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Roku Seeks to Extend OTT Lead with Product Refresh

Controlling an industry-leading 43 million active users of its connected TV platform, most of them in the United States, Roku isn’t standing still. The streaming company has announced a flurry of product debuts and software enhancements, including the latest iterations of its operating system and high-end OTT player, the introduction of a lower-priced smart soundbar and the rollout of a Roku Channel mobile app that works whether the user owns Roku hardware or not.

The Roku Channel's mobile app

An enhanced app is among the new Roku offerings (Image credit: Roku)

Roku is rolling out the latest iteration of its operating system, OS 9.4. And perhaps the most notable OS upgrade is one that hasn’t arrived yet. Roku said support for Apple AirPlay and HomeKit will debut “later this year” on “select 4K Roku devices.” 

AirPlay2 will allow Roku users to stream, control and share content on Roku devices from their Apple iPhone, iPad or Mac computers. HomeKit will allow these same users to control their Roku device using the Home app, with Siri voice, on iPhones, iPads, Mac computers and Apple Watches. 

It’s notable that Apple, which charges $179.99 for its Apple TV 4K device, just announced integration of HomeKit as part of its tvOS 14 upgrade. 

Among usability feature improvements for OS 9.4, users of Roku-powered smart TVs will now be able to access the Live TV Channel Guide directly from the home screen (as opposed to going through the Roku Channel app).

The upgraded Ultra Roku

The Ultra Roku (Image credit: Roku)

More Live Channels

Roku is also adding 15 live, linear channels to its lineup, including Cinedigm's Bloody Disgusting TV, The Craftistry from Studio71, Circle, HappyKids.tv, martial arts channel Hi-YAH! , iFood.tv, The Lego Channel, Maverick Black Cinema, MovieSphere, Skills + Thrills, VENN and WeatherSpy, as well as a variety of Spanish-language entertainment including Sony Canal Novelas, Sony Canal Comedias, and Sony Canal Compentencias from Sony Pictures Television and Tastemade en Español.

The live, linear guide creates a kind of pay TV-like channel-surfing experience, blending the ad-supported VOD channels Roku provides with over-the-air local stations the user adds with their own antenna. 

The software enhancements also include the rollout of a new iOS and Android app that will let users access the free-to-consumer, ad-supported Roku Channel from smartphones and tablets, regardless of whether they own Roku hardware. 

Roku fixed the common consumer pain point of getting the OTT player to connect to the living room sound bar with the introduction of the Roku Smart Soundbar in September 2019. Roku integrated the chipset from its top-of-the-line Ultra OTT player into a premium, full-sized, Bluetooth-enabled sound bar that included Dolby audio (Dolby Digital and Dolby Digital Plus). That device served as a linchpin for a complete surround-sound system that also includes the Roku Wireless Subwoofer and the Roku Wireless Speakers. 

The Bluetooth-connected audio system delivers premium sound and works every time users fire up their TV. But it’s not cheap, starting with the $179.99 price for the Smart Soundbar.

The Roku Streambar speaker

The Roku Streambar speaker (Image credit: Roku)

Smaller ‘Streambar’ Bows

Perhaps needing a more enticing price tag to hook users into its audio ecosystem, Roku is debuting the more diminutive Roku Streambar, which “fits nicely inside a Christmas stocking” and retails for $129.99, director of product management Sheldon Radford said.

The Bluetooth-enabled sound bar also includes Dolby Audio and an integrated Roku player with a quad core processor. 

Asked why users would pay an additional $50 for the Roku Smart Soundbar, Radford said, “Aesthetically, you might decide that [the older, more expensive product] looks better with your bigger TV.”

Finally, Roku is upgrading its top-of-the-line player, the Roku Ultra, redesigning its WiFi antenna to give it 50% more reception range. The 4K-capable $99 device includes a quad-core processor and more memory, with support for High Dynamic Range at 60 frames per second, as well as Dolby Vision and Dolby Atmos.