A Review of the Roku 4 4K streaming media box
While it may not garner the same attention from the consumer public as the Apple TV or even the newly released Amazon Fire TV box, the Roku 4 is quite honestly one very, very solid piece of 4K ultra HD media streaming hardware. It’s also a great general-purpose media streaming device and offers a lot of benefits while being wonderfully easy to use.
As the fourth Roku to come out since 2011, the Roku 4 is the first of its kind to be compatible with 4K ultra HD video resolution in content and while this is the main selling feature of the hardware package we’re reviewing here, a large chunk of the excellent software inside this machine has actually been around for several years and has in all that time maintained the same high quality and entertainment usability of the full Roku 4, just without the 4K compatibility addition.
On the whole, while its UHD steaming content options may still be a bit limited, the Roku 4 offers plenty to any consumer who has an ultra HD TV and wants to make the most of all the potential UHD video enjoyment it can give them directly and through peripheral hardware.
Most fundamentally, the Roku 4 is a very simple, easy to use device with a fantastic interface that, while lacking in finer features like complex voice interaction, still offers some excellent usability and interactivity features. What’s also great about the Roku 7 OS, as the interface is called, is that it doesn’t get dogmatic about any particular service or app. In other words, the system that runs the Roku 4 interface is very evenly functional even for assorted apps from different third party providers.
Furthermore, the Roku remote comes with a voice-powered keyword search capability which is useful for easily finding movies and TV shows among other things. Furthermore, we also liked the built-in private headphone jack of the Roku’s remote since it’s very useful for quiet listening in the late hours or in a room where someone else is trying to sleep.
We also have to say that we love the Roku’s minimalist, somewhat rounded profile. This media player is quite a design change from the puck-shaped predecessors of its kind and though it has a larger surface area than them, it also comes flatter. Basically, it should have no problem fitting into even the most compact home entertainment setup in any small space.
Additionally, the Roku 4 comes with a wide assortment of 4K-capable apps and we’d even argue that it has more of these than any other streaming media device on the current market. Included in this wide selection of apps is a cross-platform search feature that we really like as well. Basically, this powerful search option lets you look for keywords such as actor names, movie titles, director names etc across the entire spectrum of search relevant apps in the Roku 4 interface. We’re talking about 20 or so apps as of now and through the search feature, the Roku 4 will find anything it can about, for example, watching “Spiderman 2” through assorted apps like Amazon Video, Blockbuster On Demand, CinemaNow, Crackle, Fox Now, HBO GO, Hulu, M-GO, Met Opera On Demand, Nat Geo TV, or Netflix among several others and present you with information about where and how the movie or other title of your choice is available for viewing. The same thing applies for actor names, director names and other key search terms.
Finally, there is also the “My Feed” feature of the Roku 4. Previously offered in a limited form on older Roku boxes, the latest version is more powerful than ever and lets you follow the progression of all your favorite shows and series across all streaming media apps supported by the Roku and will notify you any time a new episode appears on any one of many platforms it might appear on.
3.3 - 117 Review
On the other hand, the Roku 4is certainly not perfect. It comes with its own range of deficiencies which keep it from being the absolute best in its class and we note this is a single example of a wider trend in which the several different 4K UHD media boxes out on sale today all have their particular pitfalls which result in some difficulty with deciding which to go for. Unlike the 4K TV business, 4K streaming media box production is still far too immature to have reached a high level of across-the-board standardization.
Thus, in the case of the Roku 4, we have one particularly large defect in the form of no HDR support for the box. While the new 4K Amazon Fire TV box also lacks this feature (a particularly glaring omission from the same company which actually streams HDR 4K content to consumers already), the Roku 4 could have easily gone with at least one of the supported HDR specs and installed it into its firmware or via the HDMI 2.0a ports in the box. However, they did not and this will become problematic down the road as HDR 4K content becomes a standard feature of UHD entertainment.
Furthermore, the Roku 4 is definitely on the slightly pricey side for all that it offers. At $129.99, it costs slightly more than the non-gaming Amazon Fire 4K TV box and while we think the Roku is the better 4K streaming media box between the two, Amazon’s Fire box (as well as Nvidia’s Shield and Apple’s non-4K TV box all offer superior voice control and search interactivity. Furthermore, we must note that as a general rule, normal 4K UHD streaming isn’t that much better than Full HD resolution due to certain stream compression issues. If HDR were included, then streamed 4K could be called notably superior to 1080p but since it isn’t, the value of the Roku 4 isn’t that much greater than the value of older Roku devices (which have the same OS platform and apps) if 4K isn’t something you particularly care about.
