Roku releases new streaming devices, operating system

(Still frame courtesy Roku, Graphic by The Desk)

Streaming TV hardware maker Roku on Tuesday announced three new “pro” level devices that it hopes will entice users to upgrade their existing Roku gadgets or switch from a competing ecosystem.

The new lineup includes the Roku Express 4K Plus, which costs $40 and is one of the cheapest streaming TV gadgets to offer access ultra high-definition videos from content suppliers. (The Roku Premiere 4K, a similar device with fewer features, is a Walmart exclusive at $35.)

The Roku Express 4K Plus will be offered for sale on Roku’s website and at partner retailers, including Best Buy, in mid-May, the company said. The device is still awaiting formal approval from the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), according to documents reviewed by The Desk.

Roku also released the Roku Streambar Pro, an updated version of its smart TV soundbar that offers built-in access to Roku’s operating system. The updated soundbar offers the same sound fidelity as the prior version but comes bundled with a Roku voice remote, the ability to listen to content privately using a set of included headphones and access to 4K content.

The Roku Streambar Pro will retail for $180. The gadget goes on sale for $180 and will be available to purchase on Roku’s website at the end of May. Other retailers will start selling the Roku Streambar Pro in June.

Perhaps the biggest announcement on Tuesday is the introduction of the Roku Voice Remote Pro. While Roku’s remotes have traditionally used disposable AA or AAA batteries, the Roku Voice Remote Pro offers a built-in, rechargeable battery for the first time ever.

The Roku Voice Pro Remote features a host of other upgrades, including hands-free listening that allows viewers to issue voice commands with pushing a button on the remote itself and a headphone jack for private listening. The remote also features universal buttons for controlling a TV set’s volume and power, including a mute button that Roku has skipped on other models.

Roku says the Roku Voice Remote Pro works with any standard USB charger and is compatible with its entire line-up of supported Roku devices, smart TV sets and soundbars. It costs $30 and is available to buy right now on Roku’s website.

In addition to the new devices, Roku says it is rolling out an update to its smart TV operating system that will offer a handful of new features.

The new operating system, called Roku OS 10, will offer Apple AirPlay 2 and Apple HomeKit support across most of the company’s recent streaming devices, including the lower-end Roku Express and most Roku Streaming Sticks.

Roku OS 10 will also offer a new feature called Instant Resume that will allow viewers to pick up where they left off in an app (which Roku calls “channels”)  after they exit. Previously, users were taken to an app’s main content screen when they re-entered the program after exiting. Roku says Instant Resume will be supported on a small handful of channels, including FilmRise, Fox News and its own Roku Channel, with support for other channels coming in the future.

Roku says users will be promoted to upgrade their system to the new Roku OS 10 on supported devices starting today, with additional rollouts coming over the next few weeks.

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