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Roku Express 4K review: The new king of budget 4K HDR streaming boxes

Ben Johnston
29 Jun 2021
Our Rating 
Price when reviewed 
40
inc VAT

Not as neat as a stick but the Roku Express 4K is packed with features that make for a top-notch streaming experience

Pros 
Support for HDR10, HDR10+ and HLG
All the streaming services you could want
Versatile and dependable companion app
Cons 
Awkward design
No voice remote
Lacks Dolby Vision
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After leading the charge in the early streaming box races, Roku has developed a solid and varied selection of streaming sticks and boxes. The Roku Express 4K is the latest addition to this line-up, bringing together the best parts of the Roku Express and the Roku Premiere to create the definitive budget streaming box.

While it doesn't have some of the fancier features found on more expensive streamers and isn’t as neat or as elegant as the Roku Streaming Stick+, the Express 4K is still the best option in its price range. For cheap 4K streaming, the Roku Express 4K is hard to beat.

Roku Express 4K review: What you need to know

As mentioned, the Express 4K is not Roku’s first streaming box, nor is it the cheapest. The latter honour goes to the Roku Express, but this only outputs at 1080p resolution. So what's new here?

Mainly, it’s the new low price and the fact that the Roku Express 4K supports dual-band 802.11ac Wi-Fi, where both the Express and the 4K-streaming Roku Premiere only supported single-band 802.11n. That gives users more flexibility on which network to connect to and, potentially, more bandwidth to play with. That’s crucial when streaming 4K content at up to 60fps.

READ NEXT: The best 4K HDR Smart TVs to buy

Roku Express 4K review: Price and competition

The Roku Express 4K costs £40, which is pretty competitive. That makes it £10 cheaper than the Amazon Fire TV Stick 4K, £20 cheaper than the Chromecast with Google TV (currently £60), and £10 cheaper than Roku’s own Streaming Stick+.

All these devices come with voice remotes, though, which the Roku Express 4K lacks, and connect directly to an HDMI port at the rear of your TV. The Roku connects via a longer HDMI cable to your TV and relies on an infrared remote control, so you need to keep it in sight; you can’t stow it away behind the TV if you still want to use the remote.

Otherwise, the critical differences centre on HDR support. The Roku Express 4K has HDR10, HDR10+ and HLG support but lacks Dolby Vision. That’s better than the Stick+, which lacks Dolby Vision and HDR10+, but worse than the Amazon Fire Stick 4K, which covers all four main standards. The Chromecast with Google TV, meanwhile, lacks HLG – the standard used for live broadcast.

Roku Express 4K review: Design and setup

The Roku Express 4K is similar in design to the Roku Express and the Roku Premiere. It’s a plain, black plastic box with a curved top, measuring 86 x 39 x 21mm (WDH). It has an HDMI output, a micro-USB port for power, and a reset button on the rear while, on the front, is an infrared receiver and a power LED.

There’s also an adhesive strip on the underside so you can mount it, semi-permanently to your TV or a nearby surface. And you’ll need to do that because, if you don’t, your HDMI cable will likely pull it out of position.

Once you’ve located somewhere to pop it, setting up couldn’t be simpler. Roku provides everything you need in the box, including a mains adapter and USB cable for those who don’t have a spare USB port on their TV, and a short 0.7m HDMI cable.

Switch it on, and you’ll be met with a simple and user-friendly setup guide and, once connected to the internet and signed in with a Roku account, you’re welcomed to the home screen, where you can quickly and easily add, remove and rearrange the apps you need.

Roku Express 4K review: Content, audio and image quality

And what a lineup it is. In the Film & TV category alone there are 920 apps, with categories provided for comedy, fitness, education and more. All the key streaming platforms and UK channels are present – Netflix, Disney Plus, Spotify, Now, Apple TV, Amazon Prime Video, BBC iPlayer, All4, My5, ITV Hub, Sky Store and Britbox – as well as a whole host you’ve probably never heard of.

