Roku Streaming Stick 2017 review: The best streamer if you don't want 4K or HDR

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The Good The Roku Streaming Stick streams Netflix, Amazon, Hulu and the rest in an ultra-compact design for an affordable price. Its remote can control your TV's volume and power. Responses are lightning-fast. The simple menus put every streaming service on a level playing field and offer more apps and better search than competitors.

The Bad The menus can seem dated compared to rivals, and some apps use old-school layouts. Voice search and control is worse than Fire TV.

The Bottom Line For buyers who don't care about 4K or HDR streaming, the Roku Streaming Stick is the best player on the market.

8.4 Overall
  • Design 8
  • Ecosystem 10
  • Features 8
  • Performance 8
  • Value 8

Update: Winter 2018/2019

The Roku Streaming Stick reviewed here was released in October 2017, and it remains our top pick for the best video streamer you can buy under $50 in the US if you don't need compatibility with 4K HDR video. That said, if there's any chance you'll be upgrading to a 4K TV in the near future, it's worth spending as little as $10 to $20 more on the step-up model, the Roku Streaming Stick Plus

On the other hand, if you want the absolute most affordable Roku streaming experience, opt for the Roku Express 2017 (for HDMI TVs) or the Roku Express Plus 2017 (for older analog TVs with only composite yellow/red/white AV inputs).

Check out CNET's best media streamers for more information on competitive products.

The original review of the 2017 Roku Streaming Stick -- first published Dec. 15, 2017, and otherwise mostly unchanged -- follows.

These days just about every TV above 49 inches or $300 has 4K resolution and probably high dynamic range, too, so if you're buying a streaming device for a newer TV, chances are you want one that does that stuff. My favorite this year is the $70 Roku Streaming Stick Plus

But let's say you don't care about 4K streaming or HDR. Maybe you want to connect that new streamer to an older or smaller TV. Or maybe $70 is just too expensive for 4K's admittedly minor boost in video quality. Or perhaps your TV's HDR kinda sucks

For you, 2K SDR dude, the cheapest option is the Roku Express, a device that's packed with all the typical Roku goodness: the industry's best selection of apps, awesome search and the simplest menu system. But the better option is the Streaming Stick.

So compared to the Express, what does the extra money for Roku's latest non-4K Streaming Stick get you? 

  • A sleeker design that hides behind your TV and plugs directly into HDMI, no cord required
  • A remote you don't have to aim at the TV
  • Voice search and voice command from the remote
  • The ability to control your TV's volume and power from the Roku remote

This last one's the biggie. New for 2017, the Roku Streaming Stick's clicker has volume and power buttons that can control just about any TV, and setup is a cinch. If you're sick of having to reach for your TV's remote just to turn it on and adjust volume, stepping up to the Stick might be worth it.

The Stick is also Roku's cheapest device ever to build voice search into the remote, along with some basic commands such as, "launch Netflix" or, "show me some comedies." It's no Alexa-infused Fire TV, however. Speaking of...

Where's the Fire (TV)?

The Roku Streaming Stick's biggest competition is the $40 Amazon Fire TV Stick with Alexa Voice Remote. It's cheaper than the Roku, and runs circles around it for voice control. You can use its voice remote to ask Alexa for just about anything and get relevant results, including onscreen displays like the weather and Wikipedia entries. Better yet, if you own an Echo speaker you can use it to control Fire TV hands-free, no remote required.