Full HD content is out, and 4K content is in — if you can find a way to play it, that is. The $130 Roku 4, the newest streaming player from the company of the same name, not only plays content at full ultra-high definition resolutions, but also helps you hunt it down across a variety of channels.
I met with Roku at a private press event in New York to check out the new player, which ships this month, and it seems like a good upgrade over the company's current Roku 3 player. The biggest improvement over last year's model is its ability to stream 4K content at 60 frames per second, but the Roku 4 also boasts a 4K content finder, an improved remote control, an upgraded OS and a redesigned mobile app.
Most 4K TVs come with apps built-in, including for popular 4K content providers like Netflix, YouTube and Amazon Instant Video. The Roku 4 looks to help you keep track of 4K content across all these apps (plus M-Go, ToonGoogles and Vudu, with potentially more to follow) and recommends new movies and shows for users to watch. (Rival 4K-capable devices like Amazon's new Fire TV and TiVo's Bolt DVR also alert you to 4K programming.) A 4K UHD section of the channel store will also help users make the most out of their fancy TVs.
I also checked out the new Roku OS 7, which improves the set-top box's search features. The software now trawls more than 20 services to find your desired programs and offer them at the lowest price. Its "Follow" feature, which was formerly restricted to upcoming movies, now allows users to keep tabs on any TV show or film and get notifications if and when it becomes available on a new service, or the price drops. You can even use the feature on actors or directors.
If you lose your remote, you can now press a button on the Roku 4 that makes the misplaced remote emit a loud tone helping you locate it. It's not a must-buy feature, but could be useful for those who perpetually find their gadgets lost behind couch pillows.
Roku's mobile app is also getting a bit of an upgrade. Hotel and Dorm Connect allows users to sign their Roku devices into Wi-Fi networks that have separate sign-in screens, which could be helpful for college students and business travelers. Play on Roku is a feature that allows users to broadcast photos and videos to their TVs using a Wi-Fi network rather than unreliable screen mirroring.
(The Roku 4 still has Miracast screen mirroring available, but the feature is still technically in beta, and we have never gotten it to work quite right in our tests.)
Tom's Guide will have a full review once we get our hands on a unit. Based on my initial impressions, Roku's latest device looks like another solid set-top box that should benefit 4K streamers who want an easier way to find stuff to watch.