Streaming device maker Roku unveiled its fall device lineup Monday, which includes two new streaming devices as well as the company’s previously-announced smart speakers. The common thread for all those announcements is an attempt to introduce better audio and video, thanks to 4K streaming and Hi-Fi sound.
“Roku believes that this is gonna be a 4K holiday,” said the company’s director of product management Lloyd Clarke in an interview with Variety.
On the streaming adapter front, Roku introduced two new devices Monday: The new $40 Roku Premiere is a 4K streaming adapter that lends its look from the company’s Roku Express, but incorporates a 4-core processor to power 4K and HDR streaming from services like Netflix and Amazon Prime Video.
The Premiere includes an infrared remote that requires consumers to have line-of sight to the device. Anyone who spends $50 on a Roku Premiere Plus can instead opt to hide their streaming hardware behind their TV. This model comes with the same hardware as the Roku Premiere, safe for an upgraded Wifi remote that doesn’t require line-of-sight, and also includes a microphone for voice control as well as power and volume buttons to control the TV.
Roku is also revamping its top-of-the-line Roku Ultra streamer, albeit only with a new accessory. The company didn’t change the hardware of the $100 streaming box, but instead replaced the generic headphones that can be used with the Ultra’s private listening feature with JBL ear buds.
However, Roku’s biggest fall hardware update is a different kind of device: The company will start selling its Roku TV Wireless Speakers in October. The speakers cost $200 for a pair, but consumers who pre-order them by 10/15 will be able to get a pair for $180. The speakers will only be available via Roku’s website for the time being.
Roku TV Wireless Speakers are custom-made for Roku TVs like the ones made by TCL, Insignia or Hisense. They won’t work with any other TV model, even if those TVs are equipped with Roku streaming device. The speakers are meant to alleviate a problem of TV set design: As displays get thinner and thinner, so does the sound of speakers integrated into those TVs. “It’s a physics problem,” Clarke said.
Roku TV Wireless Speakers also support some audio-only functionality, including the ability to launch playback from some apps while the TV is on standby mode. The company integrated Spotify Connect, and the speakers also support Bluetooth to stream any audio source directly from a mobile device.
In addition to better sound, the speakers also add some intelligent audio features to a Roku TV. This includes the ability to increase speech clarity as well as volume leveling features, including a night mode that takes the shaking bass out of those loud explosions.
Notably absent from the speakers: Any built-in microphones, like the ones Amazon’s Echo speakers use for far-field voice control. Roku instead ships the speakers with two remote controls with built-in microphones. One of them is meant to replace the cheaper remote that ships with most Roku TVs, while the other is custom-build for speaker audio control.
Square but with round corners, the latter remote fits snugly into an indentation on top of the speaker, with an integrated magnet adding additional stickiness. However, Clarke said that the remote was primarily meant to reside somewhere else in the house. Perhaps in your entry hallway or kitchen, where it could be used to fire up your favorite station in the living room.
To make this easier, Roku has added two preset buttons that can be programmed with shortcuts to streaming services or online radio stations. There’s also an integrated speaker for voice feedback, as well as a mysterious extra button that doesn’t do anything at launch. Clarke didn’t want to comment on the need for this extra button, but one could imagine that it could be used for some sort of multi-room audio functionality.
Roku first unveiled its Roku TV Wireless Speakers in July. The company announced that it was expanding beyond streaming devices and smart TVs into the audio space at CES in Las Vegas in January. Back then, the company also revealed that it was working on its own entertainment-focused voice assistant that would be complementary to Amazon’s Alexa and Google’s assistant. “We can see it co-existing in the home with other AI,” said Roku’s VP of product Mark Ely at the time.
The company is getting ready to take a step towards such a co-existence in the coming weeks: Roku devices will soon be compatible with the Google Assistant, and allow consumers to search for content, control playback and more with a Google Home speaker or similar devices.