Roku Introduces a New Streaming Player Lineup

Posted on September 27, 2016 by Paul Thurrott in Music + Videos with 23 Comments

Roku Introduces a New Streaming Player Lineup

Roku announced a new streaming player lineup this morning and replaced all of its previous products with new models. Among the notable changes are a $30 Chromecast competitor and a $100 4K/UHD/HDR streamer.

“Today marks the biggest streaming player launch in Roku history,” an announcement on the Roku blog reads. “We’re introducing the Roku Express, Roku Express+, Roku Premiere, Roku Premiere+ and Roku Ultra. With this lineup, plus our recently updated Roku Streaming Stick, there’s a player for everyone. In addition, we’ve reached another first – now there are 100+ streaming channels in our search feature allowing you to find more of the content you want to stream.”

If you’re familiar with the Roku lineup, you know that the firm previously offered the Roku Streaming Stick alongside Roku 2, 3, and 4 devices, the latter of which supports 4K video at 60 fps. The new lineup sports new branding, some new form factors, and some new capabilities. And lower prices in some notable cases as well.

This is great news since the Roku family of products has long been the best way to stream content in the living room, with the best performance, the best user experience, and the best selection. (That said, you’re kind of stuck using two or more streamers if you need access to certain content, like Apple’s, which are only available on its own devices.)

Here’s the new lineup.

Roku Express. This cute little device sports an all-new form factor and low-low pricing of just $30, matching Chromecast. It can stream at 1080p.

express

Roku Express+. This one is just like the Roku Express, but it supports older TVs with composite or A/V (red/white/yellow) connectors. It costs $40.

Roku Premiere. This device looks more like the old Roku 4, with its squat shape, and it provides 4K video streaming at 60 fps. The cost? A very reasonable $80.

premiere-plus

Roku Premiere+. At $99, the Roku Premiere+ provides everything in the Premier but adds support for HDR for more vibrant picture quality. Also the remote features a headphone jack for nighttime viewing.

Roku Ultra. The “fully loaded” Roku Ultra builds off the Roku Premiere+ (and uses the same case), adding support for Dolby Digital Plus decode, voice search and lost remote finder. The cost is $130.

ultra

The Roku Express, Roku Premiere, Roku Premiere+ and Roku Ultra are available for pre-order now and will arrive on October 9, Roku says. Roku Express+ will be available exclusively at Walmart.

I recently purchased a Roku 4 to take advantage of my 4K UHD television, but I’ve just scheduled a return so I can pre-order the Roku Premiere+ for its HDR capabilities. (My set features HDR.) I’m very curious to see how it performs, but my experiences with the Roku 4 so far have of course been excellent.

 

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Comments (23)

23 responses to “Roku Introduces a New Streaming Player Lineup”

  1. 5234

    I just wanted to mention this about HDR:

    After talking to a bunch of people that work for TV manufacturers, I've finally gotten the low-down on the whole HDR stuff, and am pretty disappointed by what it's trying to achieve.  HDR on TV's as it stands now, is post-processed HDR.  It's EXACTLY the same as what you do when you compress a wide-gamut down to a narrow gamut in digital photography, such as taking multiple exposures (or RAW photos) and using tone-mapping to see "hidden" artifacts that you wouldn't see from a certain exposure across another.  In essence, it gives you less-realistic lighting because it discounts the exposure limitations of the eye, which is what film cameras with variable lense settings already do - this is your aperture, ISO, and shutter speed.  Now, you could use the higher colour gamut and bandwidth to reduce banding and flattening of bloom in lights (the 16.7 million colours should be enough to do that given the higher-bandwidth of UHD Blu-ray, and that the human eye can only see about 10 million distinct colours), but HDR seeks to eliminate that altogether by giving us fake lighting.  What you're getting is a compressed light spectrum that isn't representative of the lighting conditions that the film was actually shot in because it brightens dark objects and darkens brighter objects to fit in the limited human eye spectrum.  It's fake, and flattens the image.

