others—is more extensive than what rival streaming platforms offer.
But in other ways, the execution is weaker. You can only search by actor or title—not by genre—and too often the microphone failed to understand my requests. In some cases, Roku’s pricing and availability results were just wrong.
In lieu of any software changes, the decision to buy a Roku 4 rests entirely with the hardware. And while it’s usually a good idea to get the best box you can afford, that’s not necessarily the case with the Roku 4.
Chances are, you don’t need the Roku 4 if you don’t have a 4K TV (and maybe even if you do). The $99 Roku 3 feels nearly as fast because the menu system runs in 720p instead of 1080p. The Roku 4’s 802.11ac Wi-Fi support might be helpful if the device is going to be far away from your router, or if your airwaves are crowded with other devices; otherwise the Roku 3’s 802.11n connection should be sufficient. Optical audio output is only necessary for connecting with external sound systems if your TV doesn’t pass its audio through (using HDMI's Audio Return Channel, or ARC).
Even the Roku 4’s remote is nearly the same as that of the Roku 3, except that you can now press a button on the box to sound a tone on the remote. It’s a clever touch, but the remote is chunky enough that it probably won’t get lost between the cushions too often. (The 2015 Apple TV, which is seems to be optimized for disappearing into the couch, desperately needs this feature.) Meanwhile, Roku hasn’t bothered to add any TV volume or power-off controls to its remote, which means you’ll need to keep a separate remote handy at all times.
None of this is to say that Roku as a whole isn’t a worthy streaming-video platform. While some aspects of the software are in dire need of upkeep, for now its app selection and simplicity are easy to recommend, especially if you’re not bound to the platforms of Apple, Amazon, or Google. But unless you’re looking to justify a 4K TV purchase, Roku’s flagship box isn’t for you. Go with the cheaper, smaller Roku 3 instead.
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With or without a 4K TV, Roku’s priciest streaming box is a minor improvement over its cheaper models.
- Lots of big-name apps and surprising niche finds
- Unrivaled 4K content selection
- Remote-finding feature is pretty smart
- Bigger, noisier, and pricier than other Roku players
- App design and interface are showing their age
- Voice recognition is less reliable than other streamers
Jared Newman covers personal technology from his remote Cincinnati outpost. He also publishes two newsletters, Advisorator for tech advice and Cord Cutter Weekly for help with ditching cable or satellite TV.
Roku 4 Repair
If you are having problems with the Roku 4, please refer to the troubleshooting page.
The Roku 4 is a home streaming media player that was released on October 6, 2015. This fourth generation model of the Roku is characterized by a large number 4 in the center of the top of the device, as well as its stock black color. This model has the unique capability to stream 4K Ultra HD video. The Roku 4 comes with a remote that has an optical digital audio port for private listening, a voice search setting, gaming capabilities, and a lost remote finder.
The item model number for the Roku 4 is 4400R. It is characterized by its frame dimensions of 6.5 x 6.5 x 0.8 inches and weight of 0.9 pounds.
Soon after the release of the Roku 4 in October 2015, Roku sent notification emails to select Roku 4 owners, informing them of a recall of their device and offering to replace it. This recall was likely due to some Roku 4 devices missing a thermal pad between the CPU and heat sink, which caused overheating of the device.
Roku Support Page
Roku Setup and Troubleshooting Page
The Roku 4 has big shoes to fill. It's taken years for this latest model to come out – the Roku 3, which we dubbed "the gold standard in streaming," came out back in 2013 – but the end product has justified the wait.
The new, $129 (about £85, AU$180) Roku 4 is faster, more well-rounded and more open than any product the company has released before, borrowing from its predecessor and adding more to its legacy in equal measure.
It's faster because it's sporting a new quad-core processor for 4K, 60 frames-per-second video streaming. It's more well-rounded, thanks to the universal search function that scans streaming services, like Netflix, Amazon Prime Instant Video, Vudu, YouTube, M-Go and the Google Play Store for movies and shows and displays the cheapest option first. (Of course, it will scan the UK/AU equivalents when it eventually reaches those territories.)
