Category Archives: ROKU

Roku Express 4K Inbound to UK



Streaming specialists Roku have added the Roku Express 4K to their UK line-up of devices bringing HDR10+ to UK range for the first time. Priced at £39.99, the Express 4K sits between the HD Express and the Premiere which already offers 4K and comes in the same “fig roll” shape as the original Express.

The Express 4K comes with dual-band WiFi (11ac) to deliver the extra bandwidth needed for 4K but to the delight of people who can’t get a strong enough wireless signal to deliver 4K, the Express 4K can be networked via the microUSB port on the rear, though the necessary gadget will be an optional extra.

Black Roku Unit plus Remote Control

We are dedicated to providing users the simplest way to stream entertainment to their TV at an affordable price,” said Mark Ely, Vice President, Retail Product Strategy at Roku. “The new Roku Express 4K offers tremendous value as 4K streaming has become a benchmark in technology and entertainment. We believe consumers are going to be impressed with the quality they can get from Roku at this price point.

Everything needed to get started comes in the box – Express 4K itself, remote with batteries, power supply, HDMI and USB power cables. It’s a simple remote which uses infrared, so the Express 4K has to have line-of-sight to the remote meaning the Express 4K isn’t suitable for hidden mounting round the back of the TV. If you need an out-of-sight Roku, look at the Streaming Stick+.

In a quick round-up of the tech features, the Express 4K everything up to 4K HDR TVs is supported (HD, 4K, HDR, HDR10, HDR10+). It will deliver 2160p at 60fps (3840 x 2160) and can upscale SD and HD programming. Audio-wise there’s DTS Digital Sound. The Express 4K works with all the major voice assistants: Amazon Alexa, Hey Google and Apple HomeKit. Apple’s AirPlay 2 is supported as well.

For the UK, the Express 4K is expected to arrive in May at all the usual retailers for GB£39.99. If, like me, you are wondering where that leaves the similarly priced Premiere, I suspect it isn’t long for this world.

The Express 4K wasn’t the only announcement from Roku. The company announced RokuOS 10 with four significant improvements.

  • Apple AirPlay 2 & HomeKit will come to all 4K and most recent HD Roku streamers and Roku TVs.
  • Automatic Wi-Fi Network Detection will pick the best wireless connection during the first setup and will proactively suggest alternative wireless networks with better bandwidth.
  • RokuTVs will automatically detect connect game consoles and adjust TV display settings to optimise the screen performance.
  • HDR10+ Support. Currently only available on the Express 4K, HDR 10+ enables dynamic metadata that continuously enhances display settings, so users see the most vivid and brilliant colours throughout the HDR10+ programme streaming.

It’s good to see the Roku getting an update to keep it current. It’s definitely my preferred media streamer as it’s largely ecosystem agnostic, offering all the terrestrial broadcasters catch up services, plus the likes of Netflix, Disney+, Prime Video and YouTube. Regrettably, Google Play Movies is being merged with the user-generated content on YouTube but that’s Google just being stupid.


Fix Rubbish TV Sound with the Roku Streambar



The new Streambar is the latest addition to Roku‘s range of media streamers in the UK. Unlike the other devices in the range, Express, Premiere and Streaming Stick+, which simply stream channels and programmes to the TV, the Streambar looks to address the problem of poor sound from flatscreen TVs by combining a Roku streamer with a compact soundbar. Is this the best of both worlds or a Jack of all trades? Let’s take a look…and a listen.

While the transition from bulky CRTs to LCD flat screens led to 4K and HDR, it didn’t help audio presentation at all. Thinness and narrow bezels aren’t friends to speakers and sound quality suffered. While A/V setups have been popular, they’re typically expensive and require wires all around the room to speakers in the corners. As an alternative, soundbars have become popular in the last few years, providing significant audio improvement without all the cables.

The Roku Streambar isn’t as long as some of the soundbars on the market, measuring around 35.6 cm wide, 6.1 cm high and 10.7 cm deep, and at this size, it fits neatly in front or below the TV. Inside the Streambar are four 1.9″ speakers, two facing forwards and two to the left and the right, providing much-improved audio. There’s a discreet LED just above the Roku logo that’s white in use and red when in standby.

Round the back of the Streambar, there are connections for power, digital audio (S/PDIF), HDMI and a USB port, along with a reset button. If the Streambar needs to be wall-mounted, there are a pair of screw sockets.

