Roku introduced Monday the latest version of its smart TV operating system and a new lineup of five Roku media adapters, including the first 4K Ultra HD Roku Streaming stick with HDR10 support.

The new Roku player lineup offers better value than last year’s models and is said to provide faster performance, improved wireless reception and additional search and voice control convenience features.

Meanwhile, the new Roku 8 OS will be applied across most new and legacy Roku players and will bring an on-screen program grid guide of live over-the-air (OTA) broadcast TV programs to new televisions with the built-in Roku smart TV platform. For streaming media adapters and legacy Roku TVs, the OS update adds new search and voice control features, such as the ability to use voice commands to launch streaming channels, switch inputs or control volume. It also provides new “TV Everywhere (TVE)” single sign-on ability that no longer makes it necessary to enter login credentials multiple times for certain apps and an updated 4K Spotlight Channel.

Read more about the new Roku 8 OS and Roku streaming players after the jump:

Roku said the new 2017 line of streaming players would be available for pre-order beginning today from Roku, Walmart, Best Buy, Amazon and other retailers. Players are expected to be available in stores around October 8th.

The entry model is the new Roku Express, which is priced at a $29.99 suggested retail, and can stream up to Full HD 1080p resolution content. Roku is positioning the Roku Express and step-up Roku Express+ as options for first-time streaming TV users or those looking to add streaming capability to other TVs in the home.

Meanwhile, the Roku Express+ (selling exclusively through Wal-Mart for $39.99) has HDMI output and adds analog red/white/yellow composite video connections for use with older pre-HDMI TVs. Roku said the second-generation Roku Express and Roku Express+ models “are five times more powerful” than last year’s versions.

Roku also is offering a pair of new Roku Streaming Sticks, including a Full HD Streaming Stick ($49.99) and a 4K Ultra HD Streaming Stick+ ($69.99), which is the first Roku Stick to offer both 3840×2160/60fps resolution and HDR10 support. These adapters are small so they can be easily hidden behind a TV. They also offer easy portability so they can be taken on trips or moved from TV to TV in the home. Roku continues to offer support for Wi-Fi connectivity authentication through browser-based systems like those found in hotels and dormitories.

Roku executives told HD Guru that they have not added Dolby Vision HDR support to any of its media adapters at this time, because the base of supporting televisions, content and users is not of sufficient size to warrant the additional cost and engineering. However, Dolby Vision support will be found in certain TCL Roku TVs this year, and posssibly in some Hisense 4K Roku smart TV models early in 2018.

Features in both sticks include a quad-core processor, 802.11 AC dual-band MIMO Wi-Fi network linking, and for the first-time, a voice-control-enabled remote that includes TV power and volume buttons to control both the Roku player and compatible TV models. The Roku Streaming Stick+ also offers a wireless connection to the TV for the first time in a Roku 4K adapter and has up to four times the wireless range of the 2016 Roku Streaming Stick.

The new 2017 flagship Roku Ultra player rings in at $99.99 (down from $129.99 last year). It continues to support up to 4K Ultra HD (3840×2160) resolution video at up to 60fps with HDR10 high dynamic range (where available) from top services including Netflix, Amazon Video, Vudu, UltraFlix and others.

The new Roku Ultra includes an Ethernet port for more robust connectivity to a home router and a micro SD slot to help speed up streaming channel load times. It also includes a micro SD card slot to add-on memory to download and store more apps and speed up app load times.

The Ultra’s new remote will now control basic TV operations, including power and volume, in compatible sets, and adds a mic to accept voice commands to more easily find favorite shows.

The Roku Ultra remote also includes a headphone input supporting private listening to the audio portion of a television program, and a remote finder function, that triggers an alarm inside the remote to help retrieve it when lost in the seat cushion.

Meanwhile, Roku said its smart TV platform now lists more than 500,000 movies and TV episodes and more than streaming 5,000 channels. The company recently added “The Roku Channel,” which features hundreds of free, ad-supported movies and programs with no subscription or login.

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The Roku 8 OS, which is rolling out to adapters in October and Roku TVs in early November, will bring a range of features.

For Roku TVs connected to antennas only, OTA viewers will now have a Smart Guide that shows OTA broadcast TV channels and programming in an on-screen program grid, in addition to the streaming options available through the regular Roku interface.

The addition improves the value of Roku TVs to cord cutters, and cord nevers looking to ditch cable and satellite TV services. The guide helps viewers easily browse available programs and find and discover the numerous free entertainment options available to them.

The guide provides program information for local broadcast TV channels from seven days in the past to up to 14 days in the future. The Smart Guide also integrates the Roku More Ways to Watch feature with additional streaming options, including watching a movie or television program from the beginning.

When a TV antenna is connected, Roku search will now incorporate local broadcast programs with the movies and programs offered by streaming partners in search results, sorting them by free options first followed by lowest-priced options in ascending order. Users can also search for antenna TV content via the Roku mobile app.

The new OS 8 voice control capability now makes it easy to switch inputs with spoken commands. Voice controls for Roku TVs can be used via enhanced remotes with the microphone button or through the free Roku mobile app for iOS and Android mobile devices.

A new Fast TV Start feature enables a Roku TV to start quickly and launch a streaming or antenna TV channel in seconds using a voice command. For example, a user can say “launch Hulu” and the TV will turn on and open the Hulu streaming channel.

New Roku TVs will also add private listening for OTA and streaming programs either using their mobile device via the Roku mobile app.

The new TV Everywhere Single Sign On feature in the Roku 8 OS allows pay-TV users to eliminate the need to log into TVE channels repeatedly. Customers who subscribe to Dish, Cox, AT&T and many other providers will only have to log in once when using 30 TVE channels.

Roku said more providers would be added in the future.

Meanwhile, for Roku adapters and 4K Roku TVs, Roku said it is also updating its 4K Spotlight Channel to make it easier to find programs available in 4K Ultra HD resolution with HDR10 and, in supporting Roku TVs, Dolby Vision HDR. The 4K Spotlight Channel also features a new navigation menu to quickly select the type of content desired, inclusion of more content categories to easily browse by genre, and the option to choose from multiple streaming channels if a program is available from more than one provider, Roku said.

The new Roku adapters were announced on the heels of a spate of competing products including the Apple TV 4K and new 4K Fire TV with HDR support. Roku’s adapters have  been very popular with consumers due to their simple user interface, large selection of apps and content and competitive prices.

The Dynamic Channels will launch in Q4 of this year. Channels be delivered in HD quality. No 4K UHD is planned as of  now, the company said.


By Greg Tarr


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