Roku Streaming Stick 4K review: This $50 streamer has a huge secret
Rokus are interesting products to review because they’re refreshingly boring.
Every year Roku tweaks its lineup to offer a bit of a better value compared to the previous one, and usually, those spec bumps don’t make meaningful waves to warrant buying a new one.
The reason anyone buys a Roku streaming player is out of a strong disdain for their terrific looking 4K HDR TV’s “smart” interface. Think of the visual garbage pumped out to run TVs from Samsung, Vizio, and LG. Stick a Roku on the back that ticks all the boxes your TV can run and never touch that built-in interface again. A tale as old as time.
In that regard, the new Roku Streaming Stick 4K does that job as well as every Streaming Stick before it, just ticking off more boxes. The addition of Dolby Vision to the Streaming Stick 4K this time around means that the $50 device can fit into basically any 4K HDR TV without leaving functionality on the table, with one apparent exception if you go by Roku’s spec page.
Secret Dolby Atmos
The official specs for the Streaming Stick 4K, and the comparison tool on Roku’s website, state that the Streaming Stick 4K doesn’t support Dolby Atmos. This would mean that the Streaming Stick 4K is intended less for people buying a high-end TV today and more for people who bought an earlier 4K HDR smart TV that doesn’t support Dolby Atmos passthrough to external soundbars (this is the case for lots of great TVs made in 2017, for instance). For the price, this is a pain point but not necessarily a dealbreaker, and I’d be fine recommending the Streaming Stick 4K to anyone who doesn’t need Atmos.
But, uh, the Streaming Stick 4K does support Dolby Atmos. No caveats. It just does. I was able to stream content from Disney+, Apple TV+, and Netflix all in Atmos. I confirmed this from the Sonos app for my Arc soundbar, which always indicated the audio output format.
I asked Roku about this contradiction between its specs page and what the device is actually doing. Roku says this is a licensing issue with Dolby. In order to print the Atmos logo on the box, Roku would need to pay Dolby a fee and perform the Atmos decoding process on the streaming device. However, Roku does not need to pay licensing fees if it simply passes through the encoded Atmos data to your AV system to do the decoding on that end. Roku says there should be no difference in audio quality here, so it didn’t pay for the fees. In my experience, I found this to be the case. Dolby Atmos movies sounded just as good from the Streaming Stick 4K on my system as they did from my Atmos-certified Apple TV 4K.
So now I have to evaluate the Streaming Stick 4K not as a good upgrade for legacy TV owners but as a viable option for anyone buying a new TV today. In that regard, the Streaming Stick 4K gets the job done with a few notable caveats, and it’s doing so in a market that’s evolving very fast thanks to new pressure from the likes of Google. The Streaming Stick 4K is a very solid media player, but I fear Roku still needs to do more to stave off competition from Google.
You can grab a Streaming Stick 4K for $50 or pay $70 for the Streaming Stick 4K+ that comes with Roku’s rechargeable “Pro” remote. The Roku remotes now come with quick launch buttons for Netflix, Hulu, Disney+, Apple TV. These are all services I regularly use so I am happy to see them here, but if you want more quick launch buttons that you can customize (and the ability to customize what those branded buttons do), you’ll need to shell out for the Pro remote. Selling remote space is a big part of Roku’s business, but I am at least happy that the company is taking money from entirely mainstream services now.
Inside the Streaming Stick 4K is a new chipset that Roku claims makes the device 30 percent faster to launch. This leads to day-to-day use that’s certainly snappier than other Streaming Sticks I’ve used in the past, but it’s just slow enough for me to notice. The Streaming Stick 4K is quick to start up and turn on my TV. It also launches apps fast enough for most people to be fine with — less than 20 seconds to boot most apps in my testing. If you’re looking for it, you will definitely notice the speed shortcomings here.
Navigating the interface can be a tad delayed at times, with button presses not translating to an animation as quickly as I’d like to see. The speed isn’t a dealbreaker, but if you’re used to something as snappy as an Apple TV, Nvidia Shield TV, and even Roku’s own Ultra, you will notice the sluggishness here. Importantly, I never experienced major lag with the Streaming Stick, something I cannot say about the Chromecast with Google TV (in spite of its very nice interface).
