Roku Streaming Stick 4K just replaced the best streaming device — here’s what’s new

The Roku Streaming Stick 4K is here to replace the best streaming device (the Roku Streaming Stick Plus). As Roku doesn’t need to rewrite the book on its popular streaming stick, the company made just a couple of necessary improvements.

Roku Streaming Stick 4K and 4K Plus Specs

Video: 4K, Dolby Vision, and HDR10+
Audio: Dolby Atmos (pass-through only)
Processor: Quad-core CPU
Dimensions: 3.7 x 0.8 x 0.45 in
In the box: Roku Streaming Stick 4K, USB power cable and adaptor, Voice Remote Pro and charging cable (4K Plus only)

Primarily, the Roku Streaming Stick 4K picks up support for some important video standards, so you’re going to get better picture quality than you did on the Streaming Stick Plus. Roku has also added a new processor to make for shorter load times. 

All in all, this is a good upgrade, but is it enough to push people to upgrade from the 2019 Streaming Stick Plus?

Roku is also quietly upgrading the Roku Ultra LT (a Walmart-exclusive streaming device), as well as updating its OS to version 10.5. We’ve got all the notes on what’s changing below. 

Roku Streaming Stick 4K: Release date, price and 4K Plus

The Roku Streaming Stick 4K costs $49, the same as the Streaming Stick Plus it succeeds. It will be available online and in major retail outlets in the U.S. starting in mid-October. It will be in Canada, Mexico and other Latin American countries in the subsequent months.

Roku is also selling the $69 Streaming Stick 4K Plus, which adds in the $29 Roku Voice Remote, so you’ll save a bit of money overall.

Roku Streaming Stick 4K: Design

A thin black stick designed to live out of sight behind your TV in one of its HDMI ports, the Roku Streaming Stick 4K is familiar, to say the least. This model goes all-matte (minus the glossy logo), whereas the previous model was two-thirds glossy and one-third matte (with a glossy logo). 

The Roku Streaming Stick 4K Plus plugged into a TV

(Image credit: Roku)

As before, you’ve got a power-indicator light and a micro-USB port for drawing power. The Roku Streaming Stick 4K measures 3.7 x 0.8 x 0.45 inches, making it nearly identical to the Roku Streaming Stick Plus. That makes sense because it needs to fit within the same HDMI-port area behind the TV.

Your Roku Streaming Stick 4K may not need micro-USB-based power. Our Streaming Stick Plus review units did not when they were tested with a 1080p Samsung TV from 2014. That said, the increased performance of the new stick may require it. We will find out when we test the Roku Streaming Stick 4K.

Roku Streaming Stick 4K: Features and performance

The Roku Streaming Stick 4K Plus on a table

(Image credit: Roku)

The Roku Streaming Stick 4K’s biggest gains (if you ask us) are Dolby Vision and HDR10+ for improved video quality, supporting widely used standards. These make sure the mid-range Roku is spec-competitive with the Fire TV Stick 4K and Chromecast with Google TV

The Roku Streaming Stick 4K also has pass-through Dolby Atmos for strong sound, which keeps it at parity with the Chromecast (the Fire TV Stick 4K has full-fledged Atmos).

Otherwise, the Roku Streaming Stick 4K looks to be exactly what its name suggests: a 4K Ultra HD streaming stick running one of the best platforms on the market. To that end, Roku has improved the performance on the stick with a new quad-core processor, which should offer 30% faster app boot times. There’s also a new long-range Wi-Fi receiver that should double Wi-Fi speeds. 

That said, the Roku Streaming Stick 4K shouldn’t be as fast as the Roku Ultra 2020, as that device has a larger housing for heat dispersal and higher-end specs.

Roku Streaming Stick 4K and 4K Plus: Remote

Customers who buy the Roku Streaming Stick 4K will get a pretty standard remote, with four branded app buttons, click-to-speak voice actions and TV controls for power and volume. It’s good, but it’s not the best remote Roku offers.

The Roku Streaming Stick 4K Plus: includes Voice Remote Pro remote

(Image credit: Roku)

That best remote would be the Roku Streaming Stick 4K Plus’ Voice Remote Pro, which has a handful of extra features including a rechargeable battery. As its name suggests, this remote has hands-free voice controls, which will come in handy if you can’t find the remote. (Just say “Hey Roku, where’s my remote?” and the remote should start ringing.) It also has a lost-remote-control function in the companion mobile app if you don’t want to talk to your gadgets.

The Voice Remote Pro also has programmable shortcut buttons and a headphone jack for private listening via wired headphones. 

Roku Streaming Stick 4K: Software

Roku OS 10.5 seen on a TV in a living room

(Image credit: Roku)

Roku is also rolling out a new software update to its streaming devices, including the Roku Streaming Stick 4K and 4K Plus. Roku OS 10.5 will let you add a Live TV Channel Guide button directly into the home screen so you don’t have to dig into The Roku Channel app to find it.

Roku is improving the support for Roku Voice, its voice-commands platform, with Netflix and Spotify being two of the biggest apps to gain access. Roku claims “nearly any channel in Roku Search supports the feature.” 

Curious, but afraid of using voice commands? A new section called Roku Voice Help will walk you through all the commands you can yell at your Roku. You can also enter your passwords via Roku Voice, spelling them out character-by-character.

Roku Voice Help section in Roku OS 10.5

(Image credit: Roku)

If you love to listen to music and podcasts on your TV, you will probably be excited to learn that search results now include Music and Podcast entries. Roku is not jamming them into the same rows as apps, shows and movies, but instead giving them their own rows. 

Sound is the other big story in Roku OS 10.5. Roku is improving private listening with fine-tuning made for improving playback in wireless earbuds, aiming to eliminate asynchronous audio and video automatically. 

If that’s not enough, an Advanced A/V Sync feature (found in the Settings menu of the app) found when wireless headphones are paired with the Roku app will automatically adjust audio speeds by measuring the TV screen.

A Roku OS 10.5-enabled 5.1 Surround Sound setup

(Image credit: Roku)

Also, 3.1 and 5.1 surround sound configurations will be added to the Roku Streambar, Roku Streambar Pro and Roku Smart Soundbar. The Roku TV Wireless Speakers can be paired with those audio devices to act as front speakers.

Roku is also improving its mobile app by putting content front and center with a Home tab to jump straight to content, broken down by Zones (collections of movies and shows). 

Not ready to watch now? Roku is also adding the Save List so you can add movies and TV shows to watch later when you’re in front of your TV again. The Save List can be accessed via the Home and Remote  tabs and users can add titles that they find via search to their Save List.

Roku Ultra LT 2021

The Walmart-exclusive Roku Ultra LT is getting a minor update for 2021. There’s a new model with a faster processor, increased storage and a new Wi-Fi radio with up to 50% longer range. Dolby Vision is also now included, as is Bluetooth audio streaming.

Roku Streaming Stick 4K outlook

Improved performance on a streaming device is a feature that we always have a hard time judging until we see it in action for ourselves. Dolby Vision support, however, may be the kind of feature that gets folks to upgrade, especially the folks who blanched at the Roku Ultra’s $99 pricetag. 

We look forward to getting it in our hands for testing for a full review soon. 

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