When Roku first launched its on demand video streaming box, the Netflix Player by Roku, it didn’t support for HD and neither did it have access to the full Netflix library, despite its name.
Jump forward 7 years to the Roku 4, the newest Roku is no longer a workaround that you have to attach your PC to your TV. It’s a full-on video streaming device with powerful processors, 4K video support and 1000’s of channels offering all sorts of content.
What it all comes down to is, are you going to be able to stream and watch the stuff you want to watch because the technical spec of the devices from Apple, Amazon and Roku don’t vary all that much. The other important aspect is whether the user experience is intuitive, uncomplicated and even pleasing. These devices come with audio jacks, an alert for finding the remote, online shopping etc. but the real TV killer is going to be making it accessible and use friendly.
This is what Roku does and in fact they boast about the fact they have more than 300 channels, apps but more importantly it has the bits people want: Hulu, Amazon Prime Video, Netflix, Sling TV, Crackle, HBO Go, Vudu, YouTube, Vevo, HBO Now, GoPro, casual games, cable authentication apps and more. Apple also has most of these but it doesn’t have Amazon Prime Video app. Amazon Fire TV has a lot of this content but they tend to push their Prime Video service when they can, whereas Roku is content agnostic. Roku also has an easy to navigate interface and a Follow option which allows you to set alerts for the content you want to watch when it becomes available or is available at a lower cost.
The question therefore isn’t if the Roku 4 is a good streaming box, which it is, the question is whether it is worth spending $130 on and whether that is better value than the $99 Amazon fire TV or the new Apple TV at $149.
The later part of the question can’t be answered as yet but the first part really comes down to whether you have a 4K compatible TV and how much you actually care about watching 4K content. Otherwise your experience will be pretty similar to the Roku experience with an earlier device and you’ll save a few bucks.
The first of the new Roku 4 features worth considering is that is appreciably larger than any of its predecessors. The remote is almost the same as previous models with one added feature, which is there the physical button on the top of the box that sends an audio alert to the remote, so you can find it when its lost.
According to Roku the box is bigger to accommodate all of the new equipment inside – a faster quad-core processor, support for modern WiFi and an optical audio output in addition to HDMI, Ethernet and USB ports and it also streams 4K or UHD Video.
It should be noted at this point that although the Roku 4 box is 4K capable, you will only really get the true experience if you are watching a film with lots of movement, on a 4K television and which was shot in 4K.
If you want to buy the new Roku 4 for future super-duper hi res streaming, then this is the box for you however the options available at present are limited while the technology catches up and more films and episodes are available in 4K format.
A new operating system has also been rolled out by Roku as well as a mobile app redesign with the new Roku 4. The older boxes and streaming sticks will get these updates too, so this isn’t specific to the new hardware.
The new operating system includes a minor update to the follow function and instead of just being able to follow new titles you can follow any film by adding it to your follow list. The general idea is that you can get availability updates on movies and episodes as they become available. It’s also very easy to add movies to your lists using the Roku remote or the mobile Roku app for iOS.
Bearing in mind that the key new features of the Roku 4 are 4K support, a faster processor and a remote with a find me button, this is not a must have upgrade kind of gadget. As a whole however, Roku is still the best in the class where streaming video is concerned due mostly to its volumes of programming, content agnostic approach and ease of use.