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Roku Tuesday refreshed its device line-up, unveiling a revamped 4K streaming set-top, the Roku Express 4K+, for $39.99.
The Express 4K+ takes its place in the Roku lineup as a step up from the entry-level Roku Express at $29.99, as a re-branded version of the existing Roku Premiere at $39.99. It sits below the Streaming Stick+ at $49.99 and Roku Ultra at $99.99.
The Express 4K+ is the first time Roku is including support in its products for what's called HDR 10+, a standard that is used by Samsung Electronics in its "smart" television sets for expanded high dynamic range.
A major component of the Express 4K+ is enhanced Wi-Fi networking. That includes a new dual-band radio that Roku says will stream much further from the Router. The software in the player, in the case of multiple home Wi-Fi networks, will continually scan the networks to determine which one may have the least-crowded signal.
The Express 4K+ also includes hard-wiring via a third-party Ethernet adaptor, which had previously been limited to the more expensive Ultra.
"It totally ups the game with a brand-new processor, more storage, and a much snappier interface," said Roku's vice president of product strategy, Mark Ely, in an interview with ZDNet. "Channels launch faster, it's going to be much more responsive than our previous-generation player."
"4K TVs are just proliferating," observed Ely. "At Roku, we're really focused on trying to have the most affordable way to get going with 4K."
The Express 4K+ comes with a redesigned remote control with voice-activation and voice commands, the Voice Remote Pro. A user can use the wake words, "Hey, Roku," and say things such as, "Hey, Roku, play Netflix." The device for the first time has a rechargeable battery and can emit a chime in response to the request "Hey, Roku, where's my remote" if you drop it behind the cushions.
The remote for the first time has a hard button for Apple's AppleTV+ service, too, alongside the Hulu, Netflix, and Disney+ buttons.
Those buttons change from time to time to reflect various partnerships that Roku has with the content providers. "You'll see AppleTV+ coming to more of our remotes over time," said Ely. "It's part of a broader partnership with Apple. "The remote for the first time has a hard button for Apple's AppleTV+ service, alongside the Hulu, Netflix, and Disney+ buttons.
The remote's price will increase from $19.99 for the existing model to $29.99.
The line-up will also feature a new version of the company's Smart Soundbar, the Streambar Pro, which combines 4K streaming and cinematic sound.
The Streambar Pro makes use of a new capability offered in an operating system update today from Roku, OS 10, called "virtual surround." That feature makes it feel as if the audio from a show is coming from all sides of a viewer.
The Express 4K+ goes on sale in the middle of May "at major retailers" in the US, while the Voice Remote Pro is available starting today. The Streambar Pro will be available at the end of May.