All told, Roku had a decent 2016. It launched six new streaming boxes that ranged in power from the composite-friendly Roku Express+ to the UHD HDR-ready Roku Ultra. If that wasn’t enough, the company pulled a complete refresh of the Roku Streaming Stick, bringing it up to par with devices like the Chromecast and Amazon Fire TV Stick.
Fast-forward to this year where, today, Roku announced another complete overhaul to its lineup of streaming devices, including an all-new Roku Streaming Stick+ that boasts 4K HDR in a device the size of a flash drive.
The 2017 Roku streaming collection comes out on October 6 and will include a new version of the low-end Roku Express and Express+ that should, according to sources at Roku, provide a five times improvement on last year’s models.
The 2017 Roku Express will start at $29 and offer HD streaming via HDMI while the Express+ – again a Walmart exclusive – will offer HD streaming via HDMI or composite cable (Red/White/Yellow jacks) for $39.
Moving a step up from the Express, the $49 Roku Streaming Stick with a quad-core processor and an 802.11 AC dual-band Wi-Fi antenna that will output 1080p HD streams via HDMI – while the all-new Roku Streaming Stick+ takes the spot of the Premiere by offering 4K HDR at 60 frames-per-second for $69.
Different for the Roku Streaming Stick this year, besides the obvious up-tick in processor power, is the removal of the Wi-Fi antenna from inside the frame of the device to the power cable – which, according to Roku, will make for a faster and more reliable streaming experience.
Last up is the Roku Ultra, which looks nearly identical to the model Roku released last year, but comes in at a much more affordable $99 instead of $129.
Five for fighting … er, streaming
Five new players can at first feel a bit overwhelming – especially in the wake of new players from Amazon and Apple’s recent launches. but the idea here is that instead of offering one or two models, Roku wants to hit a variety of price points and meet different needs, whether that’s someone looking for a small-form 1080p streaming stick or an AV enthusiast looking for a 4K HDR box.
And while these players can all seem a bit too similar to one another, there are some substantial differences here: For one, all Roku devices will come with Roku OS 8, the newest iteration of the egalitarian platform that promises universal search on well-over 200 apps.
For another, Roku will be the first operating system to fully incorporate OTA searching – basically the idea that you can find something on TV that's already playing and then find the same episode or movie on a streaming service. This lets you watch shows from the beginning if you came in late or for an easier time binging a whole series. (Just know that, for the time-being, this function is limited to Roku-branded TVs and not the new players.)
The trade-off here is that, for the time-being, Roku players won’t support Dolby Vision – a burgeoning HDR format that offers higher visual fidelity than HDR10 – or either of the object-based surround systems, Dolby Atmos or DTS: X. (The former, Dolby Vision and Amtos, are supported on the new Apple TV 4K.)
It seems like Apple has the upper hand in terms of new tech and could potentially pose a challenge to Roku, but, then again, none of those formats were supported on any of last year’s devices and that didn’t stop Roku from owning 49% of the US streaming device market.
While the news of next-gen streaming devices might enthuse American readers, AV fans in the UK and Australia might not find the same joy in today’s news – as Roku has, for the last two years or so, completely abandoned those markets to their partners, Sky and Telstra.
For that reason, Roku didn’t launch any of its 2016 devices in the UK and, for the time being, couldn’t confirm that this generation of players would make their way outside the US. (Though, according to our sources at Roku, that’s something that could change in the near future…)
It's unlikely that the company will leave those territories alone in the furure –
especially considering that Apple and Amazon will both release their new streaming devices in those countries – but there's always a possibility that Roku decides to stay Stateside while Amazon and Apple battle it out elsewhere.