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Roku Streaming Stick 2016 review:

Small, speedy, affordable Roku stick is all the streamer you need

Headphones via the app work well when wired

"Private listening," where you plug your headphones into the remote control and automatically mute the TV's audio, is one of Roku's most popular features. The Stick remote doesn't have it, but it does offer an alternative: the app.

Sarah Tew/CNET

To test it I fired up the Roku app on my phone and selected the new Stick from among the available devices. The control screen shows a little headphone icon, and when I tapped it the TV audio muted and sound came through my headphones. I loved the fact that the video I was watching paused automatically when a call came in, and resumed once I hung up.

The only problem I found with the system was lip-sync delay via Bluetooth. With my wired headphones (or my phone's own speaker), the delay between an actor's lips moving and me hearing the sound was nonexistent or at least brief enough that I doubt most people would notice. But when I connected a pair of wireless Bluetooth headphones (Beats' Powerbeats2), sync became an issue -- the delay was bad enough to render the video unwatchable. A second pair of Bluetooth headphones (Skullcandy Grind Wireless) was much better, and sync was generally watchable if still slightly worse than using wired headphones. The moral? Not every pair of Bluetooth headphones will work flawlessly. (And, to be fair, that's often the case with Bluetooth audio lip-sync when watching phone-based videos, too.)

Sarah Tew/CNET

This feature isn't currently available on any other Roku device, although you can pair a Roku 3 remote with the Stick to get private listening via the headphone jack (as well as voice search). It's also worth noting that Apple TV and Amazon Fire TV can connect directly to Bluetooth headphones (no app required) for private listening.

Why Roku rules

These days, just about every decent streaming device has most of the major apps, including Netflix, Hulu, YouTube, HBO, Showtime, Watch ESPN, Plex and PBS Kids, and all offer many, many more. Roku still has the best selection overall, however, especially since it offers Amazon (unlike Apple TV and Chromecast/Android TV).

Aside from iTunes, just about the only notable missing apps are the new Starz, PlayStation Vue, and local file playback favorite Kodi. See the chart for a full comparison.

The Big Chart: What you can watch on Apple TV, Roku, Fire TV, Chromecast and Android TV

A major reason I like Roku better than other platforms is that Roku doesn't have an axe to grind. All of the apps are presented on equal footing, and you can move any of them around on the home page, and eliminate ones you don't like. Amazon and Android TV devices have much more locked-down interfaces. I gotta give credit to Apple TV's new system, however, because it allows pretty much the same freedom as Roku, and adds the option to create folders to better organize your apps.

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Nobody comes close to Roku's search, however. It presents results from 30 different services, more than any other platform. Click on a result, a movie or TV show title for example, and you'll see pricing across all of the services Roku searches. The best part is that if you get the show "for free" as part of a subscription, it will be listed there too.

One catch is that it doesn't search HBO Now, Showtime, or Showtime Anytime (it does search HBO Go, however), so if the movie is available there, Roku's search won't find it. Apple TV will, for what it's worth, but of course Apple currently excludes any of the pay-a-la-carte video providers (like Amazon, Google Play and Vudu) except for its own iTunes service.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Roku is also the best at presenting TV shows and movies across the different services. In addition to the "Follow" feature, which allows you to tag shows, films and even actors and receive notifications for when they're available to stream, there's a new feature available to all Roku devices with the latest software update. It shows the most popular TV shows and movies across all of the services Roku searches, updated four times a day. It's a great way to find new things to watch, although I do wish there were a "Show only stuff I can watch for free" option.

It's also worth noting on a device this portable that the Stick can now connect to "captive portal" Wi-Fi networks, like an Amazon Fire TV can. Roku calls it "Hotel and Dorm Connect" since those are the places that are most likely to use such networks. I didn't test the feature for this review, but Roku's site explains how to use it.

All the streamer you need

The new Roku Streaming Stick is so good, and so inexpensive, that it's tough to think of a reason not to get one. If you're unhappy with your current streaming device for any reason, it should be at the top of your list.

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