(Pocket-lint) – You’ve landed yourself a Roku streaming media player and want to know its hidden features. No problem.
To help you get the most of your set-top box, we’ve rounded up 21 cool things you likely didn’t know were possible on the Roku platform. For instance, we’ve included a tip on how to stream local media from your devices. We’ve also mentioned tricks, like how to rearrange your streaming channels or transform your TV screen into a crackling fireplace.
Check them all out below.
Rearrange your channels
When you add channels, they are auto-arranged by default on your home screen. But you can rearrange them to how you prefer. With your Roku remote, select the channel from your My Channels section, then Options (*), and Move channel.
Add a new theme to your home screen
The default Roku theme is pretty shade of purple, but if you’d like to switch it up, go to Settings, then Themes, and try one of the other free themes (including Graphene, Decaf, Nebula, or Daydream). There are also seasonal themes, so you can celebrate your favourite holidays with your Roku. Roku also recently added a Themes category to the Roku Channel Store.
Transform your TV with a screensaver
Like themes, Roku offers extra screensavers under settings (Settings > Screensaver). You can also go to the Screensavers category in the Channel Store to get even more screensavers, such as Presto’s crackling fireplace.
Use your mobile device as a remote
Every Roku player comes with a physical remote.
But if you lose it or for whatever reason don’t feel like using it, you can launch the Roku mobile app for Android or iOS and use it as a powerful Roku control center. Once installed on your phone, it lets you browse, add, and rate channels. You can also use it to enter text using your device’s own keyboard, or stream content from your mobile device. It works with all Roku players.
Voice search without the remote
Newer Rokus have a physical remote with a mic and a search button for voice-searching. You can use this to find movies, TV shows, actors, and directors from nearly 20 top streaming channels, including Netflix, all with your voice.
This feature is also available through the Roku mobile app for Android and iOS and is supported by all current-generation players. From the Roku mobile app, select Search from the menu and then “Voice” to get started.
Go here for more detailed instructions.
Rename your Roku players
Those of you with multiple Roku players in your home can log into your Roku.com account and rename your devices, making it easier for you to differentiate your players when using the Roku mobile app or casting from Netflix or YouTube.
Click Rename under the My linked devices section and follow the prompts.
Add subtitles to everything
Do you regularly use subtitles or captions for all your streaming? Roku will help you avoid the trouble of enabling them in every individual streaming app, by letting you do it just once. You can do this in Roku’s settings (Settings > Accessibility > Captions).
Instant replay captions
Have you ever watched a movie and couldn’t understand a character’s dialogue due to mumbling? Press the replay button and the subtitles will pop up. But you have to enable the feature (Settings > Accessibility > Captions > “Instant replay”).
Record live TV
Roku offers channels beyond streaming services. For instance, YouTubeTV, Sling, and Hulu with Live TV will all allow you to watch, pause, and record live TV (over-the-air TV via an antenna) on your Roku player or Roku TV.
Screen mirror from your phone
Similar to Apple’s AirPlay feature and Chromecast, Roku lets you mirror stuff from your phone to your TV.
This provides an easy way to mirror videos, apps, websites, and more from your device to a TV via your Roku, but, unfortunately, the feature is limited to Android devices (except Google’s Pixel devices) and Windows 10 computers.
Check out Roku’s screen mirroring FAQ for Microsoft Windows and Android devices. You can also learn more about how to get started with Roku’s screen mirroring in general from this support page.
Cast music, photos, and videos from your phone
Roku’s mobile app (for Android or iOS) is loaded with features, such as Play On Roku, which lets you stream music, photos, and videos saved on your phone to your Roku. Just click “Play On Roku” from the pull-down menu in the mobile app, and then choose the type of content you wish to stream. Keep in mind you can use other apps while streaming, but if you’re mirroring, everything you see on your phone display will appear on your TV.
Play files from your local network or USB drive
Some Roku players have a USB port so you can plug in a USB drive and playback personal video, music, and photo files stored on the drive. You just need the Roku Media Player channel to do so. The channel also lets you playback files from a DLNA server on your local network. Learn more about which files the Roku Media Player supports from here.
