HDMI streaming sticks quickly bring video streaming services to televisions that do not support them by default. Unfortunately, many models are rather lame compared to set-top boxes. Not so, but Amazon’s Fire TV Stick 4K Max, which quickly took the lead among the most popular streaming sticks. But now it has got competition: with Rokus Streaming Stick 4K. Which of the two is the better choice?
Even the addition of “Max” makes it clear where Amazon’s new Fire TV Stick 4K is in the hierarchy of the series: right at the top, with a performance difference of 40 percent compared to the previous, still available top model, according to the manufacturer. This is made possible by a quad-core processor with 1.8 instead of 1.7 gigahertz, a GPU with 750 instead of 650 megahertz and more RAM (2 instead of 1.5 GB). This allows you to switch between apps faster than with the Fire TV Stick 4K, which made a mediocre impression on this point.
The 4K Max is also Amazon’s first stick with Wi-Fi 6, but this only becomes an advantage when streams go to multiple Wi-Fi 6 devices in parallel. The new remote control that Amazon is now also including with the Fire TV Stick 4K (without Max) is immediately helpful: Amazon Video, Amazon Music, Netflix and Disney + can be called up directly via four buttons. The new remote control also sends voice commands to the Alexa integrated in the stick at the push of a button. At 65 euros, the list price of the Max is well above the current price of the 4K basic model (35 euros), but you still have to buy the Ethernet adapter for 15 euros if necessary.
The Fire TV Stick 4K Max (from € 54.90) plays videos up to a resolution of 2160p60, also with increased contrast in the formats HDR10, HLG, Dolby Vision and HDR10 +. Dolby Atmos output shouldn’t be a problem with the Fire TV Stick 4K, but it never worked with Netflix. The Max model, on the other hand, also outputs suitable Netflix content in 4K / Dolby Vision with Dolby Atmos.
Roku’s new alternative
Amazon’s top stick is now getting competition from a company that has just arrived in Europe. At the end of September, Roku celebrated its entry on the German market with the streaming players “Roku Express” and “Roku Express 4K”. What was still missing from the premiere at the time, however, was a competing model for the Fire TV Stick 4K Max. Roku has now topped it up with the “Streaming Stick 4K” (from € 35.99) Euros, but in practice it is available for as little as 36 Euros – for example at Amazon.
According to Roku, you shouldn’t have to cut back on the scope of services despite the price. The Roku Stick 4K can also receive video streams with up to ultra-high resolution and output them to a suitable television – including extended contrast range in the HDR formats HDR10, HDR10 + and Dolby Vision. This puts the Roku Stick on par with the Fire TV Stick 4K Max.
Like the smaller Roku players, the Roku Streaming Stick 4K correctly outputs all sound formats up to the 3D version Dolby Atmos in the Prime Video, Apple TV +, Disney +, Netflix and iTunes apps. However, since it does not support HD audio formats, it is not the best choice when it comes to streaming from the NAS, despite the player app.
Siri, Alexa and Google Assistant
The Roku Streaming Stick also offers 4K Wi-FI 5 in combination with MIMO Dual-Band. Amazon is already with Wi-FI 6 with the 4K Max, but this requires a compatible router and is only relevant if you want to play back streams via several Wi-Fi 6 devices at the same time. In the practical test, we didn’t have any problems with the Roku Stick 4K, playing ultra-high-resolution films via WiFi.
The Roku stick is also delivered with a remote control that offers four direct selection buttons – but for the services Netflix, Apple TV +, Rakuten.TV and Spotify. There is also another connection to Apple: Via Apple AirPlay 2 you can stream content from the iPhone, iPad or Mac to the Roku player, and it also supports HomeKit: This means that you can use the Roku stick with Amazon Alexa, the Google Assistant or Control Siri. So it’s more flexible than the Fire TV models that are pinned to Alexa.
Service and advertising
The user interfaces of the two sticks differ significantly: Amazon donated its familiar tile arrangement, on which individual films, series and documentaries are advertised, an additional bar in which you can place your favorite services as a kind of tab. Even if the rows with the tiles below are practically unchanged, this has at least increased the clarity a little. The operation is still not really relaxing – which is also due to the changing banners and automatically starting trailers in the upper area. Amazon continues to display advertising banners on the homepage that not only refer to video offers, but also advertise Christmas cookies, for example.
The Roku interface is much more relaxed: Here you only see the icons of the individual services on the start page, which can be arranged in any order. If you click on an icon, the respective service starts with its own interface – that’s it. So there is no advance insight into what which service is currently offering. But everyone gets along with the operation right away and without introduction. There is also advertising on Roku’s homepage – in the form of a banner on the side next to the icons. Currently, however, only tips on using the Roku player and advertisements for titles of the available services are presented – in the latter case also for those that you have not subscribed to yourself. However, there is no guarantee that it will stay that way in the future.
In a direct comparison, the operation of the Roku stick sometimes looks a bit slower. Switching between different services is noticeably slower: the Fire TV 4K Max often switches over immediately, while the Roku Streaming Stick 4K takes 2 or 3 seconds to organize the data in its memory. But we didn’t find it really annoying, especially since in practice you don’t constantly jump back and forth between the services.
After Amazon fixed a few deficiencies in the sound output with the last update for the Fire TV Stick 4K Max, the two streaming sticks from Amazon and Roku are practically on par. The purchase decision therefore depends on personal taste: Those who find the surface of the Fire TVs too cluttered should find Roku’s approach a pleasant alternative. Anyone who has subscribed to the “big players” Amazon Prime Video, Netflix and Disney will in turn be happy to be able to control them using the direct selection buttons on the new Fire TV remote control.
And if you primarily want to watch streaming content with the best possible image quality, you will be happy with both the top model from Amazon and the Roku Streaming Stick 4K: Both offer significantly more functionality than the cheaper 4K sticks from the two manufacturers. The Roku-Stick does this at the moment only much cheaper than the competing product from Amazon.
Update: In an earlier version of the text it was stated that a payment method had to be saved when registering with Roku. Roku has since canceled this obligation. The text has been adjusted accordingly.