Rokuís debut 4K and HDR streamer satisfies our lust for independence and easy operation
Roku somehow seems to exist above and beyond all the petty corporate squabbling so rife elsewhere in the video streaming world.
So aside from inevitably not being allowed to carry the iTunes film and TV library, Roku streamers have access to pretty much everything else, including Google Play, Amazon Video, Netflix, Now TV, YouTube and the catch-up services for all of the UK’s main terrestrial broadcast channels. In fact, there are hundreds of apps – far more than you’ll ever need. There are even direct buttons on the small but well configured remote that get you to Netflix, Red Bull TV, Rakuten TV and YuppTV. (Shame the latter three aren’t for Amazon, YouTube and Google Play, but I guess you can't have everything).
As well as delivering this library of apps, Roku displays a brilliantly neutral approach to presenting them. Nothing is promoted over anything else, and nothing is given undue prominence in the interface – unless you want it to be.
The sort of platform neutrality offered by the Roku Streaming Stick+ is refreshing in these increasingly fractured – and fractious – times.
Being independent isn’t the Streaming Stick+’s only claim to fame, though. It’s also Roku’s first UK streamer to support 4K resolutions and high dynamic range. 4K HDR support only seems to apply to Netflix and YouTube right now – at the time of writing Amazon Video is available in 4K only, as are Spectiv and CuriosityStream’s ‘sight seeing’ and nature films. Google Play doesn’t yet carry any 4K or HDR titles.
Setting the box up is extremely easy, and mercifully it doesn’t do any of the ‘forced HDR’ nonsense that plagued the Apple TV 4K when it launched. The Roku correctly switches between HDR and SDR outputs as determined by what you’re watching.
The Streaming Stick+’s elongated design sticks out a bit awkwardly when placed in either rear or side-mounted HDMI inputs, but its design is remarkably small considering how much power it packs. It draws its juice from almost any TV USB port, saving most people the bother of attaching it to the mains. The USB connection cable is fitted with a powerful Wi-Fi receiver too, which gets a good bar or two more Wi-Fi strength from distant routers than any rival device I've used.
The interface looks slightly dated with its plain purple background and boxy structure. However, unlike the cluttered mess of the latest Amazon interface, Roku’s is clean and easy to follow. Even better, it’s simple to customise, and doesn’t go overboard with ramming ‘recommended’ content down your throat.
The Streaming Stick+ delivers a strong streaming performance. It ramps up to the best-quality streams your broadband can support exceptionally quickly, and its 4K HDR10 visuals look as sharp, rich and punchy as they do from any other streamer.
Images seem exceptionally stable – a result, perhaps, of that Wi-Fi signal-boosting antenna integrated into the power cable. Roku’s decision to output every stream in its native source format also means you always get the correct picture format.
The Stick+'s only real performance limitation – aside from not yet delivering 4K and HDR from as many sources as it might – is its lack of support for the Dolby Vision or HDR10+ dynamic metadata formats. The Apple TV 4K and Google Chromecast Ultra both support Dolby Vision.
To me, though, this hardly seems like a deal-breaker on a streaming device, especially when the asking price here is £70 and it gets so much else right. Not as on-trend as Amazon's Alexa-equipped Fire TV, but no
less impressive. And watching YouTube on it isn't a faff...
Roku Streaming Stick+
We say: No petty squabbles, no annoying content pushing – just heaps of content available through a straightforward interface.
Connections: USB power input; HDMI output Key apps: Netflix; Amazon; YouTube; Now TV; BBC iPlayer; ITV Hub; All 4; My 5; Rakuten TV; YuppTV; Red Bull TV Audio format support: Dolby 5.1; Dolby Atmos (DD+ format) Video format support: To 2,160p at 60fps; HDR10 Dimensions: 11.9(h) x 20.3(w) x 93(d)mm Weight: 25.5g
Features: Customisable home screen; physical remote; Roku app (Android/iOS); built-in Wi-Fi reception booster; plug adaptor included; free Roku account required
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