Roku Streaming Stick 4K review: This $50 dongle mostly does it all

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If you want to buy a streaming player without overthinking it, just get the new Roku Streaming Stick 4K.

This $50 streaming dongle feels fast and fluid, and it supports 4K HDR video with both Dolby Vision and HDR10+. More importantly, it’s a straightforward streaming device full of helpful features, and its improved Wi-Fi receiver helps it get better reception than previous low-cost Roku players.

I will continue to nitpick the Roku interface, which could use more convenient ways to follow and discover things to watch. Still, it’s a far calmer experience than Amazon’s Fire TV devices, a safer (if less visionary) pick than the Chromecast with Google TV, and a much cheaper option than any Apple TV box.

This review is part of TechHive’s coverage of the best media streamers, where you’ll find reviews of the competition’s offerings, plus a buyer’s guide to the features you should consider when shopping for this type of product.

Sizing up the new stick

The Roku Streaming Stick 4K replaces Roku’s Streaming Stick+ from 2019. It’s a slightly faster device with better Wi-Fi performance, and it adds Dolby Vision HDR, which Roku had only offered on its $100 Roku Ultra before. On TVs with Dolby Vision support, this allows for per-scene color optimizations while watching compatible HDR content. The only missing piece here is support for Dolby Atmos object-based surround sound, which remains exclusive to the Ultra in Roku’s lineup.

rokustreamingstick4kpluggedin Jared Newman / IDG

The Roku Streaming Stick 4K has a built-in HDMI connector and can draw power from a TV’s USB port.

Size and shape are mostly unchanged. The Streaming Stick 4K is still a narrow dongle that plugs straight into your TV’s HDMI port—Roku will send you a free HDMI extender if you need it—and its USB power cable has built-in module for the device’s Wi-Fi 5 radios. You can plug the five-foot power cable into the USB port on newer TVs, or into an outlet with an included adapter.

The Streaming Stick 4K’s remote uses an RF connection so you can point it anywhere, without line-of-sight to the stick, but it also has an infrared emitter for controlling TV volume, power, and mute. Sadly, Roku remotes still can’t independently control soundbars or A/V receivers via infrared, so if your sound system doesn’t support HDMI-CEC, you’ll need a separate remote to adjust the volume.

rokustreamingstick4kremote Jared Newman / IDG

Roku’s remote includes volume, power, and mute buttons for your TV.

For an extra $20, you can also upgrade to the Voice Remote Pro, which adds a headphone jack for private listening, two programmable buttons, hands-free voice control, a rechargeable battery, and a remote finder feature you can activate via Roku’s mobile app. (Read our review of the Voice Remote Pro, which otherwise costs $30 on its own, here.)

Speeds and feeds

Roku has perfected the art of squeezing performance out of cheap hardware. Menus load quickly and scroll smoothly on the Streaming Stick 4K, and you never have to wait long for apps to load. The $100 Roku Ultra still launches apps a couple seconds faster on average, but the Streaming Stick 4K doesn’t feel like a major compromise for half the price. (Compared to the $40 Roku Express 4K+, I found that performance was roughly the same.)

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