Black Friday is less than two months away, so this is the time of year when makers of gadgets and gizmos announce their latest products. Today is Roku's turn, and the company has a lineup of five streaming media players that will work with just about any content provider except iTunes. The new round of players includes what we believe is the first streaming stick with the ability to play back 4K content. All five models have quad-core processors, though Roku doesn't disclose the make, model, or clock speed of any of the SoCs, or how much memory the devices pack.
The most affordable option is the Roku Express (Model 3900R), a diminutive set-top box measuring 0.7" tall, 3.3" wide, and 1.4" deep (1.8 cm x 8.4 cm x 3.6 cm). The device is pretty light at only 1.3 oz (37 g), so buyers might want to pick up some velcro or double-sided tape so that it's not pushed by its cable. The remote is a simple IR unit that can be controlled by replacement remotes. Roku says the updated Express has five times the power of the outgoing unit and can play back 720p and 1080p content at up to 60 Hz with ease. Connecting the Express is simple, as there are only has power and HDMI jacks to deal with.
The Roku Express+ (Model 3910RW) is essentially the same as the regular Express, but it has composite output for connecting an older TV. Wireless network connectivity on both Express twins is limited to 802.11n on the oh-so-crowded 2.4 GHz band.
The Roku Streaming Stick (Model 3800R) is aimed at users on the go or those who absolutely cannot stand cable clutter. Both models can connect to the outside world over dual-band 802.11ac MIMO Wi-Fi. There's a fancier remote control with voice search capability and dedicated power and volume buttons for controlling the attached TV set. The Streaming Stick measures 0.5" thick, 3.3" long, and 0.8" wide (1.3 cm x 8.4 cm x 2.0 cm) and weighs only 0.6 oz (17 g).
Roku's Streaming Stick+ (Model 3810R) is a similar device but adds the ability to play back 4K HDR content on HDR10-compatible displays. The Stick+ also comes with an external Wi-Fi receiver that Roku says delivers four times the wireless range of the standard Stick. This device is a fraction of an inch longer than the regular Stick and weighs 0.9 oz. (26 g).
The Roku Ultra (Model 4660R) has everything the Stick+ delivers except for external Wi-Fi module, which probably isn't necessary given the available room for antennas inside its chassis. Roku recommends the Ultra for the main TV of heavy streamers thanks to the addition of a 100 Mbit Ethernet jack. A USB port allows for local media playback of a variety of popular formats including H.264 and H.265 containers, while a microSD slot provides more room for extra Roku channels. The Roku Ultra measures 4.9" on each side and is 0.85" tall (or 12.4 cm x 12.4 cm x 2.2 cm), and weighs 8 oz (227 g).
All of the new Rokus support voice search and private audio streaming through a smartphone app, but only the Roku Ultra has a night listening feature that beams audio to the included RF remote with a headphone jack. That remote also has gaming buttons and a "lost remote" function that will make a noise in response to pressing a button on the Roku Ultra itself.
The quintet of new devices is delivered running Roku OS 8, which the company also released for a number of its older streaming machines. The new update carried several new features, most of which appear to be aimed at Roku TVs. Interested gerbils can read more here.
The company says Rokus allow mirroring the display of a Windows or Android device. The support page for this feature gives instructions for Windows 8.1 and Windows 10, suggesting that older versions of Microsoft's ubiquitous desktop OS are not invited to the party. The same page says that Android devices versions 4.2 and newer can show their screens through a compatible Roku streaming box, though Google's Nexus and Pixel phones won't play ball. Screen mirroring doesn't work with iOS devices, but their owners are probably looking at an Apple TV anyway.
The Roku Express lands at a reasonable $30, and its composite-video-enabled sibling Roku Express+ goes for $40. The basic Roku Streaming Stick costs $50, and the more powerful Roku Streaming Stick+ is $70. Those who want the tricked-out RF remote, wired networking, or the ability to connect a USB thumb drive or microSD card will have to fork out $100 for the Roku Ultra. Roku backs all of its boxes and sticks with a two-year warranty. All five new models are expected to go up for sale on October 8.