The Streambar follows Roku’s long tradition of including everything in the box: there’s no need to nip out for batteries at the last minute. Inside there’s the Streambar, voice IR remote control with AAA batteries, HDMI cable, digital optical cable, power supply (with both UK and European plugs).

Continuing in tradition, the Streambar follows the usual pattern of Roku setup with a couple of tweaks to accommodate the audio requirements. Simplistically, the Roku needs connected to the wifi (11ac – there’s no ethernet) and you need to sign up or sign in.

The main difference between an ordinary Roku media streamer and the Streambar is the sound and the clever trick here is that the Streambar can play audio from any device connected to the TV, whether Freeview, SkyQ or a Bluray player. The Streambar takes advantage of HDMI ARC – Audio Return Channel – which carries the sound signal to the device. It’s available on most new-ish TVs and it’s usually HDMI 1.

If there’s no HDMI ARC, the alternative is to use digital audio and that’s what I had to do with my TV. I have an HD Samsung TV that’s well over ten years old and there’s no HDMI ARC, so it was a digital connection for me. The Roku setup process runs through these different options and shows the necessary steps. It really only takes a few minutes to get the setup done.

Once configured, the Streambar is very much the Roku we all know and love, supporting 4K and HDR. The Roku uses the idea of channels which are kind of like apps, and all the usual UK suspects are available: BBC iPlayer, ITV Hub, 4, My5. In addition, there’s all the subscription channels you can afford: Netflix, Prime Video, NowTV, Apple TV, Disney+, BritBox, Spotify. For your country’s regional variations, check www.roku.com/channelchecker to see what’s available.

Existing Roku users will have all their channels auto-loaded during the Streambar setup and new users can quickly add their favourites by browsing categories or searching for particular apps/channels.

I’m not going to review the Roku user interface in detail as it’s well covered elsewhere (check out my Roku reviews on YouTube) other than to say that the Roku is my favourite media streamer. The UI is simple, straightforward and isn’t trying to sell something all the time (I’m looking at you, Amazon Fire Stick). It seems like I’m not the only one either: over the past five years, Roku’s been the market leader in streaming media players, holding about a third of the market in the US.

There are a few customisations for the Streambar which don’t appear in the other Roku models and as you’d expect, they’re to do with sound. For starters, and most obviously given the tile on the screen, there’s a special Bluetooth app for connecting other devices to the Streambar in order to take advantage of the better speaker.

In addition, there are settings to adjust the audio including the bass, volume and, one of my personal favourites, speech clarity, which makes a reasonable attempt to promote speech over effects.

Prior to installation, my biggest concern about the Streambar was that I was going to have to use multiple remotes to control the volume – that’s the problem I currently have with my Yamaha AV amp. Fortunately, this was completely unfounded and even though my Samsung TV is over ten years old, the TV and Streambar played well together, outputting all sound to the Streambar, regardless of whether the sound signal came from Sky, Freeview or the Bluray player. Any remote could be used to control the volume.

One problem that my wife did encounter was that sometimes the Roku Streambar would go to sleep and wouldn’t rise from its slumber when the TV was turned back on. Using the Roku remote volume buttons normally solved the problem and woke it up but I later discovered that changing the Power setting to Fast Start resolved the issue as well.

As this is a soundbar, let’s focus on the Streambar’s audio qualities. Technically, it supports Dolby Audio but is the sound better than the TV’s? Yes, by a long way. It’s much richer, fuller and deeper with good clarity. TV soundtracks sound much better and more natural, and the effects in films become more emphatic and engaging. I also found it noticeable playing video games on my Nintendo Switch, and there’s a particular jingle on BBC’s Newsround which sounds terrible on my kitchen TV which is totally transformed by the Roku Streambar. Even better, it’s actually possible to listen to Spotify through the Streambar without cringing.

As the Roku Streambar is only 35 cm wide, the stereo separation is fairly limited, but apart from that the Roku Streambar performs well for the money. For sure, it doesn’t sound as impressive as a Dolby 5.1 Surround system, but then the Streambar costs a quarter of the price and doesn’t need cables everywhere. Regardless it’s still a significant improvement over a standard TV.

Before wrapping up the review, an honourable mention needs to go to the inclusion of a USB port on the Streambar. Plug in a memory stick or external hard drive and local media can be played directly, which is great for those with collections of ripped DVDs or home videos. This is the only model in the UK range to offer this, though all models can play from NAS units. And let’s not forget the complementary Roku app which will show smartphone photos and videos on the TV screen.

