Roku’s latest streaming device gives 4K, HDR, and a voice remote for $40 – Ars Technica

Roku on Tuesday announced its latest 4K media streamer, the Roku Express 4K+. In addition, the streaming-device maker launched a new optional voice-remote upgrade, the Roku Voice Remote Pro, a lightly updated version of its two-in-one Smart Soundbar called the Streambar Pro, and a Roku OS 10 software update for its family of video hardware, audio devices, and Roku TVs.

A new 4K HDR streamer for $40

Starting with the new streamer, the Roku Express 4K+ will cost $40 and replace the current Roku Premiere player when it starts shipping in mid-May. It has the similarly small and slightly curved design of the existing Roku Express, but now it can output 4K HDR video instead of basic 1080p. It won’t support Dolby Vision HDR—that, along with Dolby Atmos audio, will remain limited to the high-end Roku Ultra—but it will support HDR10 and HDR10+. (The latter will also arrive on the Ultra via a software update.) Like other Roku players, it also supports Apple’s AirPlay 2 and HomeKit for direct streaming and Siri (or Home app) control, respectively, from an iOS device or Mac.

Roku says the Express 4K+ has a more powerful processor that supplies performance comparable to that of the $50 Roku Streaming Stick+, as well as more internal storage space than the Premiere. Also included is a voice remote with TV controls, again similar to the one found with the Streaming Stick+. The Express 4K+ adds support for dual-band 802.11ac Wi-Fi (the Premiere only had less robust single-band wireless) as well as Micro USB Ethernet adapters, though it won’t have the 2×2 MIMO wireless tech of the Streaming Stick+ for better handling crowded Wi-Fi networks.

Despite being a few years old at this point, the Streaming Stick+ will stick around as an upgrade for people who want that upgraded wireless tech and a thinner form factor that plugs directly into an HDMI port. Nevertheless, the Express 4K+’s feature set should bring it closer to parity with the Streaming Stick+ than the Premiere, which could give it appeal for secondary TVs and budget shoppers. Roku says that Walmart will sell a $35 variant called the Roku Express 4K that eschews the smarter voice remote for a basic IR-based model.

A $30 voice remote upgrade

The Roku Voice Remote Pro is a $30 upgrade for existing Roku device owners who are willing to pay for a rechargeable battery, a built-in headphone jack, and more advanced voice control features.
Enlarge / The Roku Voice Remote Pro is a $30 upgrade for existing Roku device owners who are willing to pay for a rechargeable battery, a built-in headphone jack, and more advanced voice control features.

Roku

Beyond that, the company is rolling out the Roku Voice Remote Pro, a $30 remote control upgrade for existing Roku video players, TVs, and audio devices. It has the same general design language as most Roku voice remotes, with similar TV control capabilities as well as the two programmable shortcut buttons and built-in headphone jack found on the most recent Roku Ultra’s remote.

The Voice Remote Pro, however, comes with a rechargeable battery instead of relying on separate AA or AAA units. Roku says it’ll last about two months per charge. It recharges over a Micro USB port instead of the faster and increasingly ubiquitous USB-C, however, which might be a disappointment.

Regardless, the Voice Remote Pro also includes a built-in microphone for hands-free voice controls, which you can use to launch apps, adjust volume, turn on the TV, help locate the remote through a “lost remote” feature, and so on. A toggle on the side of the remote lets you switch the remote between an always-listening mode—which lets you trigger commands by saying “Hey Roku”—or a more traditional push-to-talk mode.

As noted on the r/Roku subreddit, Roku previously seeded a limited number of these upgraded remotes to select users, but now it’s making the device widely available. The upgrade may not be totally worth it for Roku Ultra owners who already have many of these features, and it’s always possible to use a set of rechargeable AA or AAA batteries. But for those with less expensive players who would value the headphone jack, simpler battery, shortcut buttons, and always-on voice controls, the option is now there. Roku says the Voice Remote Pro will begin shipping on its website as of Tuesday and arrive at other retailers in May.

Roku OS 10 update and a revised streaming soundbar

On the software side, Roku says it has started rolling out Roku OS 10, the latest update to the streaming operating system used across its family of devices and Roku TVs. This does not bring any major changes to the visual design or overall aesthetic of the OS. Instead, it focuses on a few quality-of-life improvements.

For one, the company says the aforementioned Apple AirPlay 2 and HomeKit support will now be available on lower-cost HD Roku streamers and “select HD Roku TV models,” expanding beyond the handful of 4K streamers, 4K TVs, and smart soundbars that first received the feature last year.

A new automatic network detection feature will pull up a quick option to connect to a stronger Wi-Fi network when one is detected, while another feature will detect when a game console is connected to a Roku TV and automatically activate settings like Game Mode, HDR, auto low-latency mode, variable refresh rate, and so on for that HDMI port, depending on what the TV supports. A new OS-level “Instant Resume” feature will remember where users close an app and pick back up at that point when the app is reopened, too—though Roku says this will only be supported on “15+” streaming channels at launch, the most notable of which being AT&T TV, Starz, Plex.tv, FOX News Channel, and the company’s own Roku Channel.

Also new is a virtual surround-sound feature for Roku’s higher-end streaming soundbars. We haven’t been able to listen to this for ourselves, but Roku claims it will help provide a more spacious effect.

To help push this, the company is repackaging its existing Roku Smart Soundbar, which doubles as a 4K HDR video streamer, as the Roku Streambar Pro. Roku says it will have the same hardware and $180 price point as before, but its voice remote will now include the personal shortcut buttons and built-in headphone jack found on the Roku Ultra’s clicker. It’ll begin shipping in mid-May. Existing Smart Soundbar users will still be able to utilize the virtual surround software update, though owners of the smaller and more affordable Roku Streambar will not.

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