Roku Express 4K + (2021) Review

30 second exam

The new Roku Express 4K + (2021) is proof that if you wait long enough for technology to proliferate, you can possibly buy it at an insanely low price. That was the case with SSDs, USBs, and high-capacity RAM, and now the same is true for 4K HDR streaming devices.

What the Roku Express 4K + offers is 4K HDR streaming at up to 60 frames per second over HDMI 2.0b with support for HDR10 +. There’s no Dolby Atmos or Dolby Vision support, two top-of-the-line formats for spatial audio and HDR respectively, but you get most of the features from streaming devices that cost over $ 100 for just $ 39, $ 99.

Although it lacks the high-end formats of the Roku Ultra and its range is a bit shorter than the slightly more expensive Roku Streaming Stick +, the Roku Express 4K + is Roku’s answer to Amazon Fire TV Stick 4K and Chromecast with Google TV – it’s affordable, has all of the same streaming apps, and it comes with a remote.

That being said, we still like the Fire TV Stick 4K and Chromecast with Google TV a bit more than the new Roku Express 4K +. The former offers new experiences like Amazon’s Luna game streaming service, while Chromecast with Google TV has a content-driven approach with solid recommendations. However, both are more expensive, so if you just want the cheapest 4K streaming device, look no further.

Roku Express 4K + price and release date

The Roku Express 4K + dropped in mid-May in the US for $ 39.99, with a cheaper $ 35 version called Roku Express 4K available exclusively at Walmart for $ 35. You can also get the Roku Express 4K in the UK for £ 39.99.

The main difference between the two models is that the Roku Express 4K + (reviewed here) uses a Bluetooth remote control while the standard Express 4K uses an IR remote. For an extra $ 5, it’s definitely worth buying the bluetooth remote that can control the TV.

Where things get a little more confusing is when you talk about the new Roku lineup. It starts with basic HD only Roku Express ($ 29.99) followed by the new Express 4K + ($ 39.99), but there’s also the Roku Streaming Stick + ($ 49.99) which also streams in 4K and often only costs $ 39.99 when it is on sale and the Roku Ultra which also streams 4K content – but can also do Dolby Atmos and Dolby Vision. That doesn’t even mention the soundbar-streaming player hybrids, the Roku stream bar and Roku Streambar Pro (formerly known as the Roku smart soundbar) or TVs with built-in Roku that can sometimes be found for around $ 150, like the TCL Series 3 TVs.

Long story short? Roku makes some great products, but its product line is getting a little hard to follow, even for someone whose job it is to cover streaming devices.

(Image credit: Avenir)

Design

Despite the potential for confusion, it makes sense that Roku named it Roku Express 4K + – it looks exactly like the Roku Express.

At 0.7 x 3.4 x 1.4 inches (H x W x D), it’s almost the same size as the original Roku Streaming Stick and, fun enough, it’s even smaller than the remote that comes with it. found inside the box. But, the advantage of its small form factor is that you can toss it in a bag or store it on your media shelf without taking up too much space.

Roku also includes a two-foot-long HDMI cable in each box, a remote control, and double-sided tape that will allow you to stick the Express 4K + to your TV or any surface. The inclusion of all of these accessories is actually somewhat surprising – while other manufacturers are only too happy to send you outside without all the necessary equipment on hand, the Roku Express 4K + is a complete kit.

The only corner Roku cuts here is that the HDMI cord is on the shorter side. It’s long enough to reach the ports of a 65-inch screen while still lying flat on the table, but barely. If you had a larger TV or wanted to keep the Express 4K + somewhere other than just below the TV, you’ll need another cord.

We have to give Roku some accessories on the remote which comes with a built-in microphone as well as volume buttons and a power button which can control the TV via HDMI-CEC. It’s not as good as the new Roku Voice Remote Pro which has two programmable buttons, a headphone jack, and a mid-range microphone array that can pick up your voice from across the room, but given that ‘It only costs $ 5 more than the basic IR Remote, that’s a steal.