    HDR in video games, as shown off by Valve in the Lost Coast add-on for HL2 is pre-processed HDR.  It's probably more accurate to call it "dynamic exposure" than HDR, but whatever.  This is how the human eye sees light.  It's far more realistic.  Interactive entertainment needs this type of HDR because it shows you more realistic lighting, and lots of games today don't use it, even though console hardware today is far more powerful than the Radeon 9600 that was needed to play Half-Life 2.  The post-processed HDR that you have in TV's is just a wide-gamut colour space, so in games that use it, it just shows you more subtle gradients - that's it.  There is no dynamic exposure at all - unless they support it in the graphics engine separately.  But that feature doesn't require special hardware support, as Valve had shown years ago.

    I think this is just another feature along with motion compensation (i.e. your 120hz+ interpolated video settings in a TV that makes every movie look like a BBC soap opera from the 80's) that just doesn't do any good for video quality.

    I've asked some real photographers about this, and the general concensus is that real photographers don't use HDR processing unless they're looking to turn their photos into (as one put it) "psychedelic eyesores".

  2. 325

    Interesting.  I actually really liked their old lineup, but the added features/lower prices here are welcome.  Once I get a new TV with 4k and HDR, I'll definitely consider one of these.

  3. 5529

    @Waethorn

    HDR in terms of the movie industry works like this. The movie studio gets the footage, makes the film, and color grades the film on high priced monitors that support a larger dynamic range of light intensity. In SDR, the range of the light intensity is 100 nits. In HDR, at least by the specs of UHD, that can go as high as 10,000 nits, though no displays made today can actually do that. So they will color grade it on let's say a 2,000 nit display. Most of the HDR displays will probaly end up at aroung 1,000 nits to start, optimistically.

    How do you display that 2,000 nit graded footage on the 700 nit display? You have to conpress the intensity range to achieve the artist intent. So the ACES spec came up with the EOTF transform that can move the footage to an agnostic intesity format (It is much more complicated and it isn't really agnostic, but close enough) that allows to easily match the footage to the consumer displays. This will have the added effect of allow the footage to display well on displays with greater than 2,000 nits as well.

    UHD also specifies the color gamut as the BT. 2020 spec. This is different than the HDR. A display can conform to the BT. 2020 color spec without the HDR capabilty (though it will still need to handle the metadata in the stream to tell it to use an sRGB display). 

    Here is where they might have gotten confused. The H.265 format on the HDR Blu Rays is stored as an SDR stream, with an HDR difference file available to use for supported displays. But it is a difference file, which means you will get out the full HDR goodness from the file, minus the compresion you get from H.265 itself, which you get in either format. This allows the disks to support older players/TVs.

    But the Displays themselves offer HDR with minum compression. (There is some "visually lossless" compression to the data stream in the HDMI/DisplayPort spec for these data intesive loads.)

    Now the UHD spec allows for 10bit and 12bit panels in the displays. 12bit will be the better display, but guess which ones will be cheapest for consumers? So there is some color gamut compression in this case, if the source video is encoded in 12bit format.

    • 5234

      Right.  Didn't I say that already?  HDR on TV's (well, as far as the media and such is concerned, not necessarily the hardware) is a compressed gamut.  What some TV manufacturers told me is that it takes dynamic exposure and flattens it as static exposure, which is what HDR post-processing does, just like when you do HDR on multi[-bracketed] or wide (RAW) exposure photography.  The dynamic part of it (i.e. the human eye exposure/aperture simulation, especially as seen in very few games) goes out the window.  The biggest advantage you have on new TV's is actually x.v.Color, which gives you your 10-bit color space.  The problem is, they're taking light values and trying to create post-processed tone-mapped HDR and applying it to that limited range.  It's like dithering for luminance.  The problem is in the tone-mapping - they shouldn't be clamping luminance values of different parts across the screen.  It might be more "visible", but it's fake.

       

      It's like this:  https://www.hdrsoft.com/index.html

      Gives you a cool effect for photos, and you can make things more visible in still photography, but it's just plain fake.  This is what they're doing in games though, and movies aren't greatly improved by HDR that aren't already done with x.v.Color, since the cinematographer is already taking light values into account while filming.  I would rather have a variable exposure, based on the focal point.  Most games now just show a crappy lens flare, but that's a cheap substitute.

