Ahead of the holiday season, Roku made some minor updates to its media-streamer lineup as well as its Roku software as a whole. You won’t find any totally new Roku devices this year, but you’ll find an updated, $29 Roku Express player that’s smaller and uses less power as well as an updated, $99 Roku Ultra set-top box with a new remote that has customizable shortcut buttons.
Roku Express remains the company’s most affordable streaming device at $29. The new version is 10% smaller than its predecessor and comes with an adhesive strip so you can attach it to the back of your TV. But more exciting are the updates to its internals—the new Express runs on less power than the previous model, and it can draw power from your TV if you plug it into one of the TV’s USB ports. That means you don’t need to plug this device into a wall outlet or other power source in order to use it—just plug it into both a USB port and your TV’s HDMI port to start streaming.
On the other end of the spectrum is the Roku Ultra, the company’s top-tier streaming device that costs $99. The new version will remain at that price point, but it has a faster quad-core processor and more memory, which should help the device launch channels faster than the previous model. Instead of overhauling the Ultra’s design, Roku focused more on performance in hopes that it could remove as much lag and slowness as possible so users can get to their content faster. This will purportedly come in handy with content that cord-cutters gravitate toward, like live news and sports coming from any number of free and subscription services.
The updated Roku Ultra will also come with a new remove control that supports all of the features that the previous remote did (like voice commands, private listening with a headphone jack, etc), plus new custom shortcut buttons. These new “1” and “2” buttons can be programmed with a voice command. That means you can hold down one of the buttons and say “Play ABC news live,” and the Roku Ultra will then take you to your content. You can also press the same custom shortcut button again to lock in that preset. Whenever you press that button in the future, it will automatically take you to ABC news live (or whatever content you asked for the first time). Shortcut buttons are not limited to selected content or channels, either—you can set a shortcut button to turn on closed captions or invoke other features that you may use frequently but can’t easily access otherwise.
In addition to updated products, new Roku software will be coming to all Roku players and TVs soon. Roku 9.2 will extend Direct Play to nearly 40 content providers, create a new Roku Tips and Tricks section in the OS that users can consult to learn how to use their devices more effectively, bring new shortcuts to the home screen for basic functions like adding channels, and introduce Roku Zones.
The latter makes it easier to find content across all of your streaming services based on genre or category. If you know you’re in the mood for a comedy, you can navigate to the Comedy Zone, where Roku’s software aggregates a bunch of TV shows, films, and other content in that genre for you to choose from. Features like this, as well as Roku’s Featured Free section and others, make it easier to find content you want (and content you didn’t know you had) without making you do extra work—and that’s more important than ever now that new streaming subscription services are continuously rolling out.
The updated Roku Express costs $29, and the updated Roku Ultra costs $99. Both are available for preorder today from Roku’s website and will be widely available in October.
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