One thing I did appreciate is the memory management of the Streaming Stick 4K. I was able to jump between multiple apps without having to reload them from scratch. You probably don’t watch TV by jumping between apps all the time, but it does equate to faster browsing when you’re looking for something to watch between apps. This is important since Roku OS still doesn’t have a “continue watching” home screen like on Apple TV and Google TV.
All the specs
The Streaming Stick 4K is still using a micro-USB cable, which is annoying, but you also need to use the pack-in cable to get Wi-Fi as well. The cable has what looks like a tumor to house the Wi-Fi receiver array, both 2.4GHz and 5GHz. I hate micro-USB as much as the next person, but I can live with it on stationary devices that are always plugged in. The cable also helps to get the Wi-Fi antennas away from your TV’s components which are bound to cause interference. It was, however, on the verge of being too short to plug into my wall-mounted TV, so if its length, falling just short of five feet, is too short, you will need to buy a USB extension cable (Roku sells one for $10, but it comes with an extra power adapter, creating unnecessary waste).
Roku says that the Wi-Fi algorithms in its latest software, Roku OS 10.5, have been updated to make devices play nicely on crowded Wi-Fi networks by using bandwidth more intelligently. The Streaming Stick 4K doesn’t support Wi-Fi 6 since Roku believes better Wi-Fi 5 performance would benefit more people who don’t want to replace their router (not entirely misguided).
The Streaming Stick 4K also has an HDMI 2.0b connector instead of HDMI 2.1. However, Roku says the Streaming Stick 4K hardware is fully HDMI 2.1 capable. When asked to clarify this, Roku says there are lots of features inside the HDMI 2.1 spec that it wants to support. Like higher quality 10-bit video, or quick media switching (QMS) that makes the process of switching your TV’s refresh rate dynamically much smoother to suit the refresh rate of the movie you’re watching. The problem, Roku says, is that it can’t say the Stick has an HDMI 2.1 port unless it supports the full suite of features inside 2.1 including 8K video output. The company says it’s working with the HDMI organization to allow piecemeal support of features.
The lack of HDMI 2.1, for the time being, is more of a future-proofing concern. There isn’t a single streaming service that offers 10-bit video support yet, for starters. Also, the 2021 Apple TV 4K, which has a certified HDMI 2.1 port, doesn’t support other 2.1 features like QMS yet. Just keep this in mind if you’re planning on buying a streaming stick for your HDMI 2.1 equipped TV.
Ultimately, the reason people buy a Roku is simplicity. People of all ages can navigate Roku OS with little issue. I’m sure everyone reading this has a positive story to tell about giving a Roku to an aging relative.
The Roku OS is still as simple as ever, but Roku has made a few updates to the OS that make the experience a bit nicer. Voice search can now launch directly to the show or movie you want in basically any app, including Netflix. The company is also pushing free TV content much more aggressively with updates to the Roku Channel app and a dedicated live-TV tile on the home screen. This isn’t quite the kind of content I want to watch, but Roku says it's something that matters to its customer base.
One feature I really liked about the new OS is a revamped Roku app on iOS that lets you use the company’s long-running Private Listening feature with your own phone and headphones over Bluetooth. When your headphones are paired, open the app and go to the remote tab, then tap the settings to calibrate Private Listening. Running the test records a series of color flashes on your TV and sound to measure the delay. It works really well. What’s better is that multiple people (up to four) can participate in Bluetooth Private Listening. This is a great feature for partners who want to watch their favorite show at night without disturbing their children.
Multiple people can participate in Bluetooth Private Listening.
Currently, this is limited to iOS devices, but Android support is coming. It’s also limited to stereo audio, so it’s not going to be as immersive as Spatial Audio using AirPods on an Apple TV 4K. Roku says it can support Spatial Audio on iOS to AirPods, but it would require Apple to first open up some of its APIs.
