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21 Hidden Roku Tricks for Streaming Success

Whether you're a cord cutter or not, you probably want a streaming device for your TV, and Roku remains the most popular option over Apple TV, Google Chromecast, and the Amazon Fire TV Stick, according to Parks Associates.

Part of that popularity may lie in the variety of Roku devices. Roku's lineup now includes the Roku Express, Roku Express+, Roku Premiere, Roku Premiere+Online Extra: Some Additional Tips for Effective Presentations (a PCMag Editors' Choice) and Roku Ultra. There is also the Roku Streaming Stick, which got an upgrade last year.

Whether you just got a Roku or you've had one for years, there's more to know beyond the basics of a Defenders marathon. We've put together 20 ways for you to get more out of your streaming device.

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  • 1

    Cheap Date

    Streaming services are great but they cost money. For a free alternative there's The Roku Channel. It offers movies from Roku partners like Lionsgate, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, Sony Pictures Entertainment, and Warner Brothers. There's no login info or charges to deal with, just a few commercials. Every Roku model will get the channel, which will be rolling out over the fall.

  • 2

    Watch It

    Because Roku is organized by channel, users have to navigate to each one to see what there is to watch. The Roku app does away with a lot of that work via What's On. Tap the What's On icon at the bottom of the app's screen and you'll find shows and movies organized into categories that can be watched with just a click from the page.

  • 3

    Hidden Channels

    Not all available Roku channels are listed in the Roku Channel Store. To find the "secret" ones, check out the Roku Guide. Clink the link you want, then Add Channel, and you'll be taken to a Roku account page. Log in and add the code for the channel and you're set.

  • 4

    Movie-Star Quality

    You can control the quality of your Netflix streaming on your Roku, whether you want to see things more clearly or if you need to stay within a data cap. Log in to Netflix's website, then go to Account > My Profile > Playback Settings.

  • 5

    Fewer Clicks

    As great as the Roku is, navigating from the remote could use some help. Download the Roku app (iOS, Android, Windows) and get the benefit of a keyboard, easy searching, and streaming from your phone or tablet.

  • 6

    Roku Screen Mirroring

    Some Roku devices support screen mirroring from Windows and Android gadgets to your TV (not iOS): Roku Streaming Stick, Roku, Roku 2, Roku 3, Roku Premiere+, Roku 4, Roku Ultra, and select Roku TVs.

    To hook it up, press the Home button on the Roku remote and select Settings > System > Screen Mirroring > Enable Screen Mirroring. If you don't see a Screen Mirroring option, your Roku device doesn't support it.

    On Android, screen mirroring is only supported on devices running Android 4.2 or Lollipop; it doesn't work on Android 6.0 and up. As Roku explains in its FAQ, some Android devices also use different terms for screen mirroring, like Smart View or simply Cast.

    On PCs, screen mirroring works on Windows 8.1 and up.

  • 7

    Save That Screen

    Maybe you paused whatever you're watching and walked out of the room. Or you slept through streaming and now the Roku logo is just bouncing around, like the flying toasters of the millennium. Give yourself something nice to look at with Roku's screensavers. Select Screensavers & Apps from your Roku and you can get an art gallery viewing, hang out by a crackling fire, or keep an eye on the weather.

  • 8

    Big Game

    So it's not an Xbox One X or a Nintendo Switch, but your Roku is still in the game. Go to Games and you can go retro with Pac-Man, race to save an emperor's daughter in Chop Chop Runner, and test your smarts with Jeopardy. The Roku Enhanced Gaming Remote with Voice Search supports motion-control gaming.

  • 9

    You've Got Options

    Roku displays your channels in the order in which you added them. That is unless you select Options (visible on the upper right) using the asterisk key from the Home screen, and reorder them so that your most frequently watched channels are at the top.

  • 10

    Up Up and Away

    If you have a non-streaming stick Roku, it's taking up some real estate next to your TV. Move it out of the way by buying the Roku Mounting System for $9.99, which attaches to the back of your TV.