Roku is still the most egalitarian streaming set-top box of the day. It doesn't care if you pick Netflix over Amazon, or Vudu over Hulu. It doesn't want to sell you an Rdio subscription, and it couldn't care less if you join YouTube Red.
At the end of the day, all Roku's new device cares about is getting you to the content you want through the most affordable means possible. It's entertainment on your terms, the epitome of the cord-cutting movement.
If the best analogy for the Roku 3 was a hockey puck, the closest sports relative of the Roku 4 would be a frisbee: it's wider, by far, but shorter overall.
The Roku 4 measures in at 0.8 x 6.5 x 6.5 inches, or 2 x 16.5 x 16.5cm (H x W x D). The flatter top allows you to stack items on top of it (the Amazon Fire TV fits perfectly, in case you're wondering), and these dimensions seem like a true feat once you learn what's under the hood.
The Roku 4 is rocking a quad-core ARM processor, an 802.11ac Wi-Fi antenna and 1.5GB of RAM. All of this allows the system to play 4K TV shows and movies, however, it strangely doesn't support HDR content. There's not a lot of storage on the Roku 4 when compared to other streaming systems – there's only around 256MB. But, in its defense, games are sparse and individual channels don't take up much space on their own.
Read:Where to watch 4K TV shows and movies
Spin the system around to the back, and you'll find a new addition to the standard lineup of ports. The Roku 4 is the first streaming box from the company to house an optical audio out connection, a huge boon for A/V enthusiasts who have needed to run the HDMI cable through a soundbar or receiver before connecting it to their TV.
Other ports include an HDMI 2.0a (which supports HDCP 2.2, obviously), a USB 2.0 and 10/100 Base-T Ethernet ports. There's also a microSD card slot that will support up to 128GB of extra storage.
However, it's worth noting that the slimmer profile and addition of high-powered hardware have introduced two new problems that were absent in the Roku 3: heat and noise.
Even when the Roku 4 isn't playing a TV show, I hear an audible humming noise coming from the box. Now, this might not be a major concern if it's going in your living room next to some already-noisy game system, like the Xbox One or PS4. But, if it's going in your bedroom or a quiet spot in the house, prepare for a faint "bzz" sound all hours of the day. Interestingly, the Roku 4 is noticeably hotter than any other device in my media cabinet.
Neither of these were deal breakers once I had my favorite shows and movies on the screen (even though, at times, I can hear the device over the sound of the TV), but they're something to be prepared for.
The Roku 4 remote
If you've used a Roku 2 or a Roku 3 remote, you'll be intimately familiar with what to expect on the Roku 4. The Roku 4's remote is almost identical to the Roku 3's.
The major differences are that the A and B buttons have lost their color, and it no longer comes with the iconic purple wrist-strap, something that I actually quite liked about the Roku 3's pad.
The remote sports four branded buttons for quick access to Netflix, Amazon Instant Video, Rdio and Sling TV. With the exception of YouTube, these are probably the four most popular streaming services on the platform.
Also returning is the built-in microphone that supports voice search and an audio jack for private listening, with a set of volume control buttons located on the right side of the stick.
It was mentioned before in the Roku 3 review, but it's worth reiterating that the remote's built-in amplifier really isn't powerful enough for high-end headphones. (Earbuds are your best bet.)
The last feature worth pointing out is the remote-finder button, located on the back of the box. Anytime you lose the remote between the cushions, you can press the button to cause the remote to emit a customizable tone. The tones can be changed from the settings menu found inside the gorgeous new 1080p interface, which is up next.
Before you can check out the snazzy new interface or take on the world of Ultra-HD streaming, you'll first need to set up your unit.
