Taking another look: Roku fans with 4K TVs will want to upgrade to the new Roku 4
New edition has obvious advantages over the Apple TV, while owners of previous models may feel that the new Roku 4, though larger, may have less heat issues than the Roku 3
The end of 2015 saw the big players in TV streaming devices updating their hardware in preparation for the holiday season – with Apple finally updating its Apple TV, introducing an App Store, but disappointing users by not supporting 4K streaming (despite adding 4K video to their iPhones, what were they thinking?).
One of those that updated their device was Roku, who has had an app store for a while now. The Roku 4 promised 4K streaming, a slightly lower price than the Apple TV, as well as upgraded specs.
When Apple sent me a new Apple TV as part of their developer program, I also made sure I had a new Roku 4 to compare it to. Besides, I use both devices with my family room TV, so upgrading the hardware would be a good thing, in general.
Unfortunately, the Roku 4 unit I received was dead on arrival, and customer support was unhelpful (reading off of scripts is not the way to provide customer support). But a representative from Roku reached out several times, and a new unit was delivered to me in mid-December (thank you). I’ve held back from a new post on the Roku 4 as I wanted to make sure I thoroughly used the device before writing again about it.
Those who have a Roku 3 and who have upgraded to a 4K HDTV will definitely want to consider buying the Roku 4. These streaming devices continue to be bargains compared to other consumer electronic devices, and the ability to stream 4K will make their TV investment more justified.**
Fans of the Roku generally think it the best streaming device in the market, though the most common complaint about the Roku 3 is that it tends to run hot, and sometimes needs to be rebooted when it freezes (probably tied to running hot).
The Roku 4 comes out of the box with the same remote, which is still very good. It comes with headphones for private listening late at night, some voice controls, and familiar navigation for veteran Roku users.
The device itself is no longer the hockey puck-like device we’re used to seeing but a much larger device, similar in size to the old Apple routers. This means it takes up more space, of course, something that might be a problem for some set-ups. But the larger enclosure may be an attempt to solve the heat issue. The device still runs a bit hot, and some users report loud fan noise (I have not had this issue), but it is certainly an improvement over the Roku 3.
When setting up the device one needs to either have their laptop available or be near their desktop computer. The device needs to be activated, and you should make sure you carefully read the prompts on your display to make sure to make it through the process to completion.
At that point you are ready to go, and if you have used a Roku before your apps will load. Not much else then is different, with the home screen looking the same.
I immediately started streaming Spotify and this is where I encountered a bit of a problem: the sound was scratchy and of a lower quality than when I streamed Spotify from my iPhone directly to my receiver. Oh, oh, do I have a problem? Is this unit defective? This is why I held off writing about the new Roku unit.
The answer is that I believe the issue I was experiencing was tied to the Spotify app not the Roku unit itself. The issue has not reappeared and so far I have had no issues with the new Roku 4. Best of all, at least so far, I have never had to reboot the device due to overheating.
Before Apple changed its remote, many Apple TV owners preferred using the Apple Remote mobile app to control the streaming device, so much was the old remote disliked. The new Apple TV comes with a better remote, but for a while the remote app on their iPhone no longer worked (they corrected that).
Roku has always had a superior remote, but it has also has had a very good mobile app solution. It still does, and there are times when controlling your streaming device via your smartphone makes sense. For instance, I can use the Roku app while also using my Denon app to control my receiver. There are also third party apps that apparently work with the Roku, though I have not tested any of these. (Just how many remotes or remote apps is too many?)
One other feature of the Roku app that should be mentioned: the ‘Play on Roku’ feature in the app not only allows you to stream your media to your TV through the Roku, but also use pinch-to-zoom, as well. If you’ve ever AirPlayed your photos before and was frustrated that you could not zoom in, then the Roku’s app will be obviously superior. (One can also use your photos as a screensaver.)
All-in-all, the Roku is a worthy investment, and with its 4K streaming, an obvious upgrade choice for fans of the Roku 3.
** A TNM reader makes a recommendation for Rpku 3 owners with heat issues. He says this mobile fan> did the trick for him.
For information on the Roku developer account, check out this page. Several major publishers currently have Roku app channels, though only a few have done much interesting. This remains an area where I think digital publishers can diversify and expand their reach.