Roku tips: How to make the most of your streamer

Navigate faster, find free content, and master your playback controls with these Roku tips and tricks.

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Roku’s streaming boxes, streaming sticks, and smart TVs have a reputation for being easy to use, but that doesn’t mean every useful feature is obvious from the start. Dig a little deeper, and you’ll find plenty of tricks and hidden features that make the experience even better.

Read on for some of my favorite Roku tips:

Install apps remotely

rokuchannelstore Jared Newman / IDG

Installing all your favorite music and video apps can be a pain when you’re setting up a Roku for the first time. Instead of thumbing around with the remote, use the Roku Channel Store website to install lots of apps quickly. Just log into your account, search for the apps you want, then choose “Add channel.” You can also install apps through the Roku app for iOS and Android.

Rearrange your apps

rokumove Jared Newman / IDG

Once you’ve installed all your apps, the next step should be to move your favorites up top. To rearrange the app list, press the * button while highlighting any app, then select “Move channel.” Use the arrow keys to select a new spot and press OK when you’re done.

Hide (some) unwanted menus

rokuhide Jared Newman / IDG

Don’t want Fandango’s TV and movies stores cluttering up your home screen? Head to Settings > Home screen > Movie Store and TV Store, and then select “Hide.”

You can also disable Roku’s “Featured Free” section from the same menu, though I think this is a pretty handy feature.

Find free stuff

rokufeaturedfree Roku

Speaking of free content, Roku offers plenty of it. You can of course download individual free video apps, such as Sony Crackle, Pluto TV, Tubi, and The Roku Channel, but you can also track down free movies and shows straight from Roku’s menus.

The Featured Free section digs up free movies and shows from various apps, including the ones I mentioned above. If you’re looking for something specific—and you have a Roku that supports voice controls—you can search for specific genres by voice. Try saying “free sitcoms” or “free science-fiction shows.” Roku will return a list of results with at least one free source.

Track the stuff you’re watching

rokufeed Jared Newman / IDG

With the “My Feed” section of Roku’s home screen, you can follow specific movies, shows, actors, or directors, and be notified when new content arrives or prices drop. Just search for something, then look for the “Follow on Roku” option in the result. You can also browse for movies and shows to follow through the My Feed section.

Navigate faster

rokuremote Jared Newman / IDG

Now that your Roku is loaded with apps and content, use these tricks to get around with fewer clicks on the remote:

  • On the home screen, press fast forward or rewind to page up or down through your app list. This also works in most menus and in many third-party apps.
  • Get back to the top of your app list from anywhere by double-tapping the home button.
  • In some apps (including Netflix), press play while highlighting a program to skip the description page and jump right into the stream.

Use the Replay button

rokureplay Jared Newman / IDG

Missed a bit of dialog that was too hard to hear? Hit the remote’s Replay button (the one with the arrow moving counter-clockwise) to quickly jump back 10 seconds. You can also set the Replay button to include captions by heading to Settings > Accessibility > Captions mode, then choosing “On replay.”

Make dialog easier to understand

rokuvolume Jared Newman / IDG

Roku offers a couple of easy ways to normalize the volume on its streaming players. “Night” mode keeps the volume down during loud scenes, while “Leveling” compresses the overall volume range so you can hear quiet scenes without getting jolted from something loud a minute later.

Access these features by pressing the * button during any video, scrolling down to “Volume Mode,” and then scrolling left or right.

Use the Roku app for better browsing

rokuwhatson Jared Newman / IDG

The free Roku app for iOS and Android does more than just offer a virtual remote. It also includes a handy “What’s On” menu, where you can find things to watch from across different apps. Take a look when you’re feeling indecisive.

Set a custom screensaver (with Android only)

rokuscreensaver Jared Newman / IDG

Is Roku’s default screensaver feeling a bit stale? Load your own photos instead using the free Roku app for Android. Open the app, head to the “Photos+” tab, select Screensaver, and then select the photos you want to appear. (Sadly, this feature does not appear to work with Roku's iOS app.)

Once you've added some photos, head to Settings > Screensaver > Change screensaver on your Roku player, then select "Roku Mobile Screensaver."

