Hands on: Roku Streaming Stick 4K+ and Roku Wireless 5.1 Surround
The newest model of the Roku Streaming Stick 4K may not make you abandon your current Roku player, but it’s a step up in performance, especially at its low price point. It’s powered by this fall’s Roku OS 10.5 update that ups the surround sound capabilities of Roku soundbars from 3.1 to a full room 5.1 wireless setup. The updates bring excellent video and decent surround sound for a reasonable price.
The Roku Streaming Stick 4K takes the place of the Roku Streaming Stick, released in 2020. The previous version was capable of 4K streaming with HDR. This year’s model improves picture quality by adding 4K with Dolby Vision and HDR10+ at 60 frames per second. An improved quad-core processor helps high-quality content load quickly. Some of my 4K content still stopped to buffer (a message said it was a server problem), but it was about the same performance as this year’s Apple TV 4K, that is almost four times the price.
Performance is further enhanced with a new long-range Wi-Fi 802.11ac Mimo dual-band receiver that’s placed outside of the dongle as part of the USB power cord. Roku boasts that it offers twice the Wi-Fi speeds of previous models. This is accomplished through adaptive algorithms that dynamically adjust its Wi-Fi radios regardless of the player’s distance from the router. I tested it upstairs from our router. Videos were fast to load. In streaming apps like Netflix that choose quality based on bandwidth, it streamed UHD 4K each time (where it had been HD in the past). The result was an outstanding picture quality that loads quickly and plays without issue.
Last year’s updates to the Roku Operating System brought Apple AirPlay to the Streaming Stick (and most other players, soundbars, and TV). An iPhone or iPad will recognize the Roku player as an option to send video and music to play on your TV.
Where the Streaming Stick 4K works with Alexa, Google and Siri, the Streaming Stick 4K+ is bundled adding control with an included handsfree rechargeable voice remote. Those who want privacy can turn off its always-listening feature. I was glad to have left it on. When I couldn’t find the small remote, I called out, “Hey Roku, where’s my remote?” And the remote started to chime until I could find it.
When the TV was off, I could walk in the room and say, “Hey Roku (the wake word), play Nine Perfect Strangers on Hulu. The TV turned on, bypassed Hulu’s sign-in screen, and started to play. The remote is a real bonus as I could quickly pause or play a video without grabbing the remote. I could also use voice commands to power on and off the TV or raise and lower the volume. Using the remote’s buttons to control the TV required a second step in setup for TV control.
The stick is less than 4 inches long, with an HDMI connector at one end. Its short USB power cord has a long-range Wi-Fi receiver. It was able to be powered by the USB connection on my TCL TV.
Sound formats include digital stereo, DTS surround pass through over HDMI, pass-through of Dolby-encoded audio over HDMI, including Dolby Atmos.
5.1 Surround Sound
After acquiring Danish speaker company, Dynastrom, Roku looked to add a surround sound experience to their TVs and Soundbars. This brought Roku a team of audio experts, including Dynastrom’s founder Brian Møller, now Vice President, Engineering at Roku. His previous experience includes running Bang & Olufsen’s technology department. The Roku Audio team did research and development worthy of a high-quality brand. The result is Roku’s Bluetooth wireless speakers and subwoofer that perform excellently for the price.
When the speakers were first released, Roku surround sound was limited to a 3.1 surround system that included a streambar for the front channels and two wireless speakers for the rears. While it was nice to have sound placed around the room, it had been underwhelming.
The recent Roku OS 10.5 update added 5.1 surround capability. When the second set of front speakers are added, the streambar becomes a center channel. With all speakers connected, these value-priced surround speakers surprisingly shine with richness and clarity.
Once you confirm that the streambar has been updated to Roku OS 10.5, it’s ready to add speakers. Although I had set my Roku devices to update automatically, neither my Roku TV nor the streambar had OS 10.5. Instead, I had to check for updates and install it manually.
The Roku streambar and surround sound can be used with any brand of TV. However, if used with a Roku TV, both the streambar and the TV must be on Roku OS 10.5 before you the option appears to add the second set of front speakers.
Go to Settings>Remotes and Devices to connect the speakers, then choose to add a new device. If all is updated, there will be a layout choice of either rear speakers, front speakers, or rear and front speakers. While it seemed like I should choose front speakers because I already had rear speakers, it refers to the final layout, and I needed to opt for the front and back speakers set up to get 5.1 surround.
Roku prides itself on being simple, but there can be glitches. If the TV and streambar are ready, it should be easy as no wiring is required. Still, if there are issues during connection, follow the onscreen troubleshooting guide to factory reset the speakers and start over. If there are, Roku offers many Help options. The best support is to call their free customer care line who will walk you through the setup.
Once the speakers were set up, I was impressed at the sound quality, separation, and movement. The subwoofer has a good rumble, and the front and rear speakers bring out quiet sounds like footsteps and rustling leaves. The streambar as the center speaker was the star. I could adjust voice clarity, and it separated from the other front speakers making it very easy to hear and understand the dialog. What’s more, I watch The Voice on Hulu. The voices are (ironically) quiet and muddled on my primary home theater system, and I need to crank up the volume. The Roku speakers allow me to hear the singers clearly.
Roku OS 10.5 also includes more audio settings. The rear speaker volume can be raised or lowered, and there are simple equalizer settings. As before, it has Night and Leveling Modes. The sound adjustments are also available on the Roku mobile app.
Roku Streaming Stick 4K usually is $50 but is on sale through 12/4 for $30. The Roku streaming Stick 4K+ bundle with the rechargeable handsfree voice remote runs $70. New HBO Max subscribers get a 30-day free trial when they buy the Roku Streaming Stick 4k.
Roku’s Streambar that includes a 4K player is $130. The larger Streambar Pro is $150 through November and will return to the full price of $180 after the sale. Wireless speakers run $150 a pair. The wireless subwoofer is $180.
Published at Wed, 03 Nov 2021 19:32:26 +0000