My only hangup is that Roku’s OS is still a bit too simplistic. The latest update is nicer than before, but the Google TV interface is really, really nice. While the interface that Chromecast runs on is not the quickest, Sony and even longtime Roku partner TCL are making terrific TVs using the Google TV interface. I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that Google is one good update away from eating Roku’s lunch with its Chromecast dongle. Roku still has the upper hand, but it would be nice down the line to see it take a crack at cross-app content aggregation. The hardware is as solid as ever, but I’d like to see it treat Google TV as a more serious threat on the software side.
While the lack of information on Atmos support is annoying, the Roku Streaming Stick 4K is yet another solid upgrade to one of the most reliable streaming products around. This is a product you can confidently buy for family and friends as a stocking stuffer, and know it will suit almost any home theater setup they have.
This is a product you can confidently buy for family and friends as a stocking stuffer.
If you consider yourself an AV enthusiast and need to have Ethernet and the fastest software experience Roku has, the upgrade to the Ultra is still worth it. It’s good to know that in terms of content delivery, the Roku Ultra and Streaming Stick 4K are completely identical when it comes to format support. Both of these will work with any 4K HDR TV, and deliver Dolby Atmos audio, even if Roku can’t officially put an Atmos logo on the box for the Stick. When deciding between these two devices, it really comes down to the speed of the experience.
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I have been advocating for 2 years since I bought my 2018 6-series 65" TCL/ROKU TV, it came preloaded with the dolby app, it passes Atmos just fine for Disney+ and Vudu Movies App.
Ive emailed Dolby, TCL, Roku, spoke with Netflix's teir 1 tech support for 2 hrs taking pics of my operating system etc. After 2 weeks they emailed me back and said my device was incompatible with the Atmos format.....😔 🤦♂️... What!!!
Emailed Dolby, they pointed the finger at Netflix.
Then Netflix pointed the finger at the manufacturer stating that they leave the option up to the manufacturers to choose what format options are selected for their apps.
Emailed and called Roku, that was a nightmare as I spoke with someone from a call center overseas in the Phillipines, they didn't understand what I was asking about.
And just 2 days ago I commented on Dolby's latest YouTube video about enjoying atmos in Netflix, they referred me to their tech support page, I emailed them again, sent the same pics, power cycle.... Etc. I told them, my TV is capable of passing Atmos signals, the app need to be updated with atmos enabled!
Roku actually has Atmos up and running for Netflix with the 2019 MINI-LED TV, the 8-series. You can see the "Atmos" format tag on the Netflix app during The YouTube review of the TV by Digital Trends.
I saw that and I was immediately appalled and in shock because of my 2 years of effort to get someone to update the **bleep** app.
This is insanely, unnecessarily maddening!
I TRULY don't know what's going on here.
Before it's asked, I have a Netflix premium subscription since 2017, it's set to "High", I have 400mb/sec internet, I have a Vizio Atmos soundbar connected via HDMI, my TV audio setting is set to Auto detect, the programming I check regularly after Netflix app updates is the Netflix movie "Bright" starring Will Smith, it's an Atmos formatted movie, it only shows "5.1", Dolby Vision shows, just not Atmos.
I deleted Netflix, re started my TV via the setting option, redownloaded Netflix, checked the movie "Bright" still only "5.1"
Again, Atmos works for Disney+ and the Vudu movies app.
This isn't rocket science it would seem, why hasn't this been addressed?
I just want to enjoy what I paid for in all of its glory/potential.
Roku TV - 7121X
TCL model - 65r615
Serial number - YS00VF320951
Software Version - 9.2.0
Build - 4504-30
Netflix App - Version 4.2
(Atmos soundbar) SB46514-F6
Here's a pic from a YouTube review of the TCL/ROKU 8-SERIES (Q825) released in late 2020, the TV has "mini-led" technology.
Now, when oh when can we all get ATMOS enabled for our versions of Netflix???
I have a 2018 tcl/Roku TV, the 6 - series (65r615) I'm still waiting for Atmos to be enabled in my build of the Netflix app.
I have Netflix app version 4.2.81179053
The youtube channel was Digital Trends.
There are quite a few movies and episodic series on Netflix that feature Dolby Atmos audio. But getting the immersive audio format on your system isn’t automatic. There are several things that need to be set up before you’ll hear Atmos kick in. But when it does, you’ll notice a huge difference between the 5.1 audio most Netflix titles use. When combined with HDR (via Dolby Vision on Netflix) the two Dolby formats provide best in current consumer home theater technology.