The Roku 4 setup process
If you're new to Roku, you'll be forced into creating an account before you can get anywhere. The account setup only takes a few seconds and is incredibly simple, however it does require you to input a credit card, which allows for easy debiting should you decide to shell out for pay-to-view content.
I understand the reasoning behind entering the credit card information, but it seems unnecessary if you already pay for services like Netflix, Hulu or Amazon Prime and don't have any intention to spend money on content.
Existing Rokuites upgrading from second or third generation units can simply authorize the box online and add it to their inventory, and the process takes but a few minutes.
Prices - Roku 4:▼
Current page: Introduction, design and remoteNext PagePerformance, interface and app
Nick Pino is the Senior Editor of Home Entertainment at TechRadar and covers TVs, headphones, speakers, video games, VR and streaming devices. He's written for TechRadar, GamesRadar, Official Xbox Magazine, PC Gamer and other outlets over the last decade, and he has a degree in computer science he's not using if anyone wants it.
Roku Unveils Its 4K Streamer, The Roku 4, Plus New Software, Discovery Features, And Upgraded Mobile App
In what’s been the worst-kept secret thanks to a number of leaks, including photographs of the new player, streaming media device maker Roku is at last officially announcing the launch of its latest product, the Roku 4. The updated hardware is now designed to support both 4K Ultra HD and HD TVs, and includes a faster processor, better Wi-Fi, more memory, optical audio out, and more.
Notably, it will also run Roku’s upgraded operating system, Roku OS 7, which is focused on helping users discover and follow their favorite content across Roku’s more than 3,000 apps and channels.
Also new today is an updated Roku mobile app featuring a refreshed design that makes it easier for customers to use Roku’s features, including Search, the Roku Feed and remote control functionality, right from their smartphones.
- Quad-core processor, up to 60 fps 4K streaming; HDCP 2.2
- Optical Audio Out
- 1080p home screen and user interface
- 802.11ac MIMO Wi-Fi
- 1.5 GB RAM
- Wi-Fi Direct-enabled remote control with voice search, headphone jack and “Remote Finder” function
- Dimensions: 6.5″ x 5.5″ x 0.8″
- Weight: 0.9 lb.
- Companion app for iOS and Android with full device control
- 4K support and features to highlight 4K video
- More 4K channels at launch than competitors
- Clean, easy-to-use interface and simple remote with buttons for favorite channels like Netflix
- Faster than older Roku models
- Lots of content: 300,000 movies and TV episodes; over 3K channels
- Can now plug in a stereo or sound bar
- New reset button and Remote Finder
- Supports nearly all major video services (e.g. Netflix, Amazon Prime Instant Video, Google Play, Hulu, etc.). Not involved in anti-competitive measures as it’s an independent third party.
- Price increase to $129.99 from the $99.99 Roku 3
- No update to casual gaming catalog/features to rival Apple TV’s new App Store
- Bigger! (Con for some!) Roku 4 is 6.5″ x 5.5″ x 0.8″ vs. 3.5″ x 3.5″ x 1″ for Roku 3
- Voice support is available for search, but it’s not a “smart” assistant like Apple TV’s “Siri,” or Amazon’s “Alexa”
- HBO NOW (so far) is still missing (Update: A couple of helpful readers have pointed out that HBO NOW is listed on the box — which is a hint it might be coming soon — but at this time there is no official ETA on its availability.)
- Without a 4K TV, not enough features to encourage current Roku owners to upgrade their hardware
The Roku 4’s launch is a significant one in the rapidly heating-up connected player market, where companies including Apple, Google, Amazon, TiVo and others offer their own streaming media devices – sometimes several – for consumers to choose from, ranging from low-cost dongles like Chromecast or Fire TV Stick to higher-end players like the newly refreshed Apple TV.
Amazon recently even upped the stakes even more, by banning sales of Apple TV and Chromecast from its site. And TiVo just rolled out a new streaming player and DVR called TiVo BOLT, which is designed for 4K video and offers a clever commercial-skipping feature.
