Roku revamps its streaming video players
Columnist Kim Komando helps you navigate services, hardware and content if you're ready to ditch the TV bill.
Roku has a new lineup of streaming video players coming as it aims to maintain its lead over competitors Amazon, Google and Apple.
Among the new products: a $29.99 player, a new $69.99 streaming stick with improved wireless connectivity and its top-of-the-line Ultra player ($99.99), which delivers 4K high dynamic range (HDR) video.
The streaming video marketplace is set to heat up this month with new products from most of the main players. Amazon last week unveiled its new Amazon Fire TV, while Apple announced its new Apple TV player, its first able to stream 4K video. Current players from Amazon and Roku, along with Google's Chromecast Ultra, already handle 4K.
eMarketer estimates that 38.9 million Americans will use a Roku device at least once a month, up 19.3% from 2016. As a result, the device will capture 23.1% of all connected TV users. Google Chromecast (37 million) and Amazon Fire TV (36 million) are close behind; Apple TV (21 million) trails the field.
The newest products from the Los Gatos, Calif.-based tech company, available for pre-order now and out Oct. 8, aim to capture not only longtime cord cutters but newcomers to the streaming marketplace — you connect the device to your TV and your home Internet network to get video from Netflix, YouTube and other video apps.
The Roku Ultra ($99.99) has a built-in ethernet port and micro SD slot for those who use lots of apps. In addition to handling 4K and 4K HDR video, the Ultra has a new voice-powered remote that can turn your TV on and change the volume, and let you plug in headphones for late-night viewing.
The Roku Streaming Stick ($49.99) streams HD video and also has a voice remote, while the Streaming Stick+ ($69.99) adds 4K and 4K HDR video and an advanced wireless receiver built into its power cord for a 4X boost in its wireless range.
For entry-level consumers, the Roku Express ($29.99) handles high-def video and the Roku Express+ ($39.99, available only at Walmart) comes with composite video cables (red/yellow/white jacks) for older TVs.
A new Roku operating system, coming later this month to Roku players and next month to Roku TVs, includes a smart guide that incorporates over-the-air broadcast programming -- you need an antenna connected to your Roku TV -- and a new Roku channel with free ad-supported movies and TV content.
Advertising revenue was cited in the company's IPO filing last month as one of the paths to profitability. The company reported revenue of $399 million in 2016 and a loss of $42.3 million.
The streaming company has licensed movies from studios such as Lionsgate, MGM, and Sony for its Roku channel and have reduced the ads to about half what you would normally see on typical ad-supported TV broadcasts. "What we really see is people are hungry for free TV and this is a way to get it with no subscriptions and no fees or no log-ins and it is available across the Roku platform," said Roku's chief marketing officer Matthew Anderson.
Follow USA TODAY reporter Mike Snider on Twitter: @MikeSnider.