What Is Dolby Atmos?
Dolby Atmos is an object-based audio format that brings immersive sound effects to movies that would otherwise play in 7.1, 5.1, or 2.1 channels. Mainly, Atmos brings a height element to audio environments in which sound is bounced off the ceiling (or, directly from above with ceiling-mounted speakers) so audio can be heard from overhead and behind.
Obviously, Dolby Atmos in home theaters is a watered-down version of what you would experience in Atmos-enabled cinemas, but there is definitely a noticeable difference at home.
The audio format can be found on Blu-ray Discs, 4k Ultra HD Blu-rays, and digital movies (both in 4k Ultra HD and HD resolution). Netflix,Apple TV+, Amazon Prime Video, Disney+, HBO Max, and Vudu all offer Atmos with select titles. Here are some steps that should help you get Dolby Atmos playing on your audio system.
A Dolby Atmos Speaker System
To hear Dolby Atmos you need to have an audio system that supports it. This means your speaker system, soundbar, and/or AV receiver can all deliver Atmos. The product box and manual for your device should have the Dolby Atmos logo on it. Note: Most TVs do not have speaker systems that support Dolby Atmos audio although a few select do (see models on Amazon).
Soundbars like the Sony HT-ST5000 and Samsung Q700A Q Series are fairly easy to set up as there are only two speakers: the bar itself and a subwoofer for bass frequencies. However, soundbars can be expanded or purchased with additional speakers. Multi-channel surround systems like the Klipsch Reference 2X R-625FA will require an audio receiver that supports Dolby Atmos, but the quality you get far surpasses that of a 2-speaker soundbar system.
Home theater audio systems can vary according to how many speakers are set up. Atmos systems are usually configured in one of three ways.
1. A soundbar with speakers that angle upward to bounce off ceilings
2. A multi-speaker system with back speakers that bounce sound off the ceiling
3. A multi-speaker system which has speakers installed in the ceiling
See Dolby Atmos sound systems on Amazon.
Connect Your HDMI Cables
First off, make sure you purchase at least 18Gbps HDMI cables for optimal video playback. Audiophiles looking for even higher quality audio should consider faster HDMI cables.
Since most TVs do not support Atmos through their built-in speakers you will need to connect the Smart TV, streaming media player like Apple TV, or Blu-ray player to the HDMI input of a Dolby Atmos-supporting AV receiver or soundbar. Those devices must be able to support Atmos passthrough.
Most audio systems have more than one HDMI input which is ideal for having more than one playback device. For example, HDMI1 and HDMI 2 can be used to connect a streaming media player and 4k Blu-ray player. If you have more devices than the provided HDMI inputs consider getting an HDMI splitter to get all your devices connected to the sound device.
HDMI-Arc is the port you’ll want to use to have your TV re-route sound through the sound system. This ensures the TV audio (from cable, satellite, or over-the-air signal) plays through the sound system and not the TV. We should mention that because Apple TV 4k uses a high bandwidth form of Dolby Atmos it will not work using ARC connections. So, use a normal HDMI port to connect Apple TV 4k separately.
It should be noted there are some Dolby Atmos sound systems that don’t support HDR (Dolby Vision / HDR10 / HDR10+).
Netflix Premium Account
You’ll need to subscribe to the Netflix Premium plan (currently $17.99 per month) that offers 4k Ultra HD resolution and Dolby Atmos audio. The Premium plan also allows streaming on 4 screens at a time and downloading to 4 tablets or phones. You should also set the Playback options to High or Auto to allow Dolby Atmos.
Find a Dolby Atmos Movie, Series or Special
Search for “Dolby Atmos” or refer to our list of 4k Dolby Atmos titles on Netflix. If a movie or show supports Dolby Atmos a small logo (pictured above) will appear under the title. It should be to the right of the icon for Ultra HD resolution. Note that if a title does support Dolby Atmos it may not also show the icon for Dolby Vision. Refer to our list for clarification.
