Jim Bray's Car & Tech rants - publishing online exclusively since 1995
Roku Streaming Stick 4K

Roku upgrades its 4K Streaming Stick as well as its programming content

By Jim Bray
November 4, 2021

Roku, the maker of some really great streaming devices, is raising its ante with a new version of its streaming stick, an affordable and efficient way to bring an entire world of free and/or paid programming to your home (or wherever).

It's also adding lots of new stuff to watch on it, thanks to additions to its free Roku Channel, a "broadcasting outlet" that not only offers a wide variety of old and new programming but also some "live" TV channels on which you can watch – for example – 24/7 streams of old Johnny Carson and Carol Burnett shows. It's quite the thing.

Have port, will stream…

The new 4K streaming stick, which retails for about $70 CAD – cheap for the potential goodness you get from it – is claimed to be faster and more powerful than ever. It does seem to boot up faster, which is always nice, and it also includes Dolby Vision and HDR 10+ capability to up the 4K ante even more.

The thing is so darn portable, too, that you can take it with you when you travel, using it in your hotel room, or to blow away whoever you're visiting with the programming content you can carry with you in the palm of your hand (or in your carry-on luggage).

I did this with an earlier version of the streaming stick this past summer. We visited my Dad in Ottawa and plugged the Roku into his 720p television and before you could say "Bob's your uncle" we were immersing ourselves in old Red Skelton and Jack Benny, and even a bunch of Penn and Teller's Fool Us episodes we found on Netflix. Dad was gobsmacked at the device and I would have left it with him except he doesn't have an extra HDMI port and would have to keep swapping the Roku out with his DVD player – something that, at 101 years of age – he is loathe to do.

But he could!

The streaming stick connects directly to your HDMI port, so there's no need for a cable other than for electrical power. And you can get that power right from the TV if it has an available USB port. That's how I set up the new 4K Streaming Stick and it works great. You can also use an adapter to plug it into a wall outlet, but the USB is a simpler solution.

Except that, if you tend to leave your TV on the input occupied by the Roku, you'll get a blank screen when you turn it on, while the Roku boots up – but as mentioned it boots up quickly and, at least in my case, by the time the audio system has also booted up it's ready and raring to go.

The heart of the new 4K Streaming Stick is its new quad core processor is how it supposedly boots up 30 per cent more quickly than before. It also comes with a redesigned long range wireless receiver (you need to access your home's Wi-Fi so the Roku can reach out to the Internet) the company says offers up to twice the streaming speed as before to, as they claim enable "content to load quicker and navigation to feel snappier than ever before."

If you use your TV's speakers for its audio that's all you need to do. If you're like me, however, and run the TV's audio to a higher quality audio system, you'll need a way to get the signal from the TV to the system. You probably do this already, however, whether via an optical cable, HDMI or whatever and, if that's the case, you're laughing here, too.

You can also use the Roku remote to control your TV's power and volume, though I prefer not operating it that way (your mileage may, of course, vary). And you can also control the thing with your voice; if you're looking for Mr. Bean, for example, you can just press the search button on the remote and say "Mr. Bean" and if it can find it for you, it will. If it can't, well, you're no worse off than before.

You can do this searching from the home screen – where it supposedly searches all the apps you have installed – or from inside an app itself, such as YouTube. The thing will also work with Alexa or Go Ogle Assistant-enabled devices, so you can let the Deep State Elites know what you're doing. And, with AirPlay 2, you can stream, control and share stuff directly from your iPhone, iPad or Mac. It also supports HomeKit, which lets you control the Roku with Siri or the Home app on your Apple devices.

Pretty good flexibility! And wait until you see what's out there that you can exploit for programming, even for free! Naturally, you can access paid apps such as Netflix, AppleTV and Prime, and many many more – but there's such a wide variety of free apps it might just knock your socks off.

Some of them really are free – using mostly old content that I imagine is now in the public domain (and it's amazing what you can find when you look) – while some (such as the abovementioned Roku channel, as well as YouTube) don't charge you but make you sit through commercials. Sometimes these commercials break into the program in an apparently random way (right in the middle of a scene, for example, rather than at a logical break) and sometimes there is a bunch of commercials at once, but so far, I've found them to be less annoying (usually) than the ones we have to sit through with conventional broadcast and/or cable stations.

I imagine it's only a matter of time before the commercials are just as annoying as regular TV, but for now it's not too bad.

Starting up a Roku account is easy and you only have to do it once. You'll be instructed by the Roku (on your TV screen) where to go on Roku's website and how to activate it. Go there, fill in the form to set up your account, add a credit card number, and you're up and running!

If you're nervous about giving them access to your credit card I don't think you need be. It's there in case you access paid apps and if you don't do that you won't have to worry about it. I gave them my PayPal account info and to date – five years on – I've never had a charge. So I trust these folks, so far at least.

Another upgrade being rolled out is the Roku software itself. OS version 10.5, which will be offered for existing Roku devices as well. The new firmware includes such things as "Roku voice," which I touched upon earlier regarding searching. The capabilities are being expanded so that, according to the company, nearly every channel in Roku search supports the feature, including Netflix and Spotify.

There's also a new "Home" tab available on the Roku app you can put on your mobile devices. I've never really used the app much, but it's there if you want it – and now it features stuff like zones ("browsable collections of movies and shows available across a number of top genres and popular/seasonal topics, for even more convenient content discovery"). It also lets you save movies and TV shows to a "Save List" so you can catch them later, when you get back in front of the TV.

There's more, too, including a more integrated music experience across the platform, the ability to use voice input to complete the device setup or to log in to supported apps using your email, password, and PIN information by voice. 

New "Roku Channel" Channels
Roku is also introducing a bunch of brand new "live" channels available through the program guide in The Roku Channel. This is a great jumping off point for content, and the new stuff includes stuff like Film Rise Horror (added just in time for Halloween!), the cult Canadian Red Green Show, Forensic Files, and New K.Movies for Korean Movie content. And that just scratches the surface!

They're also adding This Old House to their Roku channel offerings, including classic episodes from years past as well as a new episode the claim will drop every Monday.

And judging from the number of press releases I get from Roku, new channels and even original programming are being added all the time.

There are even some promos on offer. For example, when you activate a new Roku device you can get a free, two month trial of Crave + STARZ. It will give you complete access to Crave's offerings, including
Showtime, HBO, and STARZ!  The promo runs from November15th till January 30th. If nothing else, it'll save you up to 20 bucks a month during the promo as well as giving you time to decide if it's worth continuing once the trial is up.

The 4K streaming stick is hitting store shelves now, joining the Roku Express (MSRP $39.99), the Roku Express 4K (MSRP $49.99), and the Roku Streambar (MSRP $189.99). All are excellent products, affordable and easy to use and they will all offer you the same dizzying amount of content.

Copyright 2021 Jim Bray
TechnoFile.com


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