Roku introduced five new streaming players Monday, including three new models of its existing puck-shaped device and two new entry-level devices, with one of them selling for as little as $29.99. It’s one of Roku’s biggest device revamps yet, and could help the company to keep up with increased competition from Apple, Google and Amazon.
As part of the revamp, Roku is also changing the way it brands its models. Gone are the Roku 1, Roku 2, Roku 3 and Roku 4. Instead, Roku is now selling consumers an entry-level device called the Roku Express, as well as an Express+ variant, a Roku Premiere and Roku Premiere+ streamer and a top-of-the-line Roku Ultra model.
The Express and Express+ are clearly aimed at bargain-hunters: Roku Express offers 1080p streaming with an IR remote for just $29.99, with the $39.99 Roku Express+ adding composite A/V out to use with TVs that don’t have a HDMI port.
Don’t expect fancy design for that price: Roku managed to shrink its hardware to about the size of a harmonica, and is suggesting that consumers stick it to the bezel of their TV. However, the small package isn’t indicative of its innards. The Roku Express has double the processing power of the existing Roku 1, according to Roku director of product management Lloyd Klarke.
The $80 Roku Premiere, $100 Premiere+ and $130 Ultra look a lot more like previous Roku models, but actually do represent a significant upgrade. All three come with support for 4K video streaming, and the Premiere+ and Ultra models both also support HDR. And all of them come without that internal fan that made the Roku 4, the company’s only previous 4K-capable streamer, at times so noisy.
The Premiere+ and Ultra both come with a remote control with headphone jack as well as an Ethernet port for wired connectivity, and the Ultra model includes a USB port for local media as well as a remote control with voice search. Variety was first to report about some of those features when the three devices surfaced on the FCC’s website earlier this summer.
Roku adding 4K support to all but its cheapest models is in a way a sign of the times. Ultra-high definition video is quickly becoming a standard feature on new TVs.
However, so are integrated apps. Buying a streamer made a lot of sense when consumers tried to get Netflix onto their dumb TV two or three years ago In 2016, Netflix seems to be running on every fridge and washing machine.
So why still buy streamers? Klarke argued that Roku customers are looking for simplicity — something that’s still missing from many smart TVs.
But with the $30 Roku Express, the company clearly hopes that it can also cash in on consumers looking for stocking stuffers. Said Klarke: “It’s a good gift item.”