Roku Express 4K +

(Image credit: Avenir)

Roku operating system

If there is a more comprehensive app store on a set-top box, we’d love to see it. Roku might not literally have everything, but it’s as close as it gets. Roku has over 4,500 channels ranging from the mainstays of streaming, like Netflix, HBO, and Vudu, to the obscure – there’s actually a station called “The Fireworks Channel” – so finding something to watch is rarely a problem.

For American viewers, all the big names are here: Netflix, Amazon, Hulu, Disney Plus, Apple TV, Peacock, YouTube, Crunchyroll, Plex and Pandora and Spotify. You can rent and purchase individual movies and TV shows through Vudu and Fandango, the latter being the de facto rental service on the streamer.

The latest addition to Roku’s channel lineup is HBO Max, which finally made its debut after a lengthy contract negotiation process. To download the app, go to the “Featured” section of the channel store or search for “HBO Max” via the Roku voice remote or the Roku app on your mobile device. Once downloaded, follow the onscreen instructions to login through your provider or enter your username and password.

Cord cutters who live in the United States will also have access to Sling TV, as well as The Roku Channel, which offers its own selection of TV shows and movies. If you ever have a hard time finding something to watch, the free featured section of the homepage shows you what is available for free on the different services. These are invaluable resources for cable cutters and a great alternative to channel browsing for people who still have a box.

What is missing here, however, is a built-in and proficient smart assistant like Alexa or Google Assistant. What Roku has to offer is its new Roku Assistant, which can understand and respond to basic queries like “what time is it?” or “what is the date today?” »But cannot significantly interact with your smart home or any of your smart gadgets. Amazon Fire TV Cube and Nvidia Shield both ship with Alexa and Google Assistant, respectively, so the fact that both are missing here on Roku’s high-end player feels like another misstep.

Where we’re ready to give Roku credit, however, is for its integration with Amazon and Google smart devices. While Roku can’t control either of the two platforms, both platforms can be used to control your Roku, which is handy if you don’t want to step on it and grab the remote. (Although, admittedly, we often choose to use Roku’s mobile app in this case.)

The only problem we have with Roku OS is that it isn’t very sleek. We’ve seen the same tile-based app home screen for most of the past decade with little overall change. In some ways, this is great for users who hate the change, but it does mean that Roku OS looks a little less sleek than, say, Google TV, tvOS on Apple TV 4K, or even the new Amazon Fire TV.

Roku Express 4K +

(Image credit: Avenir)

Performance

To start the Roku Express 4K +, you need to sign in to a Roku account (it’s easy if you already have one and slightly more complicated if you don’t) before selecting the streaming service you want to preload on. the device.

Switching from one app to another is done quite quickly, and there’s only a second or two where you might have to wait for a menu to fill up with images. That said, how quickly the stream buffer and menus fill up with images will depend on the speed of your internet connection. So make sure you pay over 15Mbps before purchasing a 4K streaming device.

Even if you pay for a great connection, you probably won’t get all that bandwidth on the Roku Express 4K +. For example, we have an 800Mbps fiber connection in our house router, but the Roku Express 4K + can only use around 40Mbps. This is due, in part, to the location of the Roku Express 4K + (it’s located two pieces from the router) and the design decision to insert the wireless antenna into the player case rather than along the cord. power as we saw with the Roku Streaming Stick +.

The good news? Even at just 40 Mbps, the streams buffered quickly and stayed in 4K HDR quality for all of our streaming sessions. It doesn’t guarantee that you’ll get the same results, but it’s a good indicator for us that the Roku Express 4K + is as good as the Roku Ultra at maintaining a connection, even though it can’t handle Dolby Vision or Dolby Atmos. .

Ultimately, the Roku Express 4K + is a moderately powered streaming device – it’s not the fastest. or the slowest in the market, but somewhere in between. If you want blazing speeds you’ll have to upgrade to a more powerful player, but most people will feel pretty much Roku Express 4K +.

Should you buy the Roku Express 4K +?

Roku Express 4K +

(Image credit: Roku)

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