The Roku 4 is the latest product from the makers of America’s favorite streaming box. The new model has a major processor upgrade from a dual core to a quad core processor. The most important upgrade to the hardware though is that the Roku 4 can render 4K video. We had a chance to work with the new product and see what it is has to offer.
Roku is known for its interface. The Roku 4 has the same standard grid based interface that you find on other models. It displays a 3×3 grid of apps. If you have more than 9 channels on your Roku the grid will continue to grow at the bottom to accommodate. If you have less than 9 channels the grid will change to to reflect that also. The rest of the screen is set up with quick shortcuts to the key features of the Roku, a Home selection, My Feed (the movies you are following) Search (cross platform) Streaming Channels (the channel store) and settings.
The Roku 4 navigation from one menu to another is intuitive for a computer but like any system it takes some getting used to. Luckily its main functions are easy to access from the home screen. Roku has not changed much of anything as far as menu navigation but new users will have to take some time to explore it. The most helpful feature is that it is easy to get out of the menus and back to the home screen using the home button. So just remember. If you get stuck in the weeds of the system you can always go home by clicking the house button.
Unlike Apple Roku does not make money by selling video or other products through the box. While it may derive profit from purchases from third party apps it is essentially an advertising platform which is why there are adds in the search feature and so on. The controller is no exception. Aside from basic control buttons such as the directional button, Search button, Home, back FF, RW, Play Pause and the asterisk, which acts as a settings control there are quick launch buttons for Netflix, Sling TV, Amazon Instant and rdio. This may well change later with a new remote. The companies displayed on the remote pay for placement. Using these buttons will take users directly to the apps. This sort of feature is actually really helpful for those new to the system.
Roku is known for being the only cross platform search that returns from multiple sources without favoring any service. The voice search is an extension of this feature that originally launched with the refreshed Roku 3. We took it through the rounds and it performed as advertised. Understand though it is just a voice search. There is no interactive AI like Siri or Alexa to share the weather or info from Wikipedia. On the other hand the voice search is very accurate and provided the expected results from across a number of apps for all of our queries. You can see the search demonstrated in our video at the bottom of the page. This can be a real time saver and is available via the search button on the remote (it looks like a magnifying glass).
Which platform has the most channels is going to be in flux so we are not going to go there anymore. Roku used to have a legit claim of the largest app store in the industry but Amazon has been super aggressive releasing new apps of late and may have surpassed Roku. Apple TV could do the same. Roku has a diverse Channel (app) selection that includes all of the household name apps and a lot more. This includes Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Instant, Watch ESPN, Sling Television, PBS, CBS All Access, NBC, and more than 3000 others. The largest channel section is a group of religious channels that can range from a church of 50 members to major operations like Rick Warren’s Saddleback Church but there are many many choices across 23 genres as well as prefab collections like Most Popular, Top Free, New and Featured. This does not even cover private channels which add an entirely different element to the experience.
This is a feature that Roku pioneered a few generations ago. The remote for the Roku 4 has a headphone jack built it and the device itself ships with simple earbud headphones. What this lets you do is use the headphones to listen to audio privately. This is helpful when you don’t want to disturb others or even used as a sort of music player while you are in the home and doing chores. Listen to podcasts and music while you work. While I often see people tout it is a solution for not disturbing a partner trying to sleep in say the bedroom other reviewers discount the residual noise that still blares from the headphones as well as the brightness of the TV screen in the first place. Just in case you were wondering the remote supports other headphones besides the ones that ship with it. The feature has proven popular enough to be copied by some of Roku’s competitors in one way or another.
How many times have you called your own cell phone when you misplaced it? Have you ever wished you could do the same with a remote? Call me old fashioned but while Roku has a wonderful remote app for smart phones and tablets I prefer the actual remote. There is a button on the top of the device that when pressed will cause the remote to ring (provided it has working batteries) Once one finds said remote and presses any button on the device the ringing stops. I think that users will find this feature iminently helpful.
This is a great idea on Roku’s part. For all of the talk of 4k content in general there is not a ton to take in even on the Roku 4. The good news is that in true Roku fashion the Roku 4 has a 4k video section listed in the Streaming Channels section. The 4K UHD Content Available listing will list apps that have 4k content on tap. And for more exact results there is the 4k Spotlight channel that can be added to the channel lineup which lists 4k content available to view or purchase based on what is available on Netflix, YouTube, Amazon Instant Video, Plex and Vudu, MGo and Toon Goggles. I don’t know if companies pay to listed on the 4K spotlight or not. There is not a gigantic selection at the moment, 133 movies, 42 TV shows and 27 assorted videos from YouYube but I would expect those selections to grow overtime.
Roku does not try in any way to pass itself off as a game machine in the way other devices do and the game selection makes that point in spades. The old standby game for Roku since the intro of the Roku XS had been Angry birds. But as of August 2014 the contract between Rovio, which looks like it is trouble, and Roku ended meaning that the game was no longer available for download. The device still offers at this point 111 games. Most are puzzle and trivia style games and include some old favorites like 80s and 90s favorites like Tetris and Galaga and interactive trivia game You Don’t Know Jack along with a number of simple platform games. One of my favorites is Snake. In general the games are more of an added bonus and time killer than they are a full fledged entertainment option.
Like the Roku 3 and Streaming Stick, the Roku 4 supports Mirroring via Miracast. The function is still listed as Beta but did launch. We mirrored my Toshiba Satellite Laptop to check the functionality. Mirroring on a Roku is not perfect the way that AirPlay on an Apple TV is but it will allow users to access web based content on the Roku that might otherwise be missed. I would like to see the Roku devices fully support this feature going forward.
Specs (from Roku.com)
802.11ac MIMO dual-band wireless
10/100 Base-T Ethernet
Up to 4K UHD (3840 × 2160) on 4K UHD TVs
Up to 1080p HD (1920 x 1080) on HD TVs
Up-scales 720p to 1080p HD on 1080p HD and 4K UHD TVs
Up-scales 1080p HD to 4K UHD on 4K UHD TVs
4K UHD 60 fps HEVC Playback
4K UHD 30 fps VP9 Playback (YouTube)
Playback from USB drives
Dolby Digital Plus 7.1 surround sound passed through via HDMI or optical output
microSD card port for additional game and channel storage
USB port for personal media expansion
Enhanced remote with voice search, point anywhere use, headphone jack, and motion-control for
gaming. Player includes IR receiver, compatible with various universal remotes.
Speaker for Remote Finder alerts
12.4W (typical) when streaming 4K UHD video
12V – 2A power adapter
USB Media Formats
Video: MP4 (H.264), MKV (H.264), HEVC (H.265)
Audio: MP3, Apple Lossless, WMA, AAC
Image: JPG, PNG, up to 4K UHD resolution
6.5 x 6.5 x 0.8 inches