  • 11

    Cast Away

    If you opted for Roku instead of a Google Chromecast, you can still cast YouTube videos from your mobile screen to your TV.
    Go to the YouTube channel on Roku > Settings > Pair Device. You'll see a string of numbers to enter. Go to your mobile device, open a browser window and go to youtube.com/pair and enter the code. Now when you're in the YouTube app on the mobile device you paired, you can send the video to your TV screen by clicking the cast icon—provided both devices are on the same Wi-Fi network.

  • 12

    Say What?

    If you missed those last few lines, there's a quick way to catch up. Set up instant replay by going to Settings > Captions > Instant Replay. When you hit the Instant Replay button on the remote you also get the text on the screen.

  • 13

    Stream Your Own Stuff

    Though Roku has a ton of different channels and things to watch, you'll probably still want to access your locally stored content on your TV. Sign up for Plex ($4.99 per month, $39.99 per year, or $119.99 for a lifetime) and you can. Plex organizes your scattered content and lets you watch it from tablets, TVs, phones, and more; you can record and watch live broadcast TV, too.

    Download the Plex app. Then, in the Roku app, go to Preferences > Connect Plex account, and follow the instructions to verify the PIN code to connect the app with your Plex account.

  • 14

    We're Doing It Live

    New live TV services are popping up regularly, from Sling TV and DirecTV Now to PlayStation Vue, all of which are available via Roku (Hulu With Live TV is reportedly coming soon). If you're not sure which one is best, check out our comparison chart.

    If you have a subscription to HBO Now or Showtime, meanwhile, you can watch shows and movies as they are broadcast. Sports fans can pay for MLB.TV, NBA League Pass, and NHL.TV and watch games as they happen. NFL games are streamed live and available on demand on a number of services.

  • 15

    Set a Record

    A number of live TV streaming services offer cloud DVR. But if you have an antenna to watch live TV, you can also record it with a device like Tablo TV. Set it up; download the app to your Roku; and you can watch, pause, and record.

  • 16

    In Your Neighborhood

    Cutting the cord doesn't have to mean cutting yourself off from televised local news. NewsOn gives access to local news broadcasts from outlets nationwide. If you're just looking for the weather report, then you can get it with Weather Underground.

  • 17

    Super News

    If you're a fan of the CW's superhero shows (Arrow, The Flash, and Supergirl), then your day was just saved. On Roku, The CW channel no longer requires a sign-in or subscription. You can watch the last five episodes of any CW show, with new episodes available the day after they air.

  • 18

    Universal Search

    There's no such thing as too much content. Unless you're looking for something specific. Instead of scrolling through the offerings of every Roku channel, you can search across lots of them. When you click on the magnifying glass in Roku-level search, you'll get results for over 100 channels whether you have them or not. Search by title, actor, or director and you'll get a comprehensive list.

    Similarly, use Roku Search to compare costs of streaming content. Type in a movie, show, or star and you'll get a list of available titles and the prices across channels and services.

  • 19

    Quiet Time

    If you want to watch something on your Roku but you don't want to disturb others around you, you can plug headphones into your Roku remote if you have a Roku 3, Premiere+, 4, or Ultra. Or for any model of Roku, you can use the Roku app on your phone. Open the app and plug headphones into your phone and you're set.

  • 20

    Be Ultra Clear

    If you have a 4K TV and a Roku that supports it and want to get content that takes advantage of that spectacular resolution, visit Roku's 4K UHD section, which features channels that have 4K content.

  • 21

    Smooth Stream

    If your Roku is struggling to keep up with your streaming, there are a few steps you can take to try and resolve the issue. First boost your Wi-Fi signal with one or all of these 10 tips. If none of them work, play around with the placement of the Roku itself.

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Check Also

Does Google’s Duplex violate two-party consent laws?