Listen privately (with wired or Bluetooth headphones)

rokuprivate Jared Newman / IDG

If you have a Roku Ultra or any other player with a 3.5mm jack built into the remote, you can listen privately by plugging in any set of headphones or earbuds.

For other Roku players, you can listen privately through the free Roku app for iOS and Android. Head to the “Remote” tab of the app, hit the menu button at top of the screen, and then set the “Private Listening” toggle to On. Now, you can plug in some wired headphones, connect wireless earbuds, or even listen through your phone’s speakers.

Send video from Netflix and YouTube

rokuchromecast Jared Newman / IDG

With Netflix and YouTube, you can send videos from a phone or tablet to your Roku player just as you would with Google’s Chromecast streamer. Just open either app while your Roku is on the same Wi-Fi network, hit the Cast button, and then select your Roku from the list. Any video you select will then appear on the TV instead of your mobile device. This also works from a computer using Google’s Chrome browser.

If you’d like to beam your personal media files to Roku, the best way is to use AllCast, a free app for iOS and Android. (Roku’s app offers similar functionality, but the interface isn’t as good and it doesn’t integrate with cloud storage.) When you launch the app, it should detect your Roku automatically, at which point you can select photos, videos, and music to play on the big screen. (Removing ads and video time limits requires the $5 Premium app.)

Connect Google Assistant for playback control

googlehomesetup Jared Newman / IDG

Roku now works with the Google Home speaker and other Google Assistant devices, letting you control playback and launch apps with voice commands. On Roku smart TVs, Google Assistant can also control volume and inputs.

To set this up, open the Google Home app, and then hit “Add” from the main screen. Select “Set up device,” and then choose “Works with Google.” Choose Roku from the list, sign into your account, and choose the Roku device you’d like to connect. (Unfortunately, you can only link a single Roku to Google Assistant.) Once connected, you can say things such as “Hey Google, pause on Roku,” or “Hey Google, launch Amazon Prime on Roku.”

Listen to music with ease

rokupandora Jared Newman / IDG

If your Roku includes a voice remote—or you’re using the mobile app’s remote with a supported Roku device—you can use voice commands to directly launch music from Pandora, iHeartRadio, and TuneIn. (iHeartRadio and TuneIn support podcasts as well.) Hit the microphone button on your remote, and then say something like “listen to Jazz,” or “listen to Thumbprint Radio on Pandora.” You can also request a specific recording artist. To change which music service loads by default, head to Roku’s website.

Limit ad tracking

rokuprivacy Jared Newman / IDG

By default, Roku players use all kinds of tracking methods to serve personalized ads (including when you’re watching some of the free content I mentioned earlier). You can minimize this tracking by heading to Settings > Advertising > Limit ad tracking, and then checking the box. This won’t stop third-party apps from sending data to measurement firms like Nielsen, but it will stop Roku from doing so and it will tell the company not to serve personalized ads.

Roku TVs also use another kind of tracking called “automatic content recognition,” or ACR, to determine what you’re watching through other inputs (such as your cable box or an antenna) and personalize ads that way. You can disable this by heading to Settings > Privacy > Smart TV Experience, and unchecking “Use Information for TV Inputs.”

Limit data use

rokubitrate Jared Newman / IDG

Dealing with data caps from your internet service provider? You can use a secret Roku menu to limit video quality and consume less data. Press the Home button five times, then press Rewind three times, and then press Fast Forward two times.

This should take you to a “Bit Rate Override” menu. Choose “Manual selection” and then select a maximum bit rate. As a reference, a bit rate of 5Mbps will use about 2.25GB of data per hour. A couple hours of streaming per day at that rate will use about 140GB per month.

You can unthrottle your video quality by returning to this secret menu and selecting “Automatic.”

Change the theme

rokutheme Jared Newman / IDG

When you need a break from Roku’s default look, head to Settings > Theme > Change theme, and select one of the other three options. You can also pay for additional themes. To be honest, there aren’t a lot of great options here, especially if you prefer minimalist backgrounds over loud patterns and images, but they’re better than nothing if you have a problem with purple.

Got other questions about Roku? Just reach out on Twitter or by email and I'll do my best to answer.

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