Cast from YouTube and Netflix
YouTube and Netflix both feature a cast button that allow you to send video from those apps to your TV.
Download the apps to your phone as well as your Roku Player, and then tap the cast button from the mobile apps. Your devices must be connected to the same Wi-Fi network for this functionality to work, of course.
Expand storage capacity for channels
If you run out of storage space for channels on your Roku player, you could try inserting a microSD card into the MicroSD slot on the back of the unit. (First, check out our guide on all the different Roku players to be sure your player even has a MicroSD slot.)
It can only be used to store channel information, thus enabling your Roku to load channels faster. It can’t be used to store video files or other content. When the card is installed, the card will automatically be formatted, too.
Go here to learn more about installing a microSD card on a Roku.
Add private channels to your home screen
Did you know there are unofficial channels you can install to your Roku player?
Private channels may not be displayed publicly because they might have adult content, are still be in beta, or maybe they’re an unofficial third-party channel for a service without an app. That doesn’t mean they’re not worthwhile applications.
Twitch, the popular application that lets viewers watch live game streams, has a private channel for users. There are also private channels that let you stream foreign television, podcasts, and public domain films and TV shows. The only thing is you can’t find any of them when you browse the channel store, so you’ll need to install them with a code or link.
For example, the code for adding the Twitch app is TWITCHTV, which you can input here. Private channels are added through the Roku website. Sign in to your Roku account, and then on the main page, select Add Channel with a code under Manage Account. You can then enter the channel access code and select “Add Channel”.
To find links to more private channels, check out:
Privately listen to movies with Roku
If your partner is asleep in bed next to you and you want to keep binging, you can simply use your headphones.
The Roku Ultra has a remote that comes with a special headphone jack built into the remote. If you don’t have that model, you can simply use the Roku app on your phone and connect your favorite pair of headphones that way. Just open the Roku app and go to remote settings. Make sure your headphones are connected and select the headphone button to start private listening.
Create a Roku surround sound system
Roku devices will work with existing sound systems, but if you don’t have a set-up already, Roku offers everything you need to get a surround sound system off the ground. The company offers the Roku Soundbar, Roku Wireless Subwoofer, and Roku Wireless Speakers. The devices work together, and they’re wireless, keeping your living room looking nice and tidy.
We like Roku Soundbar. It hooks up to your TV and gives you all the streaming you’d want from a regular Roku device.
Use Roku search to find stuff to watch
Possibly the best feature across the Roku interface is its universal search feature.
You can use it to search for the movie or show you’re looking for, and it will tell you which apps it’s available on, as well as what it costs, including if it’s free. You might start noticing films pop up as available on The Roku Channel. The oft-forgotten streaming service has 10,000 movies and shows you’ll get access to just for having a Roku device.
Use Google Assistant with your Roku
You can get even more voice control over your Roku with Google Assistant.
To get started, make sure your Roku has the latest update, and then open the Google Home app on your phone. Click the “+” sign in the top left corner. Select “Something already set up”, and choose Roku from brands on the next page.
From there, you’ll be taken to a Roku webpage and asked to sign in and give permission to link your Roku with Google. Then, you’ll be able to search, pause, play, and more just by asking Google. (To recap, it is: Open Google Home > Plus symbol in the top left corner > Something already set up > Sign into Roku > and give permission to link to Google.)
Use Alexa with your Roku
Similar to Google Assistant, you can connect your Roku to Alexa and use voice controls through Amazon’s assistant. It’s almost the same process. Open the Alexa app on our phone, click the plus symbol on the top right, choose add device from the pop-up menu, and on the next page, find Roku and enable the Roku skill. The,n you’ll be taken to a Roku page to link your account.
To recap, it goes: open Alexa > select Plus symbol > Add Device > find Roku > and Sign in and link account.
Sick of the volume drastically changing between your show and the commercials airing in between?
Head to Settings > Audio > Volume Mode> and select Leveling. This will even out the highs and the lows of the sounds coming from your Roku. There’s also a Night mode that sets a cap on how loud the Roku will be when enabled.
Want to know more?
Roku offers this cheat sheet with 101 other helpful tips and tricks.
Writing by Maggie Tillman.