Having used the Roku for a couple of weeks, I think it’s a worthy upgrade for a not-very-smart flatscreen TV such as my ancient Samsung. You get a top-end Roku media streamer along with a soundbar, just as it says on the box. The RRP of the Roku Streambar is GB£129.99 but there’s currently a Black Friday offer on bringing the price down to £99.99 (offer ends 16/12/20). At either price, it’s a good deal. Available from all good stores.

There’s more in the video below.

The Roku Streambar was provided for review by Roku.


Roku Streambar Coming to UK



In good news for Roku fans in the UK, the company has announced the Roku Streambar will be coming to the country towards the end of October. The Streambar incorporates a Roku streaming player into a soundbar, hence the name, meaning all those movies and TV shows will sound a whole lot better, given the speakers in most flat TVs are pathetically bad.

This is a great addition to the current Roku line-up in available in the UK which includes the Streaming Stick+, the Premiere and the Express: you can catch my unboxing and setup videos below for these products. Priced at GB£129, the Roku Streambar delivers pictures in HD and 4K with HDR support, the same as the Premiere and Streaming Stick+, just with better sound.

In terms of the audio, the Streambar has four 1.9″ full range drivers and has built-in Dolby decoder for great sound while watching films. Roku OS has a few clever tricks up its sleeve too, enhancing speech clarity. Going by some recent films where the speech audio has roundly criticised, that’s not going to go amiss.

Looking at the ports round the back, there’s a socket for optical input, so it looks like you’ll be upgrade all your TV viewing (as long as the TV has an optical out). That’ll be a great upgrade for all TV programmes, not just those coming from the Roku itself.

The Streambar works with Spotify Connect and there’s a Spotify app on Roku so you can fill your living room with high quality sound. There’s Bluetooth connectivity as well if you need to stream from a smartphone or tablet. The Streambar will be good for BBC Sounds as well, which was recently announced for the Roku and offers “live and on demand radio from the BBC’s 18 national and 40 local stations, music mixes curated by experts, artists and special guests, and a wide range of award-winning podcasts.

Alexa and Google Assistant aren’t built-in to the Roku Steambar, but as with other Roku players, the Streambar can be controlled from an Echo or Home device. If Apple is more your walled garden, Apple AirPlay 2 and HomeKit capabilities will be coming some 4K Roku devices later in 2020. This integration will provide better content sharing from iPads and iPhones, and control of the Roku via either the Home app or Siri. Nice.

Overall, this looks like a great upgrade for anyone with a less-than-smart TV – a streaming player and better sound. Good job.

See below for an unboxing and review of the UK versions of the Roku Express and Premier.

 


Good News for Roku Fans in UK



Roku’s had a busy news week (or two) and much of it will be of interest to UK Roku fans. It’s particularly serendipitous as we’re stuck inside avoiding the Coronavirus lurgy, so let’s get stuck in with the fun stuff.

First up, the free Roku Channel is now available to UK residents. It’s a free (ad supported) selection of movies and miniseries, with a couple of big(ish) Hollywood movies from a few years back. There’s a good Kids & Family selection with Teletubbies, In the Night Garden, Bob The Builder and Fireman Sam. Inevitably Ryan’s Adventures puts in an appearance too, along with a Minecraft selection. As I mentioned, it’s completely free so there’s nothing to lose in checking it out.

Next, StarzPlay has appeared in the channel list. It’s a subscription channel priced at £4.99 per month, but there is a free week to whet your appetite. Plenty of recognisable films here: The Hunger Games; Veronica Mars; Sex, Lies and Videotape; Terminal. In addition, a strong selection of series such as Heathers, Castle Rock and Leavenworth.

The House of Mouse drops in on Roku with Disney+. There’s not much more to say other than it’s pure, undiluted fun with the biggest names in cinema history – Disney, Star Wars (Lucas Film), Marvel and Pixar. Oh, and National Geographic’s in there too. I think I’m going to pony up for a subscription. (Sadly, Apple TV+ just doesn’t cut it, though the Roku app is beautiful.)

Finally, there’s an OS update coming soon, bouncing it up to 9.3. This brings a selection of enhancements, included improved performance, better voice search, integration with Amazon Alexa and Google Search, and there’s an updated Roku app.

I think the Roku is the best of the streaming sticks, particularly as it’s platform agnostic and not constantly trying to sell stuff. I’ve reviewed all the Rokus currently on the UK market so if you want to see what they’re like, have a look at these videos.

Roku Streaming Stick+

Roku Express and Premiere
(this is quite a long review!)