Max Supported resolution: 4K ultra HD at 3840 x 2160 pixels
Supported Video Codecs: H.265, H.264, MP4
Processor: quad-core ARM with 1.5 GB RAM
Remote Control Features: Roku remote with Voice control and private listening headphone jack
Networking: 802.11ac MIMO dual-band wireless, 10/100 Base-T Ethernet
Connectivity: 1 x HDMI 2.0a, 1 x USB 2.0, 802.11ac MIMO dual-band wireless, 10/100 Base-T Ethernet, optical digital audio for home theater
Extended Storage: supports microSD up to 128 GB, card sold separately
Audio: 7.1 audio channels, codec support for AAC, WMA, MP3
Software/Apps: Roku 7 OS platform, with App selection, media streaming, internet video, internet radio and integrated Netflix, Vudu, YouTube, Hulu Plus, Amazon instant video, HBO Go, others
Dimensions (H x W x D): 0.8 x 6.5 x 6.5 inches
Weight: 0.9 lbs
The Roku’s design is almost as basic as they get and only the Amazon Fire 4K TV box is more bare bones looking in our book. With this device you get your basic black slightly rounded and fairly small box of a media player with the number 4 engraved on it in large type. Alonng with this comes a glossy black remote accompanied by a pair of AA batteries and a power adapter. There is also a quick start guide included in the box though as far as physical setup of the Roku 4 goes, there isn’t much to do here besides plug the box into your TV via HDMI and stick the batteries in the remote then turn the whole thing on and go through the digital setup process.
The Roku 4 box itself is completely black with a slightly rough matte finish, in contrast to the smooth glossy black of previous versions and along one of its edges it features the connections that the 4 comes with: Ethernet, optical digital audio, HDMI, USB, MicroSD and the DC power connection port.
In essence, the Roku 4K is as 4K-ready a streaming media box as one can be in the current home entertainment landscape. With the exception of a lack of HDR (high dynamic range) support for 4K UHD content, this Roku is completely set for the latest in 4K streaming video thanks to full compatibility with HEVC H.265 video compression decoding (as well as the older H.264 Full HD standard) and HDCP 2.2 content copy protection. Additionally, the Roku 4 comes with the newer, better HDMI 2.0a spec in its HDMI port, meaning that we could indeed be seeing HDR-capable updates coming down the road in the near term future.
Additionally, the Roku 4 comes with an optical digital audio output for those of you with a home theater system in which you route a digital output straight to your TV’s A/V receiver. On top of this, there is a new powerful quad-core ARM processor with 1.5GB of RAM to power your newfangled 4K streaming graphics --just under three times the power of the 512MB offered by the Roku 3.
Finally, we love the Roku OS 7 platform built into this and other Roku machines. With its cross-platform search, My Feed feature and overall ease of use along with access to dozens of entertainment and streaming media apps, the OS 7 does a wonderful job of powering this powerful little streaming media box. Access to all of the major 4K video entertainment apps like Netflix, Amazon Prime, Vudu and whatever others soon come out with 4K UHD content is baked right into the Roku 4 and this makes the box into one nicely future-proof piece of technology. The fact that there is also HDMI 2.0a in place for the possibility of near-future HDR support only helps distinguish the Roku 4 from the oddly inferior Amazon Fire 4K TV box.
As far as 4K content streaming itself goes, as long as your home internet connection is powerful enough to evenly manage 15 to 20Mbps of bandwidth, the little Roku 4 will have no trouble delivering some very fine 4K Ultra HD content quality from major subscription sources to the screen of your 4K TV.
We also need to mention Roku’s new and much improved mobile OS app for your smartphone. Instead of the previous and rather limited version of the app, Roku has now included the full capacity of its whole OS 7 platform in a mobile app that, once downloaded, can be used to fully control your Roku device within your home’s WiFi range and even stream music from the phone to the Roku or transmit images from mobile device to Roku for use as screensaver decorations.
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Connectivity-wise, as we’d already said, the Roku 4 comes with the essentials and its manufacturers have chosen which connections to offer in an intelligent, well planned way. HDMI 2.0a is there for at least full access to 4K UHD content at a robust 60 frames per second and offers the additional possibility of future HDR support, while a USB port also offers playback options for assorted other conventional audio and video media as well as image uploading. Furthermore, Roku’s makers have added in a MicroSD card slot for storage of extra apps and games. Unfortunately however, the MicroSD slot can’t be used to play back media files loaded into it on the Roku 4.
Finally, internet connectivity is delivered to this Roku via the dual options of 802.11ac MIMO dual-band wireless and 10/100 Base-T Ethernet access.
Simply put, the Roku 4 is a nearly flawless, efficient performer which delivers fast, snappy interactivity, search features and graphics. Navigation is almost fool-proof in its simplicity and the content search options of this streaming media box are probably the best on the market today in terms of their diversity and equal representation within the Roku 4’s internal ecosystem.
The Roku 4 may not offer support for gaming like the Amazon Fire, Apple TV and new Nvidia Shield 4K do but if you just want visual and audio home entertainment, this box is unbeatable so far in terms of ease of use, content options, portability and simplicity. It really is a winner overall.
The Roku 4 4K streaming media box is currently retailing for $129.99 from Amazon.com.
3.3 - 117 Review
• Fantastic access to 4K and non-4K content and apps
• Superbly build OS platform
• Very easy to use
• Great connectivity
• superb fleshed out mobile app version of Roku OS
• Full 4K support with HDCP 2.2 and HEVC
• Slightly expensive given lack of gaming features
• No gaming features
• No HDR support quite yet