  4. 953

    There are too many options to choice from. The good thing about Roku was that it was simple and had one option for all. I know they are trying to compete with Google Chromecast which all Walmart I've been to were sold out. But if Roku want to complete, jjust release a low end and a high end and call it a day. Too many option is was Microsoft does.

  5. 2585

    We have several Rokus, including the 4 - which was terribly prone to overheating. When it ran hot, it slowed way down. The fix was rather simple - we placed it underneath the media center where cooler air could flow freely. Remote still works great as it's RF. Still, the experience left a bit to be desired as this isn't an issue on the previous Roku devices we've owned. Glancing at Amazon reviews, I'm not the only one who had this issue.

  6. 1266

    Anyone stream content from a home server?  I have hundreds of my DVD's and Blu-Rays that I converted and put on my server.  Kodi is fine but isn't wife user friendly.

    • 345

      Agree with TroyTruax, do the same thing, using Plex media server on my Desktop. Works really well in terms of transcoding streams, remote access, as well as easy tagging of content. Plus it also passes the wife and kid test.

    • 4273

      I use the Plex app to stream from a Drobo set up as a Plex server. The Plex user interface passes the wife test.

       

  7. 5486

    That's quite a confusing range Roku now have. They should just have kept it at 3 - basic, mid-range and high-end. I'll stick with the Roku 2's we have. They're fine for 720P, which is perfectly adequate for my kids who use them.

  8. 2130

    Nice that they have a cheap option for hooking up to an old SDTV. It's good to have if you aren't ready to upgrade yet, and want to hook up a set up for the kids or something. And it still has HDMI for when you do move to an HD set.

  9. 5529

    So, first problem with Premium. I can't reply to a Premium member's post, so that my conversation becomes worth less than theirs because they paid. This is problematic in many ways, especially if I would like to correct some of their information.

     

    • 953

      You can always pay the $43 to become a premium member. Just dont understand why the hate about this. Its a small website. If you dont like how this site works than you can always go to any other tech site. There are 1000s of them to choice from.

  10. 430

    Price drops are always welcome, but I don't see any much reason for anyone in 1080p land to upgrade if you already have a refreshed Roku2 or above.  I love the FireTV UI, and switching back to the Roku feels about the same as picking up an iPhone again after being on Windows Phone.  It's functional enough, I guess, but ugh... so chunky and uninteresting.

  11. 5501

    Man ... either one of these or a Chrome Cast would be a great gift for me to give my mom for Christmas, but I'm kind of undecided on which one.

  12. 5542

    Did they do any work with the UI? I bought two Rokusek 3's and attached one to my home theatre and just couldn't take the horrendous UI.  I don't think I've used it after the first week while the second sits in an unopened in a drawer. 

  13. 5496

    Don't even put this in the same catorgory as Chromecast.

    With the stick, you do not need another device to use it. Roku and Chromecast are 2 different things.

  14. 4304

    I read somewhere else that Roku Ultra adds support for a USB stick and it can play almost all popular video and sound formats.  In my book,this is the one to get!

  15. 1704

    This is why Microsoft should stay away from the set-top device world.

    • 2131

      But, a MS streaming device could offer more than Roku - gaming. Also, Roku is undoubtedly the best of the best in terms of services it supports - both Amazon and Google Play for movies and TV is a big win, considering you won't find Google Play on Fire TV (without h4x) and Amazon Video won't work over Chromecast. MS wouldn't be able to offer the same quality channels Roku does, but a MS streaming device that supported Xbox Arcade/360 titles streaming from either your home console or MS servers would be a much-welcomed device in my home.

      • 241

        A MS "Roku-like" device would be interesting to me. My worry would be they would limit the features and not evolve it over time.

  16. 430

    Meant to include a line in there saying how "I wish they'd put some work into enhancing the UI" after my first line in the above comment.  Can we not edit our comments in the new system?

    Also, I tried to reply to my own comment to say this.  I clicked reply on my own comment, it gave me a reply box, and I entered the text.  When I submitted it, though, it put it as a reply to KPRROK's comment.  Bug?

  17. johnross1563

    Streaming TV shows has become easy now.....Watch all TV shows online free

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