Sound Made Simpler with Roku TV Ready



Roku have announced Roku TV Ready at CES, a branding and co-operation programme to ensure that consumer electronics from different companies works seamlessly with Roku TVs.

The first partners under the initiative are existing Roku TV implementer TCL North America and all-new Roku partner, Sound United, the parent company to Denon, Polk Audio, Marantz, Definitive Technology and Classé.

Denon soundbars will be the first to feature Roku TV Ready via a software update later in the year, but with Roku TV Ready, it will be much easier for branded soundbars and audio/video receivers to be setup and controlled via the Roku remote.

When connected, the audio equipment and Roku TV will recognise each other and configure themselves correctly, and integrated sound settings will accessible by pressing the star button on the Roku TV remote. No more hunting for the sound remote.

Roku TV Ready features are expected to be delivered to Roku TV models via the Roku operating system in the coming months.


Roku Express and Premiere (2019 UK) Review



The fight for HDMI 2 is intense these days, with Roku, Apple, Amazon and Google all pushing their streaming devices into the slot. It’s a big market with 28% of “people who stream” using a connected device and with Christmas fast approaching, plenty of are going to be under the tree or in a stocking. The team at Roku have recently refreshed their product line for the UK, upgrading the Roku Express and introducing the Roku Premiere, though the Roku Streaming Stick+ remains unchanged. Let’s take a look at the two new models.

The overall style and function of both devices is broadly the same – in the picture above, the Express is on the left and the Premiere on the right. In the box, there’s a small streaming player, HDMI cable, IR remote control with batteries, USB power cable and an adhesive strip to stick the player to a convenient flat surface. The Roku Premiere also comes with a power adaptor, which may or may not be needed, but with the inclusion of batteries and HDMI cable, no-one’s likely to be disappointed when unwrapping their present.

Unlike the old hockey puck-sized Roku 2-series, the new Express and Premiere are less square and more rectangular, with the Express somewhat reminiscent of large fig roll. The front has the expected smoked plastic for the IR and round the back there’s the HDMI port, the microUSB socket for power and a reset hole (which I’ve never had to use in many years of Roku ownership). On the bottom there’s a smooth flat area that can be used with the adhesive strip. I’m slightly disappointed that the purple Roku tag is no longer on the streamers….

…but fortunately, the tag is still present on the remote control which is the same for both units and the same as last time, apart from some changes to the branding of the shortcut buttons. It’s an IR remote control so line of sight is needed when positioning the small streamers themselves.

So what’s the difference between the Express and the Premiere? Simplistically, the Express is the entry-level model and proves HD quality streaming, whereas the Premiere does HD and 4K with HDR.

Getting started is straightforward as there are only HDMI and micro USB connections. Use the supplied HDMI lead to connect to the TV and the micro USB for power, which the TV may also be able to supply. If not, a USB power supply will be needed: that’s included with the Premiere but not on the entry level Express. Finish off the installation by putting the batteries in the remote control.

Most TVs will switch to the relevant HDMI input when activity is detected – if not, switch over – and it’s now largely a case of following the prompts. The Roku will attempt to auto-detect the type of TV and connection, but you can tweak it if necessary though I had no trouble. Both the Express and the Premiere use 802.11bgn wireless for connectivity so no-one should have any problems, though if you have a long password or WiFi key, using the remote can get tedious. Still you only have to do it once.

Roku offers over 1,500 streaming entertainment channels which are great for followers of niche programming, whether travel, sport, kids, health & fitness or faith/religion. However, the vast majority of UK buyers will be interested in the offerings from the main terrestrial broadcasters plus the well known video-on-demand services. Naturally, Roku has them all. From the British terrestrial broadcasters, there’s BBC iPlayer, ITV Hub, All 4 and My 5. For programmes on demand, there’s Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, Google Play Movies, Disney+ and Apple TV+. And let’s not forget YouTube. For audio fans, there’s Spotify, Deezer, BBC Sounds, TuneIn and Vevo. Newshounds will like the BBC News and Sky News channels. I could keep going but in summary there’s lots there and no-one will ever be able to say, “There’s nothing on the TV”.

If you want to look up what’s available in your country, you can review Roku’s Channel Store on the web. The vast majority of the channels are free to add to your Roku, but some do require payment, either as a one-off, or else as a subscription, such as Netflix.