But for a number of consumers, Roku’s position as an independent third party trying to support all the popular streaming services, even niche offerings, has been its biggest advantage.
So when it came time to upgrade its player, the company focused on hardware improvements that would support newer 4K TVs, combined with software upgrades that would help make finding 4K content, and other things, easier than before.
Hardware: Introducing The Roku 4
In terms of the device itself, the new Roku 4 has a wider footprint to make room for its upgraded internals, which include a faster quad-core processor, improved Wi-Fi, a new audio port, additional memory, and more.
The box has seen a sizable increase in RAM, as well. Roku did confirm the specs previously being circulated online which had pointed to 1.5 GB of RAM for Roku 4 versus the 512 MB in Roku 3. (The specs were pulled from a developer’s guide that was briefly available via Roku.com before being pulled down. Roku wasn’t planning on offering a full hardware spec list, however.)
Meanwhile, the player supports the usual collection of inputs and outputs including HDMI, USB, Micro SD, and Ethernet, but has now added Optical Audio Out, which will allow users to plug their Rokus into their stereo systems or sound bars. (For those who need this option, this is an advantage over Amazon’s new 4K Fire TV, which recently dropped support for optical.)
Also new is the “Remote Finder” button. By pressing a button on the top of the Roku 4 box, the remote will beep to help you dig it up from where it’s buried in your couch cushions. You can also customize the sounds this feature uses.
A “reset” button on the bottom of the device, also previously spotted via the FCC filing, is also now available.
In addition, many of Roku’s other features have carried over to the new product, including its remote control that offers a headphone jack for private listening and motion control for casual gaming.
But for the end user, what these improved components translate to is an overall improved experience on the Roku. That starts with a crisper, clearer user interface that’s been upgraded to 1080p, as well as support for up to 4K Ultra HD.
“When we say ‘4K’ we mean full 60 frames per second,” explains Lloyd Klarke, Roku’s director of product management. “We mean full support for HDCP 2.2, which is the security protocol that makes sure 4K stays true all the way through. It’s 4K done right.”
Of course, Roku 4 works with standard HD as well, though consumers not planning to upgrade to a 4K television any time soon may find fewer reasons to run out and purchase the pricier ($129.99 MSRP) player.
Software: Roku OS 7
The Roku OS 7 software update both complements the hardware improvements by making it easier for those with 4K TVs to actually find 4K videos, but it also introduces a number of other new ways to find and follow content from Roku’s growing selection of channels.
While the company previously rolled out features like universal search and the Roku Feed, which helps you track movies coming soon, the new OS expands the ability to follow content to go beyond movies to also include the ability to find and follow favorite TV shows, actors and directors.
When new content arrives, users are notified right on their “My Feed” section on the homescreen, which also now shows the number of new updates waiting for you.
Sharad Sundaresan, Roku’s senior vice president of product management, tells us this feature has been smartly designed so it doesn’t inundate your feed each time you have a new update. Instead, things are grouped together, when appropriate – like when there are multiple episodes of a show you’re tracking, for example. In that case, these would all be grouped as a single update, not several. (Review units are not available until later this month, so we can’t speak to promised functionality vs. real-world results at this point, however.)
This will be especially helpful in the growing world of cord-cutting where people follow programs they like, not the network or service it lives on. The addition is also competitive, to some extent, with TiVo’s “OnePass” feature, which aims to make it easier to track favorite programs across services.
More importantly, perhaps, in light of Roku 4’s support for 4K TVs, are a number of new features designed to surface 4K video.
For starters, there’s now a “4K” row in the Channel Store which will highlight all the channels Roku offers that support 4K, including Netflix, M-Go, Amazon Instant Video, YouTube, VUDU, and ToonGoogles. That’s a larger lineup than other streaming players have at launch, it should be noted.
