Roku 4 review

Roku 4 leads the new pack of streaming boxes with 4K playback

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Where other streaming boxes feel like a storefront (Nvidia Shield and Amazon Fire TV, I'm looking in your direction), the Roku 4 feels like a true entertainment hub, built with the users' best interest – not their wallets – in mind.

And to that end, Roku has the widest, most diverse set of channels, scoring both Amazon Prime Instant Video and Google Play Movies and TV Store in the US. There are still some unripe fruits on the Roku tree – convincing Spotify to remove the paywall would be a nice start – but by and large the device takes streaming video seriously and does an impressive job.

In fact, it might actually be a curse that Roku, as a platform, does streaming so well. Because so much of what makes the Roku 4 spectacular is available on any of the other Roku streaming devices, you might want to consider the Roku 3 or even Roku 2, if you can stand a slightly grainy user interface and longer load times.

You might not need to shell out for the 4K player if your TV isn't quite up to snuff yet or, in a worse scenario, your internet connection peters out at a less-than-stable 10Mbps.

Roku 4

That said, the Roku 4's OS and remote are still some of the best, most feature-rich in their class, even if the latter's built-in headphone amplifier leaves a lot to be desired.

So, what sets the Roku 4 apart from the competition? Like its predecessors, it comes with a remote – a missing component of the brand-new Chromecast 2 – it supports 4K, unlike the new Apple TV, and isn't tethered to one ecosystem, like the revamped Amazon Fire TV.

There's still the sore point of it placing M-Go content in the start menu, but most users will turn a blind eye to it in favor of the streaming services they already shell out for at the end of every month.

We liked

Almost everything about the design of the unit is smart and well thought-out. I liked the wider footprint coupled with a flatter profile. Plus, the optical audio out connector allows me to run a cable directly to a soundbar without passing a signal through the TV.

The Bluetooth remote also feels like one of the best yet. It iterates on the Roku 3 remote that just came out over the summer, and integrates voice search into the weighty and solidly built stick.

Inside the box, the quad-core processor gives the Roku 4 a snappy response time, while the 802.11ac Wi-Fi antenna makes sure streaming videos start faster and don't fall victim as easily to the dreaded buffering screen.

Of course, this all only works to complement the already-amazing egalitarian operating system that Roku has spent the last five years putting together. Voice search plays in harmony with the universal search function that scans 20 different sources for content. Roku Feed keeps you up-to-date on the movies that are just about to leave theaters, while over 3,000 channels of content keep you occupied while you wait.

We disliked

Right, so almost everything about the design is great … with the minor exception of the new heat and noise problems. When it's on, expect to hear a faint buzzing noise at all times and a solid 20-degree increase in temperature.

And while the operating system is one of the best, it comes with a major downside for the Roku 4: you don't need the Roku 4 to take advantage of its many great features. If you don't want 4K or own an 802.11ac router in your house, then there's little reason to pick up a new $129 (about £85, AU$180) box.

Finally, and these are small quibbles rather than end-all, be-all complaints, it's not the best gaming device in its category (that honor belongs to the Nvidia Shield). Nor does it necessarily make for the best music player – an award that I'd currently give to the Chromecast Audio.

Final verdict

If your current streaming situation fits the bill, the Roku 4 is easily the best home entertainment investment you can make in 2015. The device caters to a modern, must-own-everything-immediately crowd that already owns a 4K TV set and comes with a price tag that's slightly higher than other products in the category. That said, you get what you pay for – a high-end, quad-core ARM processor doesn't come cheap.

More than anything else though, the Roku 4 cemented my love for Roku's operating system that does its best to put the consumer ahead of the business. It's not flawless in its attempt (the M-Go TV and Movie store on the home screen are evidence of that). But, the universal search function that scans 20 different sources for content in every inquiry shows that Roku wants to put your streaming needs ahead of a bottom line.

Roku has become one of the rallying cries of the cord-cutting movement, and the fourth iteration of the streaming box doesn't shirk that responsibility.

If high-end specs aren't what you're looking for, and you have the patience for an aging system, save yourself some dough and pick up the video streaming-only Roku 2 or casual game-ready Roku 3 instead. If you want a top of the line player to match your top of the line TV, however, the Roku 4 is the unequivocal best choice in streaming boxes.