Roku Unveils Redesigned $100 Ultra Streaming Box, Will Add Ability to Stream HBO Max via Apple AirPlay

Roku Ultra with remote
Courtesy of Roku

Roku is launching a redesigned version of its top-of-the-line Ultra player and announced plans to introduce a new standalone app for its free Roku Channel later this year.

And here’s an interesting wrinkle: The company plans to add support for Apple AirPlay 2 and HomeKit for select 4K Roku models in the next few months — which would provide a new way to stream HBO Max on those devices. Roku has not supported WarnerMedia’s HBO Max natively since its May launch as the parties continue to spar over business terms. (Roku earlier this month inked a deal with NBCUniversal for Peacock.)

With AirPlay 2, Roku customers will be able to stream, control, and share video and audio directly from an iPhone, iPad or Mac to a supported Roku device. HomeKit allows customers to securely control their Roku device using the Apple Home app and Siri on iPhone, iPad, Mac, Apple Watch, or HomePod.

The company’s 2020 holiday product lineup refresh also includes a new all-in-one Roku Streambar ($130), which combines a compact soundbar with a 4K HDR streaming player.

The new Roku Ultra remains priced at $100 and is slated to ship in October (as is the new Roku Streambar). The upgraded 4K HDR device expands wireless range by up to 50%, according to the company, and finally adds support for Dolby Vision picture quality. It also supports Dolby Atmos sound when you pair it with compatible devices. The Ultra comes with a voice remote (with TV power and volume controls), headphones for private listening, a lost-remote finder — and for the first time includes an HDMI cable in the box.

The company, which reported 43 million active streaming accounts as of the end of June, makes virtually none of its profit on hardware. Roku’s money-maker is its “platform” segment, representing advertising and subscription revenue generated from content partners.

Hoping to bring more viewers to its Roku Channel, the company is launching the Roku Channel free mobile app for iOS and Android smartphones — split off from the regular Roku app. The new dedicated mobile app doesn’t require you to have a Roku device. The Roku Channel, which also is available on the web, delivers free, ad-supported on-demand entertainment and live TV channels along with access to premium subscription services.

“With streaming happening so much on mobile, we want to reach folks who don’t necessarily have a Roku TV or Roku player,” said Mark Ely, Roku’s VP of retail product strategy.

In addition, the Roku Channel is expanding its free live and linear channel lineup in the U.S. with new channels. Those include VENN, Cinedigm’s Bloody Disgusting TV, the Craftistry from Studio71, Circle, HappyKids.tv, Hi-Yah! – The Martial Arts Channel, iFood.tv, the Lego Channel, Maverick Black Cinema, MovieSphere, Skills + Thrills, and WeatherSpy. New Spanish-language entertainment channels including Sony Canal Novelas, Sony Canal Comedias, and Sony Canal Compentencias from Sony Pictures Television and Tastemade en Español, starting Sept. 29.

Meanwhile, other new features in Roku OS 9.4 include: performance improvements; on-screen hints to inform users of voice commands they can use on their Roku device; updated theme packs (which now include sound effects) including Jungle, Western, Nautical and Kids; and the ability for Roku TV users to access the Roku Channel’s Live TV Channel Guide directly from their home screen.

Roku OS 9.4 will begin rolling out to select Roku players this month and is expected to be available to all supported streaming players, including the all-new Roku Ultra and Roku Streambar, in the coming weeks, according to the company. Roku TV models are expected to receive the update in phases over the coming months.

Roku is launching several new content promotions, too:

  • Apple TV Plus (regularly $4.99/month) will be free for three months to eligible customers who purchase and activate a Roku device from Oct. 23, 2020, to Jan. 31, 2021.
  • Showtime, Starz and Epix each will be available for free 30-day trials via the Roku Channel through Oct. 4, 2020, with the purchase and activation of an eligible Roku device.
  • Pandora Premium (regularly $9.99/month) will be free for three months to consumers who purchase a Roku device from Sept. 25-Nov. 6.