Check Your Sound Bar or Receiver
Your soundbar or AV receiver should indicate when you are playing Dolby Atmos. For example, Samsung displays a blue light on the speaker when Atmos is enabled. Sony shows the label DAtmos or Dolby Atmos on the TV or device when pressing the Display button. If your audio device or speaker does not tell you it’s playing Atmos it probably isn’t.
We hope you are successful in getting Dolby Atmos to work on Netflix. If you still have trouble you can always call the manufacturer of the audio system you are using for help. Look in the device manual or search online for troubleshooting questions and answers.
Shop: Dolby Atmos Sound Systems on Amazon
Also Read: How To Get Dolby Atmos on Apple TV
There are a number of posts calling on Roku to fix the lack of Atmos on Netflix and Amazon Prime. I don't get Atmos from either service but I do get it from Disney+
I spent about an hour on a support call to Netflix a couple of days ago and the concluded my setup is not compatible - they had no response to my, "but it works seamlessly with Disney+, I don't need a higher subscription for extra money (Netflix), I don't need to search for multiple versions of the show (Amazon) - it just works. Available shows display the Atmos flag, and the Amplifier displays, "Dolby Atmos" while playing"
I have a feeling that they are tying UHD video to UHD audio if you don't have 4K video you won't get Atmos.
All device connections are HDMI
Internet is Ethernet with CenturyLink 1GB service
Seems to me that Netflix & Amazon need to upgrade their services to support capable configurations. I intend to post this comment as a support ticket on both platforms.
Roku netflix atmos
Dolby Atmos on Netflix
We support streaming with Dolby Atmos audio on select titles.
To stream with Dolby Atmos audio, you need:
Which devices support Dolby Atmos audio with Netflix?
For exact device models with Dolby Atmos available, search the Netflix Help Center for your device. If Dolby Atmos is available on your device, the models on which it is available will be provided in the features section. Or, contact your device manufacturer for more information.
How do I set up Dolby Atmos audio on my device?
For Dolby Atmos setup instructions on your device, contact your device manufacturer for more information.
How fast does my internet need to be to stream Netflix with Dolby Atmos audio?
We recommend an internet connection speed of at least 3 megabits per second to stream titles with Dolby Atmos audio.
How can I find titles with Dolby Atmos audio?
If you have a Dolby Atmos capable system and a plan that supports streaming in Ultra HD, available titles will show a Dolby Atmos icon next to their description:
Not every episode or season of a Dolby Atmos supported TV show will have Dolby Atmos available. Also, not every TV show or movie supports Dolby Atmos in every language.
Device-based Dolby audio decoding is a requirement for NetFlix Atmos (NF's requirement), so in order to support Dolby Atmos on NetFlix this was a necessity, especially given the Dolby Vision support (it would be silly for NF on the Roku to have DV support but not DA support, and is probably not allowed by NF anyway - they probably also require any device that wants NF DV support to also have DA support, which requires device based Dolby audio decoding).
You may also notice that recently released RokuOS 9.4.0 build 4155 available for current player models removes/changes the audio options (aside from the 4640 due to decoder and optical output): you can no longer manually select the connected device/system audio codec support level (its only "Auto-detect" or "PCM-stereo" now) for "HDMI", and "Auto (...)" and "stereo" for audio mode.
This change was most likely made anticipating the decoding capabilities of the 4800 (Ultra 2020) - it most likely retains the older manually selected HDMI modes (at least in terms of Dolby audio), and those would actually indicate decoded/transcoded output levels - to avoid confusion with player models that cannot decode/transcode, the previously confusing/misunderstood "detected device capabilities" audio settings were removed (they were in fact, confusing since most assumed these were decoding/transcoding settings though they werent).
The 4800 will likely (hopefully?) have a (labeled?) setting for passthrough versus decoding/transcoding, output mode, but all that remains to be seen (they could assume/presume that "auto"=passthrough and manually configured everything else=internal decode/transcode).
The best speculative insight of how this is likely to be handled in the 4800 (before release obviously) is with a 4640 that has 9.4.0-4155 installed, so if somebody with a 4640 and 9.4.0 could check/test/comment, that would be good...
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