There’s also a curated 4K Spotlight channel exclusive to Roku 4 on users’ homescreens that includes a selection of TV shows, movies, clips and more. There are even 4K themes and screen savers which let users customize their Roku with scenic pictures and other images, and then pair those with matching “Remote Finder” sounds like Star Trek, kittens, Zen and more.
Though the new software will ship on Roku 4, all of Roku’s current players from 2011 and on will also be able to install the update when it arrives in mid to late October.
New Mobile App
Alongside the launch of the Roku 4 and Roku OS 7, the Roku iOS and Android app is getting an overhaul, too. The interface has been improved to better control the Roku from your mobile device, including the ability to interact with key features like Roku Search, Roku Feed, Remote Control and Play.
In the new app, users can access Voice Search, view and add items to their Roku Feed, launch Play on Roku to see their own photos and videos on their TV – even zooming in on the photos on the phone to see the same on the television screen – and more.
4K customers can use the updated app to create their own personalized screen savers that will play when the player is idle.
Another new feature is the ability for Roku 4 to connect to “special” Wi-Fi networks – like those found in hotel rooms and sometimes dorms, where authentication is required. Now users will be able to connect using their mobile or desktop browser, which will help those who travel with their Roku as well as college students who want to use a Roku in the dorm.
The current app works when you’re on the same network as your Roku, but Sundaresan says support for an “untethered” experience is arriving in the new version.
“You can take the Roku app and use it anywhere you want without being close to a Roku,” he says. “So if you’re out at lunch and somebody tells you of a great TV show, you can quickly open your Roku mobile app and tap ‘follow’ and add that show to the list of things you’re following.”
While the app itself appears to offer a better design – even if it’s still quite purple – the platform as a whole doesn’t offer a smart assistant like Apple’s Siri, for example, to aid with voice searches. As this is still a relatively newaddition for streaming devices for now, it’s less of a reason to forgo a Roku if you’re happy with its other features, but the omission could become more troublesome over time. (Perhaps Microsoft should license Cortana to Roku?)
The updated mobile app (iOS and Android) will roll out at the same time as the new player, in mid-October, and the untethered feature will ship soon after.
The device is available for pre-order starting today at www.roku.com for $129.99.
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There are a lot of great streaming devices on the market, ranging from Roku to Apple TV to Chromecast to Amazon Fire TV to… you get the point. With so many options, it can be difficult to choose the best device for you. This becomes especially difficult when you consider the various models that each product line offers. Today, we’re going to look at one of the most popular devices, the Roku, and compare two of Roku’s most popular models, the Roku 3 and Roku 4. Keep reading for our full Roku 3 vs Roku 4 comparison.
Roku has a lot of different models on the market, so it’s understandable if you have become somewhat confused. The Roku 3 is perhaps the most popular model yet, with the Roku 4 following closely behind. We thought it would be helpful to compare Roku 3 vs 4 in detail to help you get a better idea of the key differences and pros/cons of each device. Let’s get started!
Roku 3 vs Roku 4: Features
Roku 3 features:
- Over 2,000 channels to choose from
- Watch in full 1080 HD
- Voice search
- Gaming enabled
- Works on any TV with an HDMI port
- Dual core processor
- Quick and responsive
- Intuitive and easy to use
Roku 4 features:
- Over 2,500 channels to choose from
- Watch in up to 4K resolution (4 times the resolution of full HD)
- Voice search
- Gaming enabled
- Works on any TV with an HDMI port
- Quad core processor and upgraded RAM
- Quick and responsive
- Intuitive and easy to use
As you can see here, the biggest difference Roku 3 and 4 is the 4K streaming ability on the Roku 4. If you’re not familiar with it, 4K is the best resolution you can get for watching your favorite content, offering 4x the resolution as found in standard HD (1080p). However, keep in mind that you’ll need a 4K compatible TV in order to watch 4K content, even with the Roku 4.
Does 4K Streaming Matter?
