Your Roku streamer can do a lot more than you might think. These are some of the coolest tips we’ve tried.
BY Rick Broida of CNet
Is there a more widely beloved tech product than the Roku streamer? Whether yours is a stick or box, it delivers virtually unparalleled video goodness to your TV: Netflix, Hulu, HBO and so on.
And, yet, it could be better. That onscreen keyboard? Bleh. The default interface theme? Room for improvement. Below I’ve rounded up 13 ways to improve your Roku experience, from organizing channels to watching iTunes movies to adding TV-control buttons to the Roku remote.
Use your phone as your Roku keyboard
Is there anything more aggravating than using a remote to operate an onscreen keyboard? Just signing in to, say, your Netflix account can be a slow, agonizing affair, to say nothing of searching for actors or movies.
Thankfully, there’s an easy fix: Use your phone instead. As you probably know, the Roku apps (iOS | Android) can take the place of your Roku remote, but they also provide a keyboard that makes data entry significantly faster and easier.
So anytime you land at your Roku’s onscreen keyboard on your TV, whether for a search or sign-in, just run the app, tap Remote and then tap the keyboard icon near the bottom of the screen. Now you can tap-type! Or, power tip, tap the keyboard’s microphone icon and “type” your entry using your voice. Speaking of which…
Use your phone for voice search
You know what’s even faster than a keyboard? The spoken word. If you’re lucky enough to have a current-generation Roku, you may have discovered the joys of voice search, which you can operate via the Roku remote.
Don’t own one of those models? No problem: The Roku app now offers voice-search capabilities of its own. So instead of tapping out, say, “Leonardo DiCaprio” to find his available movies (and risk spelling it wrong), you can just tap the Search option, then Voice, and actually say, “Leonardo DiCaprio.”
Stream media from your phone or tablet
Want to show everyone the photos and videos you took at the recent wedding, graduation, soccer game or zombie escape room? Don’t gather them around your relatively tiny phone or tablet; gather them around the TV instead. The Roku app lets you cast photos, videos and music from your mobile device to your streamer.
Just fire up the app and tap Play On Roku. Choose the kind of media you want to stream, then the specific media. Presto! Big-screen viewing from your small(er)-screen device.
Want to take this a step further? You can also mirror your smartphone or tablet to your Roku device.
Turn your Roku remote into a universal remote
I really like the design of the Roku remote, especially those that have shortcut buttons to the likes of Netflix and Amazon. What I don’t like: You can’t program a Roku remote to control your TV.
But you can program a Sideclick. Available for a variety of streamers (including Apple TV and Amazon Fire TV), this clever add-on (with the best name ever) clips to the side of your Roku remote and adds a row of handy programmable buttons: power, volume up/down, channel up/down, input and A/B (these last available for whatever functions you want).
The Sideclick starter kit for Roku sells for $30 and comes with four adapter clips to accommodate the majority of Roku remotes. It’s a pretty nice option for anyone tired of juggling remotes.
Organize your channels
The more channels you add to your Roku library, the bigger a jumbled mess they get. If you’re forever scrolling all over the place to find the handful of channels you visit most, you’ve probably wished for some way to reorganize them.
This is that way: Find a channel you want to relocate — let’s say HBO Now — and highlight it with your remote. (Don’t actually select it, just move the cursor over it so it’s highlighted.) Next, press the Option button on your remote (it looks like an asterisk), then choose Move Channel. Now use the direction pad to move the icon where you want it, noting how others move out of the way as you go.
Once you’ve found the perfect spot, press OK to complete the process. Repeat as necessary.
Reorganize channels in the Roku app
A recent update to the Roku app added a great feature: a Channels screen, similar to what you see on your TV. It makes for much faster access to your favorite channels.
However, it’s not immediately obvious how to organize those channels. That’s because you can’t actually do so within the app: You have to hit up your actual Roku on your TV. Then just follow the steps outlined in Organize your channels, above. Or, if you want more detail, check out How to organize your channels in the new Roku 4.0 app.
Choose a new theme
Not a fan of Roku’s default interface theme? That’s OK, not everyone loves purple. If you venture into the Settings menu and choose Themes, you’ll see a handful of other options.
