Roku Streaming Stick review
The Roku Streaming Stick arrives in the UK mere weeks after Google’s Chromecast, and not only does it look similar to Google’s device, it hooks up in much the same way too. It’s designed to plug directly into a free HDMI socket on your TV, and draws power from the TV (or the mains) via a micro-USB socket on its end.
The Roku Streaming Stick is more of a traditional streamer than the Chromecast, however, offering a user interface of its own and a dedicated remote control supplied in the box. Arguably that’s an advantage over the Chromecast, which can be controlled only from a smartphone, tablet or laptop.
To get started, simply plug in the Roku, connect it to your Wi-Fi network and set up a Roku account. Content can then be accessed by installing channels and apps from the Roku store: the packaging claims there are more than 500 to choose from (both free and subscription-based); in the UK this includes BBC iPlayer, 4oD and Demand5 – although oddly no ITV Player – as well as Sky Now and Sky Store channels, providing paid-for access to on-demand TV, movie and sports content. Streaming stalwarts YouTube and Netflix get a look in too, while Spotify, Rdio and TuneIn Radio cover your music streaming needs, among others.
Apps & content
There are also apps on offer to support streaming from local media servers, such as Plex, Twonky and Roku’s own Media Player, while others allow you to connect to photo sites such as Flickr, Picasa and SmugMug. There’s a host of niche-interest channels, both free and premium.
All told, there’s far more content on offer than you’ll find with the Chromecast, and it all works seamlessly. The Roku streams video smoothly at up to 1080p, in as much detail as each service allows, and supports dual-band 802.11n Wi-Fi, so you should have no problem with local network throughput. The Chromecast, by comparison, is limited to single-band 802.11n.
The Roku also gives you a better range of control options. You’ll find yourself using the remote control most of the time, but it’s also possible to mimic the Chromecast’s casting abilities with the Netflix and YouTube apps on your phone/tablet, or to control things via Roku’s own iOS and Android apps. The latter duplicates the remote control buttons, allowing you to navigate the UI, and can also display photos and videos stored locally on your mobile device.
The apps and casting abilities aren’t exactly slick, however. The iOS app is designed for the iPhone, and looks pixellated on the iPad; video-sharing on the Android app works on only five devices (the Samsung Galaxy S III and 4, HTC One, Nexus 4 and original Nexus 7); and while we had no problem casting shows from Netflix, we couldn’t get the feature to work from YouTube.
We also found it frustrating to have to wait more than 30 seconds for the device to boot every time we switched on our TV. The front-end itself, once it appears, is perfectly clear and responsive, but some apps took an age to open after we’d selected them – around 30 seconds for Netflix and 15 seconds for BBC iPlayer.
Despite these rough edges, the Roku Streaming Stick is well worth considering as an alternative to the Google Chromecast. Although it doesn’t match its rival’s simplicity or low price, it provides access to far more content, and its dual-band Wi-Fi capability means you’re less likely to suffer from wireless interference.
Software and OS support
|Operating system Windows 7 supported?||yes|
|Operating system Windows Vista supported?||yes|
|Operating system Windows XP supported?||yes|
|Operating system Mac OS X supported?||yes|
|Operating system Linux supported?||yes|
|Dimensions||27 x 11 x 79mm (WDH)|
Ports and communications
|802.11 draft-n support||yes|