As mentioned, the ability to stream in 4K is the main difference between Roku 3 and 4. When the Roku 4 first came out, 4K content was very limited. Only a handful of services even offered the ability to stream in 4K, so having a 4K-compatible Roku wasn’t really necessary.
Today, that’s all changed. While the majority of content is still 1080p, more and more shows and movies are available in 4K. Some of the best Roku channels now offer some 4K content. For instance, many Netflix Originals (movies and TV shows) are now offered in stunning ultra-HD. Amazon Prime also offers a fair amount of 4K content. And Hulu is jumping on the bandwagon, with several Hulu Originals now streaming in 4k.
Recently, even LIVE TV has been rolling out in 4K. fuboTV, a sports-focused streaming platform,recently launched 4K channels for several sports networks, though they’re still in beta.
To add to this, most TVs nowadays are built for 4K compatibility. So unless you have an older TV or a budget new TV, it’s likely your television is 4K-enabled.
In short: There are more ways to watch 4K content on Roku than ever before, and 4K availability will continue to expand. 4K really does look better than 1080, so if you’re looking to get the best quality picture, and a future-proof device, the Roku 4 is likely a better choice.
Roku 3 vs 4: Performance
As you can see, the Roku 4 has the upgraded quad core processor, as well as a significant upgrade in RAM. This upgraded hardware is mainly added to support 4K streaming, which is more resource-intensive. For everyday streaming (such as watching live TV on Roku) and in regards to the speed at which you can browse and launch videos, the two devices are fairly similar.
There have been a few Roku speed tests done comparing the Roku 3 and Roku 4, and for the most part, the conclusion has been that while some apps run a bit faster on the Roku 4, most run at about equivalent speeds on both devices.
In some customer reviews, people noted more performance issues and glitches with the Roku 4. We didn’t experience these issues first-hand, but many users have.
Roku 3 vs Roku 4: Value
The Roku 3 is offered at a retail price of $99.99, although given that it’s an older device, it’s generally available for a bit less. The Roku 4 is priced at $129.99.
In terms of value, the two devices are both great choices. If you want 4K streaming, the Roku 4 is a must (4K compatibility is the biggest difference between Roku 3 and 4). If you don’t have a 4K TV and don’t plan to have one in the future, the Roku 3 is a better value at a lower price.
Customer Reviews of Roku 3 and 4
What does the “wisdom of the crowd” say about these two devices?
On Amazon, the Roku 3 has earned 4.3 out of 5 stars at the time of this publication. Meanwhile, the Roku 4 has a significantly lower rating, currently ranked at a 3.6 out of 5 stars.
The biggest complaints about the Roku 4 include glitches and loud fan noises. It appears that only some units are afflicted by these issues, but it’s certainly worth noting.
Roku 4 vs Roku 3: Bottom Line
In the end, both the Roku 3 and Roku 4 are great devices. The Roku 3 remains one of the top-rated streaming devices, despite its age. Overall, the Roku 3 is generally our top recommendation, unless you specifically want the ability to stream in 4K. Both are among the best streaming devices on the market.
Some folks may argue about the “future proof-ness” of the Roku 4, which is a valid point. Perhaps it would be wise to get a newer device that has a faster processor and 4K capabilities. However, consider this: if you do not currently have a 4K TV, if you ever get one in the future, it will most likely be a smart TV – which may just erase your need for a Roku device altogether. In fact, Roku technology is often implemented into smart TVs nowadays, with approximately 25% of smart TVs produced today offering Roku technology.
So, the bottom line is this: if you currently have a 4K TV, the Roku 4 is likely worth the upgrade. If you do not have a 4K TV, stick with the cheaper, older, but still lightning-fast Roku 3.
Click here to purchase the Roku 3, or click here to check out the Roku 4.
Thanks for reading our comparison of the Roku 3 vs Roku 4 – be sure to let us know if you have any questions!