Roku Refreshes Hardware Lineup, Adds Lower-Priced Entry Model

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Set-top box maker Roku introduces a refreshed hardware lineup today, with a lower-priced entry model, expanded 4K support, and new names.

Gone are the Roku 1, 2, 3, and 4, and in their places are the Roku Express, Express+, Premiere, Premiere+, and Ultra. The Streaming Stick, last refreshed in April 2016, is the only Roku hardware device not updated this time.

With the Express, Roku offers a lower-priced model than it has before, with a list price of $29.99. The Express is more compact than previous Roku boxes, but still offers 1080p support and 802.11 b/g/n Wi-Fi connectivity. It comes with an infrared remote and an HDMI cable. The $39.99 Express+, available only at Walmart, includes composite video support and comes with a composite cable. While Roku press materials don't mention the Google Chromecast, the Express seems like a clear effort to compete at the low-end, perhaps appealing to frugal shoppers who like the Chromecast's price but don't want to use their phones as a remote.

The Premiere and Premiere+ retail for $79.99 and $99.99, and trade the traditional Roku set-top box shape for the wider, flatter look of the previous Roku 4. Both support 60fps 4K video, and can upscale lower-resolution content thanks to their quad-core processors. The Premiere includes an infrared remote which requires a line-of-sight, while the Premier+ remote can be pointed anywhere and includes a headphone jack. The Premiere+ also tags on HDR support and a microSD card slot.

The top of the line Ultra lists for $129.99, and has the same shape as the Roku 4. It adds Dolby Digital/Digital Plus for surround sound theaters, optical digital audio out, a remote finder feature for tracking down lost remotes, and a USB port for playing local files.

"Roku’s new hardware lineup, spanning 6 models from $29 to $129, is a seeming declaration by the company that it intends to own the market," says IHS Technology senior analyst Paul Erickson. "Roku’s most disruptive product in the new lineup is undoubtedly the new entry-level Express model. Chromecast’s low price, despite not being a standalone product, propelled it to become the most popular-selling streaming device in the world. With that as background, it is expected that Roku Express’s delivery of full standalone capability at an even lower price point will result in a strong consumer response." 

Erickson believes the Roku Express puts presssure on Google to drop the price of the Chromecast.

Roku has also improved its cross-channel search, which now searches over 100 streaming channels. The result not only helps viewers find content they want to see, but find it at the lowest price.

All new Roku models are available today for pre-order, and will be in stores October 9.

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