Roku Streaming Stick+, not Ultra, is the best value for 4K HDR streaming

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Roku Streaming Stick+ has impressive specs, faster performance

The Roku Streaming Stick+ is the best option for anyone looking to quickly dive into 4K HDR.

The new 4K Spotlight Channel has been refined, so you can look over TV shows and movies streaming in 4K, HDR or both. What’s great about this channel is that it’s aggregating from a cross section of places like Fandango Now, Netflix and Amazon Video. So it cuts out the hunting around on your own.

Even if you don’t own a 4K HDR TV right now, the Streaming Stick+ is still a better buy at $70 compared to its lesser priced siblings.

The Roku model below the Stick Plus has the same name (without the plus) and costs $20 less. Owning one means you’ll be stuck in 1080p HD land for as long as you own it. That’s might not be the best choice long term if you find yourself buying a 4K TV in 2018 or the year after.

5 facts about Roku Streaming Stick+

  1. Supports 4K Ultra HDR streaming
  2. Voice-search capable
  3. 2.4GHz/5GHz bandwidth
  4. WiFi antenna included
  5. Improved 4K Spotlight Channel

Roku WiFi antenna vs WiFi Extender

The Streaming Stick+ has plenty of features you can start using right now no matter what TV it’s connected to. It’s the only Roku stick with a WiFi antenna geared to boost your wireless reception when connected to a bedroom TV.

That’s a big plus for people who might need to buy a WiFi extender just to stream Netflix on a bedroom television. A decent, dual-band wireless extender or router at minimum can cost you $80 to $100. The WiFi antenna plugs into the stick with a mini-USB port. The antenna doubles as a USB power cord that can plug into the back of your TV.

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I hooked up the Streaming Stick+ with the antenna attachment to my bedroom TV located about 50ft. away from my router. My WiFi signal had to pass through four other walls and a closed bedroom door to reach the back of my TV.

The Roku still blazed through apps, and streamed live TV on PlayStation Vue with zero issues. I also tried other live streams with the CBSN app, fuboTV and Pluto TV and had no problems. At the time, I had my living room TV live streaming PlayStation Vue on my 2nd generation Fire TV. Two computers were also connected to my home network at the time.

The bedroom TV was the second one that I tested with the Roku, so I was surprised when I realized that it was performing so well while still on my 5GHz band.

Perhaps my opinion will change over time, but based on my testing so far, Roku may have eliminated the added expense of a WiFi extender for many.

Roku Streaming Stick+ remote control

The remote control might save you from needing a universal remote too. It has buttons for TV power and volume. You won’t have to go digging for codes when pairing this remote with your TV. Roku’s software does nearly all the work for you with the exception of a couple of volume tests that you have to respond to.

As someone who doesn’t own a universal remote, having easier access to TV power and volume more often is a pretty nice feature. If you have a sound bar connected to your TV, then you will still need a separate remote control for that.

PlayStation Vue users will be pleased with the dedicated button on the new remote so you can launch it right away. You still have to peruse live channels the same way as before. The dedicated button brings live streaming over the Internet closer to a cable-like experience of simple turning on live TV to watch something.

There’s also a dedicated button for Sling TV on the Streaking Stick+. On other models, like Roku Ultra, you may find a dedicated button for DirecTV Now.

If you buy a Roku from Wal-Mart or Jet, chances are you will wind up with a dedicated button for its video rental service, Vudu.

How is Roku’s voice search?

Voice search capability has proven to be challenging for any streaming device that’s currently offering it. This is the first time Roku has added voice control to its streaming players. So far, Roku is doing pretty well in this arena.

When people buy a Roku, they generally look for as much free content as possible.

So that’s how I formed my litmus test for voice search.

When I asked my Roku to find for “Star Wars”, it pulled up all the usual suspects for renting the seven movies. Movie rental platforms like Vudu and Fandango Now popped up in my results.

Here’s the good news.

It also showed me that six of the seven films were being offered for free on my TBS app. I knew those movies were free on TBS before I asked. I wanted to make sure my Roku knew as well. When I gave it a more complicated search, “Pink Floyd”, the Roku tried its best to come up with something to rent on Vudu and Google Play. It pulled in nothing from YouTube.

If you want to see all the free Pink Floyd concerts free on YouTube, you’re better off with the Android TV software on NVIDIA Shield TV. That’s certainly not a deal breaker unless YouTube is a primary source of streaming for you.

That said, Roku will have plenty of room for improvement with voice search. A new software update, Roku OS8, is expected to roll out with improvements for detecting natural voice sounds. Hopefully, Roku will continue expanding its voice search capabilities.

Voice search is smart, but not Alexa-smart

Amazon has been using its voice-search Alexa technology for months. Google is aggressive push with its Google Assistant technology as well.

