Streaming Video players are everywhere these days. The big players are Apple TV, Google Chromecast and of course Roku. You’ve probably heard of Roku and if you have you would know that they are one of the pioneers of streaming TV. Roku has succeeded based on its simplicity and no-nonsense interface. How does it compare to the other big streaming devices? We’ll get to that a little later. First we are focusing this review on Roku’s latest device called the Roku Streaming Stick +.
What’s in the Box? Roku Streaming Stick+
The Roku unit comes with all of your basic streaming needs – a USB stick that’s about the size of a thumb drive, a micro USB power cable and a remote.
Setting up the Streaming Stick + was pretty straightforward. Plug the Stick into the HDMI port on your TV or receiver, and then connect the USB power cord into the outlet.
Like previous versions of Roku, once you are powered up, the flashy welcome screen pops up with simple step by step instructions. The first step is to pair the remote by simply holding down the little button inside the battery cover.
Once your remote is working you are immediately taken to the network connection page and prompted to join your wireless network.
Set up of Streaming Stick +
After a few software updates the Roku will then guide you through resolution settings. If you are confused about what resolution your TV is (720 or 1080 HD, 4K), the unit will auto detect and help you along.
Now what makes this version of Roku different than the others? The big game changer here is its 4K compatibility. Need a primer on 4K?
Roku Streaming Stick + with 4K resolution
4K refers to the resolution of your TV’s electronic display and how many pixels are in that display.
What the heck are pixels? Well if you saw the campy 2015 animated movie by the same name, you’ll remember that pixels are the tiny little dots that make up images on your screen. Basically, the more pixels there are, the sharper your images will look. 4K is considered ultra high resolution (you’ll also see it called UHD) because of the large number of pixels making those images on your 4K display really pop.
So what does the acronym “4K” mean exactly?it means there are 4-thousand pixels on the horizontal side, which incidentally is about 4 times as high as your standard 1080p HD resolution. Make sense? Now I’ve only mentioned this because even though the Roku Streaming Stick is 4K ready, it will still work fine on a non-4K display.
Once you have finished activating the Roku Streaming Stick + you can move on to the login and registration pages. From there you will be prompted to select some basic channels then when you are done the unit will begin installing your channels.
The channels download pretty quickly. About 47 Channels took approximately 1 minute to install.
Using Roku Streaming Stick +
If you are familiar with Roku, the home page and menus are almost exactly the same as previous versions. If you are new to Roku, you will find the menu very intuitive and simple to navigate. All channels have nice large icons and the remote has simple to use buttons that you really can’t mess up.
Once you choose the channel you want to watch you’ll find the playbacks load very quickly and play very smoothly. If you want to play around with the settings, there aren’t a whole lot to choose from but I was pretty happy with the defaults.
Differences with previous Roku devices
Since I’ve used Roku for a while now, I found the setup and navigation to be very familiar and consistent with my Roku 3. I didn’t notice much of a difference between the 2 units and to be honest but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Again the key thing here is that the Roku Streaming Stick + is 4K compatible.
If I could pick anything that was different from the previous versions it was the remote. The previous remote was slightly bigger but had the capability of plugging your headphones directly into the remote, which I thought was a pretty nifty feature, and if you turned the remote sideways it became a gaming controller. The previous version of Roku had Angry Birds built in. I didn’t notice it on the Streaming Stick +, well, it wasn’t preinstalled anyway. Either way the new remote did have handy shortcut buttons to launch Netflix and a few other notable channels. I also noticed that the newer remote actually has a power button which wasn’t on the previous remote.
Is the new power button a big deal? Not really, since Rokus just go into power saving mode after about 30 minutes but sometimes it’s nice to just turn things off completely.
The whole point of a streaming stick is to obviously stream video. I tested the many wonderful apps included and was very pleased with the picture quality and ease of navigation. There several free channels that you won’t find on other streaming devices including one of my favourites: Skynews.
How does Roku Compare to Apple TV, Chromecast?
The big question people have is how does the Roku Streaming Stick + compare to AppleTV or Google Chromecast? In my opinion, there is a reason this is a three horse race and nobody is really running away with it. Each of these devices have their positives but in the end you really can’t go wrong.
If there was something that really stood out to me about the Roku that was better than the AppleTV I would honesty have to say it was the remote. Yes, the remote! Apple may have a lot under the hood when it comes to their AppleTV but they have really missed the boat with their remote. Roku’s simple design and functionality has really saved a lot of headaches that the AppleTV remote has given me. The touch sensitive remote on the AppleTV is too finicky for my liking. Roku’s simple and clearly labeled buttons come out on top in my opinion. It might seem like a petty thing to complain about but I think most AppleTV users will agree that the remote can be aggravating at times.
So should you buy a Roku Streaming Stick + over and AppleTV or Google Chromecast? Well that’s difficult to answer. That’s like comparing a PC to a MAC. Everyone has their preference and its common for devout Apple consumers to stick with Apple products out of sheer loyalty no matter what the cost.
Price makes Roku attractive
Which brings us to perhaps our biggest selling point for the Roku Streaming Stick + which is the price. At only about $79.99CAD compared to the base model 32GB Apple at $229 – it’s a pretty easy choice. Of course the Google Chromecast is only $45 but doesn’t have nearly the functionality as the Roku or AppleTV. It’s also worth mentioning that the AppleTV does have onboard storage while the Roku doesn’t appear to have that feature.
To sum up, if you are looking for a solid, affordable 4K streaming device the Roku is a real bargain and will not disappoint.
You can find Roku Streaming Stick+ at Best Buy or Amazon.
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