Also included here is the Roku Channel, a free streaming service that Roku has clearly been investing in, with films like Dallas Buyers Club and Hannibal Rising appearing prominently, as well as a growing selection of original material. You’re unlikely to find the latest blockbusters on here but, for a free inclusion, it has an impressively expansive catalogue.

No matter what you decide to boot up first, however, the Roku Express 4K performs well and picture quality is excellent. Be it the crisp details in a vast horde of penguins on Netflix’s Our Planet, the gorgeous lighting and moody shadows of BBC iPlayer’s His Dark Materials, or the exquisitely vibrant colours and smooth motion in Disney Plus’ WandaVision, the Express 4K dazzles across the board.

Audio quality is decent here, too, with the Express 4K supporting pass-through for DTS Digital Surround and Dolby-encoded audio over HDMI. Unlike some of its more expensive counterparts, the Express 4K doesn’t support Dolby Atmos but that’s not a deal-breaker.

For late-night viewings, the Express 4K also offers a private listening mode. With this, you can connect a pair of headphones and play audio through your phone via the free Roku mobile app, allowing you to fully enjoy your favourite content without disturbing anyone else in your home.

Roku Express 4K review: Roku OS interface and app

The other major benefit of choosing Roku for your streaming needs is the sleek and simple user interface delivered by the Roku OS. The home screen is clean and easy to navigate, presenting you with five options:

  • Home is where you’ll find all the apps (here called channels) that you’ve downloaded to your device. You can reorganise this screen to bring your favourite apps into more easily accessible positions.
  • My Feed displays notifications for films and shows that you’ve "followed", which is especially useful for finding out when something has been added to one of the streaming services you subscribe to.
  • Search allows you to look for a specific film or tv show. In the results, you can select the content that you were looking for, and then you will be presented with a list of services that it is available on.
  • Streaming Channels is where you find and install the streaming channels you need. Here, you’ll find all the major streaming services, as well as plenty of niche offerings.
  • Settings does what you’d expect, providing options for adjusting video and audio settings, changing network and so on.

Jumping between these options is lightning-quick, with very little delay between input on the remote and action on the screen and the search function is just as speedy.

It’s a shame there’s no voice search facility provided on the remote control, as this would make searching quicker still. However, you can install Roku’s excellent companion app, and use either voice search that way or type your queries using the onscreen keyboard.

With this feature, you can launch apps, rewind, fast forward, pause/play, skip episodes or jump to a specific point, as well as searching for titles by name, or get suggestions by asking for a category or a star.

This function worked perfectly in my tests, launching Netflix, playing WandaVision on Disney Plus, finding films starring Emma Stone and more, all on the first time asking. The voice recognition is also very adept at understanding different phrasings, with “play…”, “find me…”, “look for…”, “bring up…”, and “get…” all delivering the results that I expected.

READ NEXT: The best smart TV platforms

Roku Express 4K Review: Verdict

Although the Express 4K lacks Dolby Vision support and there’s no voice remote, the sheer number of positives make these gripes easy to forgive. The simple and accessible interface makes browsing a breeze and the extensive catalogue of content means that there is plenty of content to watch. If you don’t mind finding a place for it on your TV stand, the Express 4K is pretty much the best you can get in budget 4K streaming.

Roku Express 4K key specifications
Video:Up to 3,840 x 2,160 (4K/UHD), 60fps
HDR:HLG, HDR10 and HDR10+ (requires HDCP 2.2 HDMI input)
Audio support:DTS Digital Surround, Dolby Audio and Dolby Atmos
Apps:Netflix, Disney Plus, Amazon Prime Video, Now, Apple TV, Google Play Movies, Rakuten TV, YouTube, BBC iPlayer, ITV Hub, All 4, My 5, Spotify and many more.
Connectivity: Dual-band 802.11ac Wi-Fi
Ports:HDMI, micro-USB
Size and weight:86 x 21 x 39mm (WHD), 45g
OS:Roku OS

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