What’s not to appreciate about a low-cost, high-spec vehicle? A low-cost streamer that gets the fundamentals right, including access to all of the major streaming services.
While Amazon, Apple, and Google all have their own streaming boxes, they also bind you to their respective companies. If you don’t like the notion of that, the Roku Express 4K might be a better option.
This little streaming box is not just one of the cheapest Ultra HD streaming boxes at $34.99, but it also supports all of the mainstreaming providers, has HDR (although not Dolby Vision), and Google Cast and AirPlay 2 capabilities.
On the other hand, this model comes with a rather cheap IR remote control, a laborious signup process, and the streamer has one of the most boring user interfaces available.
However, it gets the essentials right, so if you’re looking for a low-cost 4K streaming solution, there’s nothing better.
The Roku Express 4K is unlike most compact streaming devices in that it does not plug into the back of the TV.
Because this model contains an IR remote, it must be put in direct line of sight, thus it’s tucked away in a little box that you can place in front of your TV (or on your TV if you use the bundled sticky pad).
There are only two connectors on the back: an HDMI output and a Micro-USB power port, which can also be utilised with an Ethernet adaptor if the dual-band Wi-Fi isn’t sufficient.
The Roku Streaming Stick+ or Express+ come with a basic IR remote; if you want Bluetooth and voice control, you’ll have to pay a little more.
The remote control is about the appropriate size for me, though it’s not nearly as comfortable to hold and use as the Alexa remote on the Fire TV Stick 4K, the Apple TV 4K’s touch remote, or the Chromecast with Google TV’s remote.
The Roku control has slightly squishy buttons and a shoddy feel to it. Controls differ by country as well. While all locations feature four shortcut buttons, the shortcuts vary by region: in the United Kingdom, Netflix, Spotify, Apple TV+, and Rakuten TV; in the United States, Netflix, Disney+, Apple TV+, and Hulu. At the very least, that’s one button I’ll never use.
The IR remote also lacks volume and TV power buttons, which are only found on the Roku Express 4K+.
The Roku Express 4K is really easy to set up. To get your streaming box linked to the internet and your Roku account, simply plug it into your TV (a short 70cm HDMI cable is included), connect the power, and follow the on-screen instructions.
You’ll need to establish a Roku account using your phone or laptop if you don’t already have one. It’s a tedious procedure that requires you to add a payment method to your account in case you want to utilise any of the premium Roku channels (hint: you probably won’t).
Once you’ve logged in, you may choose which Channels (apps) you want to use, and they’ll be downloaded and installed immediately. Each app requires sign-in, and the method varies by app. Even so, you only have to complete this task once.
If you’ve used any other streaming device, you’re undoubtedly used to interfaces that provide shortcuts to the most recent video and highlight what’s available, so Roku’s UI will come as a surprise.
It has to be the most boring user interface out there, with only shortcuts to the programmes you’ve loaded and nothing else.
Netflix, Apple TV+, Disney+, Amazon Prime Video, Hulu, and HBO Max are among the major streaming services offered.
Apps vary by region, but you should be able to find what you’re looking for in each. In the United Kingdom, for example, all of the major catch-up channels are available.
You may also add a lot of different Channels to Roku.
Many are quite a niche, the majority is absolute nonsense, and they primarily serve as clutter that you must sift through in order to find the actual streaming services you seek.
The search feature works across all of your installed apps, allowing you to locate what you’re looking for fast without having to launch numerous apps.
It’s a nuisance to type in anything with the IR remote, but you can get the Roku app for your phone.
This device not only replicates the classic remote but also has voice search and the ability to text using your phone’s keyboard. Voice search works well and is faster than using the on-screen keypad to find something to watch.
Voice control is also available through Amazon Alexa, Google Assistant, and Apple Siri. Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant both allow you to play/pause and search, obviating the need for the Roku voice remote.
Controlling Siri is a little more difficult. Siri wouldn’t let me operate my Roku Express 4K with my HomePod Mini; I had to use my iPhone instead. Even then, Apple prefers to take control, utilising AirPlay to transfer the requested content to the Express 4K rather than relying on the player’s own search.
The Roku player is also shown in the Home app, with an on/off switch. This, however, only functions if the Express 4K is displaying something over AirPlay, not if you’ve launched an app and content directly. Still, having Siri integration is a fantastic thing to have.
It’s also wonderful to have AirPlay 2 and Google Cast support, which allows you to stream material from your phone or even mirror it to your TV. Roku Express 4K: 4K and HDR Streaming
There’s 4K support and HDR, which is great, but just HDR and HDR10+ are available, not Dolby Vision. Does it make a difference? Yes, of course. If you have a Dolby Vision TV, the absence of compatibility here means you won’t be able to obtain the same visual quality as you would with an alternative streamer like the Chromecast with Google TV.
If you may not have a Dolby Vision TV, any streaming platform on any device, streaming at a maximum of 60 frames per second, would suffice. Of course, quality varies depending on the content and app.
Every app supports Dolby Atmos sound, so if you have a compatible device, like the Sonos Arc, you’ll get the finest audio quality out of the Roku Express 4K.
The Roku Express 4K is by far the most affordable streaming device, and it hits the majority of the right notes. It comes with all of the major apps you could desire, as well as Dolby Atmos audio and 4K HDR video. However, the remote isn’t great, and the lack of Dolby Vision may turn off some viewers. Still, at this price, it’s difficult to disagree with the total package, and if pricing is your only concern, this is a terrific streamer.
- A wide range of apps is available.
- Support for Dolby Atmos
- HDR 4K
- The best option is not to use remote control.
- There is no Dolby Vision.
- The user interface is simple.