Google’s Duplex, which calls businesses on your behalf and imitates a real human, ums and ahs included, has sparked a bit of controversy among privacy advocates. Doesn’t Google recording a person’s voice and sending it to a data center for analysis violate two-party consent law, which requires everyone in a conversation to agree to being recorded? The answer isn’t immediately clear, and Google’s silence isn’t helping. Let’s take California’s law as the example, since that’s the state where Google is based and where it used the system. Penal Code section 632 forbids recording any “confidential communication” (defined more or less as any non-public conversation) without the consent of all parties. (The Reporters Committee for the Freedom of the Press has a good state-by-state guide to these laws.) Google has provided very little in the way of details about how Duplex actually works, so attempting to answer this question involves a certain amount of informed speculation. To begin with I’m going to consider all phone calls as “confidential” for the purposes of the law. What constitutes a reasonable expectation of privacy is far from settled, and some will have it that you there isn’t such an expectation when making an appointment with a salon. But what about a doctor’s office, or if you need to give personal details over the phone? Though some edge cases may qualify as public, it’s simpler and safer (for us and for Google) to treat all phone conversations as confidential. What we know about Google’s Duplex demo so far As a second assumption, it seems clear that, like most Google services, Duplex’s work takes place in a data center somewhere, not locally on your device. So fundamentally there is a requirement in the system that the other party’s audio will be recorded and sent in some form to that data center for processing, at which point a response is formulated and spoken. On its face it sounds bad for Google. There’s no way the system is getting consent from whomever picks up the phone. That would spoil the whole interaction — “This call is being conducted by a Google system using speech recognition and synthesis; your voice will be analyzed at Google data centers. Press 1 or say ‘I consent’ to consent.” I would have hung up after about two words. The whole idea is to mask the fact that it’s an AI system at all, so getting consent that way won’t work. But there’s wiggle room as far as the consent requirement in how the audio is recorded, transmitted and stored. After all, there are systems out there that may have to temporarily store a recording of a person’s voice without their consent — think of a VoIP call that caches audio for a fraction of a second in case of packet loss. There’s even a specific cutout in the law for hearing aids, which if you think about it do in fact do “record” private conversations. Temporary copies produced as part of a legal, beneficial service aren’t the target of this law. This is partly because the law is about preventing eavesdropping and wiretapping, not preventing any recorded representation of conversation whatsoever that isn’t explicitly authorized. Legislative intent is important. “There’s a little legal uncertainty there, in the sense of what degree of permanence is required to constitute eavesdropping,” said Mason Kortz, of Harvard’s Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society. “The big question is what is being sent to the data center and how is it being retained. If it’s retained in the condition that the original conversation is understandable, that’s a violation.” For instance, Google could conceivably keep a recording of the call, perhaps for AI training purposes, perhaps for quality assurance, perhaps for users’ own records (in case of time slot dispute at the salon, for example). They do retain other data along these lines. But it would be foolish. Google has an army of lawyers and consent would have been one of the first things they tackled in the deployment of Duplex. For the onstage demos it would be simple enough to collect proactive consent from the businesses they were going to contact. But for actual use by consumers the system needs to engineered with the law in mind. What would a functioning but legal Duplex look like? The conversation would likely have to be deconstructed and permanently discarded immediately after intake, the way audio is cached in a device like a hearing aid or a service like digital voice transmission. A closer example of this is Amazon, which might have found itself in violation of COPPA, a law protecting children’s data, whenever a kid asked an Echo to play a Raffi song or do long division. The FTC decided that as long as Amazon and companies in that position immediately turn the data into text and then delete it afterwards, no harm and, therefore, no violation. That’s not an exact analogue to Google’s system, but it is nonetheless instructive. “It may be possible with careful design to extract the features you need without keeping the original, in a way where it’s mathematically impossible to recreate the recording,” Kortz said. If that process is verifiable and there’s no possibility of eavesdropping — no chance any Google employee, law enforcement officer or hacker could get into the system and intercept or collect that data — then potentially Duplex could be deemed benign, transitory recording in the eye of the law. That assumes a lot, though. Frustratingly, Google could clear this up with a sentence or two. It’s suspicious that the company didn’t address this obvious question with even a single phrase, like Sundar Pichai adding during the presentation that “yes, we are compliant with recording consent laws.” Instead of people wondering if, they’d be wondering how. And of course we’d all still be wondering why. We’ve reached out to Google multiple times on various aspects of this story, but for a company with such talkative products, they sure clammed up fast.

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