Roku introduced Thursday its 2019 U.S. market lineup of Roku streaming players, offering a mix of both broadly distributed and retail-chain exclusive derivative models for consumers looking to add the company’s popularly simple smart TV user experience and huge streaming app library.

The new streaming adapters are very similar to last year’s versions, but will be used to add an updated streaming OS v.9.2 with expanded convenience features including greater voice control and snappier app response.

The seven-model player lineup begins with the new entry Roku Express ($29.99 suggested retail price), offering easy Full HD streaming (4K level content is not supported) in a new compact form factor for those looking for something a little different than Roku Streaming Sticks. The Roku Express will be distributed in coming weeks at retailers across the country.

At the top of the Roku streaming player line will be the 2019 version of the Roku Ultra ($99.99) set-top box with support for 4K Ultra HD resolution and the baseline HDR10 high dynamic range profile. The company does not yet support Dolby Vision or HDR10+ dynamic HDR profiles in its media player assortment.

The new Roku Ultra also features a powerful quad-core processor bringing even faster streaming channel launch times and a remote with personal shortcut buttons designed to get to content quickly. The premium player also adds high-quality JBL Headphones for use with the headphone-supporting remote control supplied in the box.

Other features in the new premium Roku Ultra player include Roku’s best 802.11ac dual-band wireless connectivity solution, an Ethernet port for even greater stability, USB port for local media playback and a MicroSD slot for expanded channel caching capability. Also featured is Dolby and DTS Digital Surround pass-through over HDMI, and lost remote finder. The new fast channel launch feature gets users to entertainment faster, improving channel launch times for the top channels across the Roku platform, the company said. Additionally, new programmable personal shortcut buttons on the Enhanced Roku Voice Remote offer personalization and one-touch control of entertainment.

The five additional Roku streaming player models are comprised of two broadly distributed players in the new Roku Premiere ($39.99) bringing a low-cost of entry to up to 4K Ultra HD/HDR10 streaming, follwed by the Roku Streaming Stick+ ($59.99) with powerful processing for snappier response, portable HD, 4K and HDR streaming capability, longer-range wireless connectivity and a Roku Voice Remote with built-in TV controls.

Roku is also offering retail chain-exclusive derivitive models for both Walmart and Best Buy.

Walmart will have two exclusive models including the Roku Express+ ($39.99), which offers the same sleek former factor as the new HD Roku Express, plus a Roku voice remote; and the Roku Ultra LT ($79.99) with many of the same features as the new Roku Ultra, including 4K and HDR streaming, Ethernet port, 802.11ac MIMO dual-band wireless, an Enhanced Roku voice remote with TV controls and Roku-branded headphones for use with the earphone supporting remote.

As an exclusive for Best Buy stores, Roku is offering its Roku Streaming Stick+ HE ($59.99). This is similar to the Streaming Stick+ but adds the Enhanced Roku voice Remote with a headphone jack and Roku headphones for private listening.

The Roku Express and Roku Ultra are available for pre-order at today. The Roku Express+ will be available broadly at the end of September with the rest of the players going on sale in October, company said.

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Along with the new players, Roku will be bringing an OS firmware update in the Roku OS 9.2 for both Roku players and Roku TVs that is scheduled to start rolling out to Roku devices in the coming weeks. Like some of the new media players, the software update us designed to get customers to content quickly and brings additional ways to control the home entertainment experience.

As part of this, the 4K Spotlight channel has been redesigned to make even easier to find 4K streaming movies and programs from a variety of services. A new “Roku Tips & Tricks” channel features videos to help Roku users get improve the use and value of their Roku device. Roku Voice enhancements provide new voice control options while new channel performance improvements enable smoother streaming experience, Roku said.

“The Roku OS allows consumers to easily get to the content they want to watch so they can sit back and relax,” stated Ilya Asnis, Roku OS senior VP. “With Roku OS 9.2, we are giving our customers new content-rich experiences around 4K, voice and home screen controls.”

Among the latest Roku OS features will be: greater content seach capabilities through Roku Zones offering searches by genre and topical subjects presented in organized browsable, categorized rows that may include new releases, titles that are free to watch, rentals and other fare, Roku said.

4K Spotlight Channel interface has been redesigend in with a content-first, hand-curated selection of 4K entertainment from channels across the Roku platform. This now leverages the aforementioned new Roku Zones architecture. Viewers will be able to browse a wide variety of 4K titles across a number of categories such as Most Popular, Action, Drama, TV shows, 4K channels and more.

The OS also adds greater voice control capabilities including setting sleep timers by voice, searching using spoken movie quotes, spoken 4K searching, and enhanced text searches that now include suggestions for 4K Movies & TV Zone.

Roku said Media Player users who use the device for personal music streaming, movies and photo searches can now use voice control to find, play and control stored files by using commands such as “Play,” “Skip,” etc.

At the same time, Roku is enhancing the ability to use voice control for their Roku experience using Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant smart devices with far-field mics. Users will be able to control multiple Roku devices using both Alexa and Google Assistant.

Other new capabilities in the OS v9.2 for Roku TVs users is support for the newly launched Roku Wireless Subwoofer when Roku TV Wireless Speakers, when paired to the Roku TV set.

A new shortcut section has been added to the Home Screen to abbreviate the new number of steps needed to execute popular activities. Roku players will have a shortcut tile to add channels and coming soon a TV power on and off control.

Roku said channel performance improvements will enhance video start times within channels on the platform, as well as provide smarter caching of channels to reduce the number of load screens customers see when launching channels they watch the most.

In addition, the updates make the initial setup process easier and faster, Roku said.

The Roku OS 9.2 firmware update will begin rolling out to select Roku players this month and is expected to roll out to all supported streaming players, including the Roku Smart Soundbar, in the coming weeks, the company said. Roku TV models are expected to receive the update in phases over the coming months.

In addition to U.S. distribution, Roku said it will be expanding the Roku player lineup in Latin America, the U.K., Canada and the Republic of Ireland with the new Roku Express, Roku Premiere and Streaming Stick+ models, in coming weeks.

By Greg Tarr

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