Even better, select Get More Themes, which will bring you to the Roku Channel Store’s Themes collection. (You can also browse them online if you prefer.) Here you’ll find several dozen other options, everything from golf to Garfield to Star Trek. Alas, these add-ons aren’t free: <ost range from 99 cents to $2.99.
Install a screensaver
Tired of that Roku logo bouncing around whenever your streamer sits idle for a while? Why not choose a screensaver that’s a little more interesting?
As with selecting a theme, you can head to the Settings menu and then choose
Screensaver for a handful of other options. (If you’ve already chosen a different theme, you may see other screensaver options already. Nebula, for example, offers a digital clock in place of the bouncing Roku logo.)
And, again, you can head to the Channel Store to find lots of other screensavers: aquariums, animated fireplaces, headlines from “The Onion,” even a Nixie Clock. A handful are free; most will cost you a buck or two.
Rename your Rokus
If you have more than one Roku device, it makes sense to assign each one a name — if only to simplify things when using the Roku app. It’s a lot easier to switch between, say, “Bedroom Roku” and “Living Room Roku” than it is “Roku 2” and “Roku 3.”
Curiously, however, you can’t do this from within the app. Instead, you need to sign into my.roku.com, then head to the My Account page. Scroll down a bit to see a list of your connected devices, then click Rename next to the one you want to change. Not sure which is which? You can actually refer to the app for this; tap Settings > Switch Device for a list of connected Rokus (and their convenient accompanying pictures), then look for the serial number. Match that to what you see on the Web portal.
Install private channels
Everyone knows about Roku’s Netflix, Hulu and other mainstream channels, but your streamers also support the addition of private channels.
Is that code for “adult”? Yes and no. Although adult channels do exist for Roku, you can find a variety of family-friendly options at sources like Roku-Channels.com, RokuGuide.com, StreamFree.tv and RokuChannels.tv.
One cool option: The Silent Movie Channel, which offers selections from the likes of Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton and Rudolph Valentino.
To add it, head to Roku’s My Account page in your browser (as described in the previous tip), click Add a Channel, then enter the code ROLLEM.
The channel should get automatically added to your Roku device within the next 24 hours, but you should be able to force it by going to the Channel Store on your Roku, then exiting back out to the main menu.
Find a lost Roku remote
Much as I like the design of the Roku remote, the size can be a problem: It goes missing that much more easily. The Bermuda Triangle has nothing on my couch cushions.
Fortunately, if you own a Roku 4 ($63.99 at Amazon Marketplace) or Roku Ultra, there’s a fast way to find your remote. (Assuming, of course, you can still find the Roku itself. Gotta be somewhere near the TV.) Both models have a button on top; press it and your remote will make a sound.
Want to learn how to choose what sound it makes? Check out Quickly find a lost Roku remote with this trick.
Watch movies from your iTunes library
If you live in the Apple ecosystem, you know that owning a Roku means forgoing any movies you’ve purchased via iTunes. After all, it’s not like Apple offers a Roku channel.
Thankfully, there’s Movies Anywhere. This free tool puts all your movies under one roof, so to speak, meaning you can now use a single Roku app to access movies from your Amazon, Google, iTunes and Vudu accounts. Obviously you could already access Amazon, Google and Vudu movies on your Roku via their respective apps, but Movies Anywhere brings iTunes into that mix and saves you from having to remember which movie is located where.
Listen in private with private listening
One of Roku’s best features is private listening, which allows you to stream audio through a remote or your phone to your favorite headphones. That’s great for your half-deaf relative who would normally need to crank the TV volume to house-shattering levels, or for your elliptical workouts where you can’t hear the TV over the sound of the machinery.
The Roku 3, Roku Premiere+, Roku 4 and Roku Ultra all come with a remote that has a built-in headphone jack, by far the easiest option. (Pro tip: If you plug in, remember to unplug when you’re done. Headphones will continue to draw power even when you’re not using the Roku, making it quite likely you’ll return to a dead set of remote batteries.)
But all current-gen models, from the Roku Express to the Roku Ultra, also support private listening via the Roku app. This works with both wired and wireless headphones; just fire up the app and tap the headphones icon to switch from TV speakers to private listening.
And there you go! Thirteen cool ways to improve your Roku experience.
Hit the comments and share your favorite tips!
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