March is always a busy product introduction month for Roku, and this one is particularly so with the streaming company actually putting its ballyhooed smart TV line on store shelves for the first time, along with the annual introduction of its latest operating system iteration, OS 12.
Starting Thursday, Best Buy (and BestBuy.com) will be the exclusive sellers of the 11 smart TV models engineered and built by Roku, and powered by its operating system.
Introduced at CES back in early January, Roku's TVs range in size from 24 to 75 vertical inches, spanning small, low-priced HD models to premium "Plus Series" gadgets that include large, 4K Dolby Vision-enabled QLED displays (yes, they can be described as "stunning"), automatic brightness and smart-home-lighting dimming features, and rechargeable voice-activated remotes with Bluetooth Private Listening, among other primo attributes.
Roku is still holding onto the price points up until after its press release embargo lifts, so we don't that information here. We don't expect them to be the cheapest on the market
Notably, in his Morgan Stanley TMT conference talk on Monday, Roku CEO Anthony Wood said that despite the fact that Roku has nearly a dozen OEM smart TV partners, many of them are reluctant to take risks on pricey new features until they prove fruitful in the consumer market. So selling its own TVs frees Roku to innovate a bit more and lead the market.
That's the party line, at least.
Here's the press release quote from Mustafa Ozgen, Roku's president of devices: “We made purposeful decisions to ensure that our Roku Select and Plus Series TVs embody what users love most about the Roku streaming experience, and we brought in our expertise in picture quality and audio to give consumers an entertainment upgrade at an incredible value.”
As we said up above, Roku is bringing its new sets to market in conjunction with its latest operating system update, OS 12. (The OS will debut over the next few weeks, so the new sets will still come out of the box with OS 11 and need an update.)
New features include:
> Local News: Users can watch live news channels personalized by location and AI-powered recommendations, or stream channels from major cities across the U.S. Roku users can search for "local news" using either Roku Search or Roku Voice. They can also visit the Live TV Zone on their Roku Home Screen Menu.
> Premium Subscriptions: The newest addition to Categories within Roku’s Live TV Channel Guide, Premium Subscriptions allows users to quickly discover and sign up for premium channels they are not currently subscribed to. Premium Subscriptions will join previously launched Categories (Recents, Favorites and Subscribed) and genres including News, Sports and Entertainment.
> Sports: Last year, Roku launched its "Sports" experience, a centralized location where users can browse and stream live and upcoming sports-related events across the Roku platform. Coverage will continue to expand with golf and additional soccer programming, including Spanish-language game coverage around select soccer leagues. Also, in the coming months, users will experience a more personalized Sports experience based on their location, favorite team, go-to sport, and viewing habits. Additionally, CBS Sports, MLB.TV, NBA App, and NBC Sports will join the list of supported channels for the Sports experience.
> Continue Watching: Located within What to Watch, Continue Watching gives users a single location to jump back into the content. Content from supported channels will now show up nearly instantly in the Continue Watching row after a user has finished streaming their favorite TV show or movie. Additionally, Discovery Plus and Amazon Prime Video will join the list of supported channels of the Continue Watching feature, with BET Plus, Amazon Freevee, Frndly TV and STARZ launching soon.
Roku said its OS 12 update will be pushed out to its more than 70 million active users in the next "few weeks."
Meanwhile, the Silicon Valley streaming company also updates to its mobile app, which it said will now offer a more refined, elevated and visually immersive interface, making it the "go-to destination" for all account and streaming needs.
In the coming months, users will notice the following upgrades:
> A revamped account hub: Roku is introducing an expanded account hub where users can create and adjust Roku account preferences seamlessly. Updates will include a new sign-up and sign-in process; the ability to establish security, privacy, and notification preferences; device management on their account; and more.
> A more streamlined home screen: Within the mobile app’s home tab, users will notice a simpler interface with new features tailored to them. These include dedicated "sports" and "continue watching rows, and more.
> Live TV channel “guide” button: Previously, Roku introduced a dedicated live TV channel “guide” button on the mobile app remote when connected to Roku TVs. In the coming months, this feature will expand to connected players, enabling users to instantly launch the Live TV Channel Guide right from their phone.
> Enhanced Roku Photo Streams: Last year, Roku announced Roku Photo Streams, giving users the ability to share photos with friends and family and turn their TVs into the biggest photo album in their home. With Thursday's updates, managing and uploading images to photo streams will ostensibly be faster and easier. With a new mobile integration, users will be able to upload images right from their photo album, choose thumbnails for their streams, simply add or delete images, set streams as screensavers, and share streams with family and friends right from their phones. Plus, users can now upload up to 1,000 images per stream.
NEXT TV NEWSLETTER
The smarter way to stay on top of the streaming and OTT industry. Sign up below.
Daniel Frankel is the managing editor of Next TV, an internet publishing vertical focused on the business of video streaming. A Los Angeles-based writer and editor who has covered the media and technology industries for more than two decades, Daniel has worked on staff for publications including E! Online, Electronic Media, Mediaweek, Variety, paidContent and GigaOm. You can start living a healthier life with greater wealth and prosperity by following Daniel on Twitter today!