Hands-free voice commands are marking a sea change with streaming devices. For companies like Amazon and NVIDIA, streaming devices are evolving into smart home hubs. Being able to turn off lights, or draw window shades with your voice will be a strong draw for some consumers.

Amazon Echo and Echo Dot get new “skills” nearly every week that expand their reach on what they can control in a home.

Roku has made no indication it’s moving in a similar direction. That’s not especially a bad thing. Some have expressed concerns over surrendering a degree of privacy with always-on listening devices like Echo and Google Home.

Plus, there’s something to be said about doing one thing really well.

Roku TV Everywhere: single sign-on

Having a single sign-on for TV Everywhere apps should be a big improvement once the Roku OS8 update rolls out. Instead of signing on to every single app, Roku will have one spot to sign in, a feature also seen on Apple TV. I will be interested to see how this will work with platforms like the A&E Network apps, which also require a profile-style login.

What can I stream on Roku in 4K, HDR?

Major streaming platforms like Netflix and Amazon Video offer a growing menu of 4K HDR content. But your subscription to Netflix and other subscriptions will cost a little more for 4K content. That said, you can find some free shows and movies in 4K or HDR too.

The main Roku menu breaks out 4K channels so you can track those down. As of this writing, there were 19 channels with free and paid 4K content. This menu is in addition to the 4K Spotlight Channel.

How I tested Roku Streaming Stick+

I bought the Roku Streaming Stick+ and tried it out on two televisions in my home. My living room TV is right next to my router, so I connected to my Netgear R6400 router on 5GHz. My bedroom TV is on the opposite end of the house. In both cases, I used the included WiFi antenna.

When I hooked up the Streaming Stick+ to one of our TVs that’s 1080p, my wife thought the picture looked “a lot” better. She was right. The picture was brighter and had richer color compared to my 2nd generation Fire TV that I bought in 2016. During the setup process, I let the Roku automatically detect what kind of TV it was connected to, and it adjusted the picture accordingly.

If you don’t want a 4K media player, or can at least live without it for a while, Roku does offer less expensive streaming sticks that are plenty fast. In fact, the entry-level Roku Express only costs $30, and it’s much faster than last year’s model. The Roku Express+ is designed for older televisions that have analog outlets and no HDMI. And there’s a newer version of the Roku Streaming Stick at $50, which gives you a remote control with voice search, TV power and volume buttons. All three of these Roku sticks stream in HD 1080p streaming quality.

Areas of improvement

If you’re hoping for better looking user interface within your Roku apps, you might be disappointed. This isn’t a new problem for Roku, and some may feel it’s not a problem at all. It would have been a pleasant surprise to see improvements with certain apps like PlayStation Vue. This isn’t entirely Roku’s fault, since parent companies of streaming platforms design their own apps.

AT&T didn’t develop a Roku app for DirecTV Now right away. When the company did, they released one with a very nice interface.

Having said that, Roku is still giving you more apps than any other streaming device on the market. You can watch 500,000+ movies and TV episodes.

Roku Streaming Stick+ vs Roku Ultra

I think the Roku Streaming Stick+ at $70 will be a better option for most people than Roku Ultra. I generally prefer using an Ethernet connection with my streaming devices. When I’m watching live TV on a platform like PlayStation Vue or DirecTV Now, I try to guard against any factor that can potentially cause lag or freezing up.

A WiFi router that lets you prioritize which devices get bandwidth first can certainly help deliver smooth streaming. But not everyone wants to delve into that. Most people like a plug-and-play solution whenever possible.

The Streaming Stick+ has made a significant leap toward streaming without Ethernet or a WiFi extender.

Roku’s setup is very simple and fast. You’ll still spend a little time signing into apps like Crackle and Pluto TV. That simply comes with the territory of streaming.

The fact that Roku has been able to pack a lot of power into a portable device makes the Streaming Stick+ more attractive than a streaming box.

Roku Ultra specs vs Roku Streaming Stick+

The Roku Ultra does come with a few extras, including an Ethernet port. Most of them are ones that I can live without. The Ultra has a remote finder feature, an SD card slot and a headphone jack on the remote control for private listening.

Private listening isn’t a feature exclusive to Ultra. If you download the Roku app to your smartphone, you can use private listen on other Roku players as well.  

Last year, I picked the Roku Premiere+ as a better value over Roku Ultra. At the time, the Ultra was overpriced. I’m glad to see consumers get a faster version of Ultra this year that’s $30 cheaper.

There’s a small irony for Roku Ultra in 2017. It became faster and less expensive only to be outmatched by its little brother, the Streaming Stick+, in terms of value. I think the Ultra will be more desirable for home theater buffs.

After testing out the Streaming Stick+ on TVs at opposite ends of my home, it’s obviously a streamer built for speed. That’s good enough for me.







Summary
Review Date
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Roku Streaming Stick+
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