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Roku Streaming Stick Plus review: Still the best 4K HDR streamer for the money

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The Good The Roku Streaming Stick Plus delivers 4K and HDR video in a compact package for an affordable price. Its dead-simple interface puts every streaming service on a level playing field. Roku's responses are lightning fast, its video quality as good as any streamer, and its remote can control your TV's volume and power.

The Bad The menus can seem dated compared to rivals, it lags behind Fire TV for voice support and it doesn't stream in Dolby Vision.

The Bottom Line With its simple design and focus on features you'll actually use, Roku's most affordable 4K HDR streamer is one you should get.

9.6 Overall
  • Design 9
  • Ecosystem 10
  • Features 9
  • Performance 9
  • Value 10

Streaming device leader Roku has a whopping eight models in its 2019 lineup, including updated versions of the $30 Roku Express and the $100 Roku Ultra. Yet despite this influx of new blood, the company's best model is one of its oldest. The Roku Streaming Stick Plus streams the 4K and HDR video from Netflix, Amazon, Vudu, Apple TV and others, comes with worthwhile features like a voice remote with buttons that can control your TV and runs Roku's best-in-class streaming system. It has all of the stuff you need and none of the fluff, and permanent price drop to $50 makes it an even better value than when it debuted two years ago.

The Streaming Stick Plus' closest competition is the Amazon Fire TV Stick 4K, which also costs $50. Its advantages over the Roku include Dolby Vision HDR support and superior voice support thanks to Alexa. Fire TV's menus are more modern-looking than Roku, but they're also more cluttered and confusing, and steer you toward Amazon's own TV shows and movies. 

To take full advantage of 4K apps you'll need a new 4K HDR TV, but even if you don't have one, it's worth considering the Plus over cheaper, non-4K streamers like Roku Express. The price difference between the two is so small it might be worth paying in case you do get a 4K TV soon, and want to be ready. Meanwhile the Roku Streaming Stick Plus is also a hands-down a better value than the $180 Apple TV 4K or $150 Nvidia Shield

In the two years since its release, the Streaming Stick Plus debuted, nothing has matched its simplicity, affordability or performance. It's Roku's best streamer for the money and Roku makes our favorite streaming system. That's why the Streaming Stick Plus remains our favorite streamer overall and a worthy recipient of the 2019 CNET Editors' Choice Award.

Roku need-to-know-ku

  • The Streaming Stick Plus designed to hide behind your TV and plug directly into a free HDMI port. If space is tight you can use a male-to-female HDMI cable or "port saver," and Roku will even send you one for free.
  • The Advanced Wireless Receiver cable plugs into the stick with an old-school Mini -- not Micro -- USB connection. The Receiver in turn plugs into the supplied AC adapter, or a USB port on your TV, for power.
  • If you elect to power the stick from your TV it takes longer to boot up so plugging directly into AC is usually the best route.
Roku Streaming Stick Plus

That thing in our right hand is the Advanced Wireless Receiver.

Sarah Tew/CNET
  • You can't use the Plus without the Receiver cable. We tried plugging an old USB-to-Mini-USB cable in instead and received an error message.
  • Unlike the Fire TV Stick 4K, the Plus lacks Dolby Vision HDR, so all HDR is delivered as HDR10. This isn't a big deal unless a) you have a Dolby Vision-capable TV, and b) it performs significantly better with Dolby Vision compared to HDR10. If you want Dolby Vision, your only current streaming options are the Fire TV Stick 4K, the much-more-expensive Apple TV 4K or 2019 Nvidia Shield, or the apps built into your television.
  • 4K HDR video on Roku is currently available from Netflix, YouTube, Amazon Vudu, Apple TV and FandangoNow. Apps with 4K (but not HDR) support include Plex, UltraFlix, Toon Goggles, 4K Universe and Smithsonian, as well as a few other niche apps. No other platform can match that selection.
  • Streaming in 4K requires more bandwidth, and in the case of Netflix, a more expensive plan. Amazon recommends 15Mbps is ample for 4K streaming, while YouTube and Netflix recommend 20.
  • The Roku Stick Plus can support Dolby Atmos, Dolby's best in-home audio format. The only two apps which currently stream Atmos via Roku are Vudu and Amazon Prime Video, and it was passed through with no issues in our tests.
  • The slightly faster Roku Ultra offers most of all the same features as the Streaming Stick Plus, but adds several remote-centric functions. Its remote adds two voice shortcut buttons, a headphone jack for private listening, and a remote finder so you don't lose it among the couch cushions. There's also an SD card slot to expand the memory for faster app loading, a USB port and a wired Ethernet port. Check out Roku's full 2019 player lineup here.
Roku Streaming Stick Plus
Sarah Tew/CNET

4K stick with the Roku you know (ku)

The iPhone has used a basic grid of apps since time immemorial, because it works and people are used to it. So does Roku, and every time we ask the company representatives about an update they essentially tell us it's working too well to mess with. And for the most part, we agree.

Roku's home page is fully customizable, allowing you to move app tiles to taste. All apps get equal footing, from Netflix to Toon Goggles, scrolling through them is smooth and fast, they launch quickly and responses within every app we tried were lightning fast. The interface doesn't surface individual shows and movies on the home page, like Fire TV, but it's visually simpler and less intrusive; there's just one big ad to the right of the app list.

Stronger on apps and search, weaker on voice

Roku continues to have more apps than the competition, as well as best-in-class cross-platform search. We love that results are sorted by price, especially since Movies Anywhere allows you to consolidate your Vudu, Amazon, Google Play and even iTunes libraries. Now if only Vudu would update its Roku app to something like the clean experience it uses on Apple TV.

Roku has a few extras not found elsewhere, including My Feed and headphone private listening via the Roku app (if you want it on the remote, you'll need to get an Ultra), but the most important is the Roku Channel. It's a hub for on-demand movies and TV shows and also includes live news feeds, a Kids section and even subscriptions to services like HBO. Most of the content there is free (with ads) and it's only available on Roku players, Samsung TVs and mobile apps.

Featured Free is another Roku-only extra. The idea is to surface TV shows from network apps that are available to watch immediately without having to sign in to those apps. Clicking a show title, like New Amsterdam, Family Guy or Grey's Anatomy, launches the app (NBC, Fox Now or ABC, respectively) and begins playing the episode (with ads). The section also mixes in movies from The Roku Channel and plenty of older shows available to watch for free, like Seinfeld (from Sony's Crackle), Duck Dynasty (from Tubi TV) or Hell's Kitchen (from the Roku Channel). 

Sarah Tew/CNET

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