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Roku Adds AirPlay 2 and HomeKit Support with OS 9.4

(Image credit: Roku)

Roku on Monday announced a flurry of new product debuts and software enhancements, which include the latest iterations of its operating system and high-end OTT player, the introduction of a new lower priced smart sound bar, and the rollout of a Roku Channel mobile app that works regardless of whether the user owns Roku hardware. 

First, the Software

The streaming company will start rolling out over the coming weeks its latest 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. 

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). 

Starting Tuesday, Roku is adding 15 live-linear channels to its lineup, including Cinedigm's Bloody Disgusting TV, The Craftistry from Studio71, Circle, HappyKids.tv, Hi-YAH! - The Martial Arts Channel, iFood.tv, The Lego Channel, Maverick Black Cinema, MovieSphere, Skills + Thrills, VENN, 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 software enhancements also include the rollout of a new iOS and Android app that will let users access the free-to-consumer, add-supported Roku Channel from smart phones and tablets, regardless of whether they own Roku hardware. 

(Image credit: Roku)

About Roku Hardware

Roku fixed the common consumer pain point of getting the OTT player to connect to the living room sound bar a year ago, 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 lynchpin 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 just works every time users fire up their TV. But it’s not cheap, starting with the $179.99 price for the Smart Sound Bar. 

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

(Image credit: Roku)

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

“Why would I pay an additional $50 for the Roku Smart Soundbar?” Next TV asked Radford.

“Aesthetically, you might decide that [the older, more expensive product] looks better with your bigger TV,” he said. 

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 HDR, 60 fps, as well as Dolby Vision and Dolby Atmos.