Roku Unleashes 4K Model

Looking to keep the edge on its rivals in the heated OTT video market, Roku, as anticipated, has introduced a 4K-capable model as well as new OS, an expanded Roku Feed and a refreshed mobile app.

Roku’s new entry will start shipping this month and sell for $129.99, about $30 more than the recently introduced 4K-capable Fire TV box from Amazon that started to ship Monday (October 5). Roku, which topped the OTT streaming market in 2014, is also introducing the Roku 4 as the company faces off with the new Apple TV device and a next-gen version of the Google Chromecast streaming adapter.

The new quad-core device will also offer an upgraded UI (in 1080p), video frame rates of up to 60 frames per second, a USB connection for local playback, 802.11ac MIMO WiFi, HDCP 2.2, optical audio, as well as a remote control finder – activated via a button on top of the Roku 4 that will cause the remote to emit a sound to help the user track it down. 

4K Fare, New OS

Roku has also developed a curated 4K Spotlight channel that will serve as a home for movies, TV shows and other content that’s available in Ultra HD resolution. The new device will also provide a channel/shortcut that shows 4K fare from sources ranging from Netflix, M-Go, Amazon Instant  Video, ToonGoggles, Vudu and YouTube.

Roku is introducing a new operating system, OS 7, and says its overall platform now offers access to nearly 3,000 channels, and its search platform now spans 20 sources.

Roku, said company director of product management Lloyd Klarke, has added more than 1,000 channels in the past  year.

But the OTT environment is becoming “less about apps” and more about a providing a smart way for users to find what they want to watch, Klarke said.

Roku hopes to address that with an updated Roku Feed with the new OS that expands on the “Movies Coming Soon” feature that Roku bowed in April.  With the new version, Roku users will be able to follow specific actors, directors and TV series. Those are now grouped together and updated in the user’s individual feed.

“It’s like a search that keeps on searching,” he said.

In addition to the Roku 4, all “current generation” Roku devices (basically those made after May 2011) will be getting the new OS. It’ll initially be made available in mid-October and then expand to all eligible devices over the course of the following weeks.

Mobile App Does More

Roku is also booting up a new mobile app (starting with iOS and Android, with plans for a Windows Phone version) that will continue to complement the on-screen experience, but also provide features, such as search, that users can access when it’s not tethered to the Roku device. Any searches performed on the go will be added to the device, said Sharad Sundaresan, Roku’s senior vice president of product management.

Among other updates, Roku is also introducing a feature that lets users more easily connect their devices to hotel and college dorm WiFi networks that typically require an extra layer of authentication. That element, offered via a laptop or mobile browser, essentially served as a bridge/passthrough to connect the Roku to those networks, and the user will typically only have to go through this process once.

The Roku 4 will be a new member of the company’s streaming device family and continue to complement its integrated TV strategy, which now spans five brands (Haier America, Sharp, TCL, Hisense and Insignia, which is Best Buy’s in-house brand), and more than 25 models. Of that group, TCL expects to ship its 1 millionth Roku TV set by the end of 2015.

As a stats update, Roku said it has 7.5 million active Roku user accounts worldwide, and that its platform streamed 3 billion hours in 2014. It has already streamed 2.5 billion hours during the first half of 2015. Those revised numbers come about a year after Roku said it had shipped more than  10 million devices in the U.S.