On the other hand, if you have your own media, the Roku Media Player will play from DLNA servers and a Plex client can be installed too. I streamed ripped movies from a NAS and while picture quality can be subject to network speeds, I had no problems at all and enjoyed HD footage without glitches from all the services that offered HD streaming. Unlike some earlier models of Roku, there’s no longer a USB port or memory card slot, so you can’t play media from local devices.

If you’re a real film buff, you’ll be interested in Roku’s Search and My Feed. The former searches through top channels by title, actor or director to find your favourite programming and the Roku Feed automatically updates you when new films become available for streaming (or if the price changes). Discoveries from Search are automatically incorporated into My Feed, so it’s a great way of keeping track of actors or films that you love.

The Roku’s main user interface is a simple menu-driven big button affair. It’s not nearly as complex as Amazon’s Fire, which combines media from multiple sources and can be tremendously confusing at times. Part of this is because the Roku doesn’t have the integrated cloud-based ecosystem behind it in the style of Amazon or Google, but part is to keep things straightforward and easy to use, much like an ordinary TV.

Frankly, I prefer the channel approach as you know what you are getting, e.g. BBC programming, Netflix’s catalogue, YouTube video. Channel or app sophistication varies hugely: most are good, especially from the big names like BBC or Netflix and the new Apple TV+ channel is very stylish as you’d expect from company.

The remote is easy to use with a directional pad falling easily under the thumb. Other buttons function as home, back and menu controls. There are four shortcut buttons for Netflix, Google Play, Rakuten TV and Spotify, which is great if you use those services, but a waste of space if you don’t. It’s a pity they aren’t more generically labelled, e.g. Films, Music, News, Sport, with a configuration option for each button. Even better would be to print and label your own buttons!

To play media from smartphones and tablets, Roku offers a complementary app (Android and iOS) which can be used to not only manage and control the Roku, but also cast media from the mobile device to the screen. It’s great to show the photos you’ve just taken on the TV. One of the app’s best features is private listening, which routes the Roku’s audio through your smartphone or tablet so you can listen on headphones.

Well, that wraps the review up – we’ve taken a look at the devices themselves and the channels available and it’s all good. The Roku Express and Premiere are both competent media streamers that offer a wide range of channels without being tied into anyone’s ecosystem. Really the only decision you have to make is whether HD on the Express is enough or whether to future-proof for 4K and get the Premiere.

Pricewise, the Express has an RRP of GB£29.99 and the Premiere costs GB£39.99.

If you want to see more of the Rokus, I’ve an unboxing and setup video below.

Thanks to Roku for providing the Roku Express and Premiere for review.


Roku Boosts UK Presence with New Models



UK-based Roku fans will be pleased to hear that the streaming company is launching two new models into the country; the Roku Express and the Roku Premiere. The Express is a refresh of the entry-level model but the Premiere is a brand-new mid-range device offering 4K streaming with HDR. The existing Roku Streaming Stick+ will remain in the product line-up.

This year’s Roku Express is a much softer version of its predecessor and I’d be tempted to say looks a bit like a fig roll – see right. I’m sure the PR people would prefer something like sleek and curvaceous. It’s perfect for your standard HD TV and comes with a simple remote control with popular streaming channel shortcut buttons, an HDMI cable and a power cord.

The mid-range Roku Premiere is a good way to start streaming in HD, 4K Ultra HD or 4K HDR. It actually looks very like the previous generation Express (see left) but nevertheless features a powerful quad-core processor. As before, in the box, there’s the remote control, HDMI cable and a power cord.

I much prefer the Roku interface over other competitive products and in the UK, all the terrestrial broadcasters offer their catch-up services – BBC iPlayer, ITV Hub, All 4, My5 –  and then you’ve also got Netflix, Spotify, Google Play Movies, NowTV and Amazon Prime Video. Roku’s are ideal if you don’t want to get trapped in a particular ecosystem.

We are delivering more value and improved picture quality across the new 2019 streaming player line up for the United Kingdom. The Roku Premiere delivers 4K HDR for a more immersive TV experience,” said Lloyd Klarke, Director Product Management at Roku. “Whether you are new to streaming or demand more advanced features such as better Wi-Fi, 4K HDR and voice search, we have the right streaming player for everyone.

The 2019 Roku streaming players will be available in the UK from early October from all the usual suspects – Argos, Currys, ASDA, Tesco, Sainsbury’s, Amazon and other fine retailers. Pricing is below.

  • Roku Express GB£29.99
  • Roku Premiere: GB£39.99
  • Roku Streaming Stick+: GB£49.99

Don’t forget the UK will be seeing Roku TVs for the first time from Hisense shortly.