You'd think that there would be no surprises left for Roku's next batch of streaming media players, following a bunch of leaks which revealed plenty of details and some very clear photos. But that's not entirely true, chiefly because we didn't know the most important detail about Roku's new lineup: price. What's most impressive about the company's new players -- which are available for preorder today, and will ship on October 9th -- is how they're driving down the cost of adding streaming media to your TV while also expanding on useful capabilities like 4K and HDR.
How does a $30 streaming box sound? That's how much the new entry-level Roku Express will cost, coming in at $20 less than the previous Roku 1 and the latest Streaming Stick. The new model is faster than the Roku 1, but if you want the composite cable inputs from its predecessor, you'll have to shell out for the $40 Roku Express+. Both new players are longer and thicker than the Streaming Stick, but they're still smaller than their remotes. And speaking of the clickers, they're IR-based, so you'll have to keep the Express players somewhere in front of your TV.
Replacing the Roku 2 and 3 in the mid-range are the Roku Premiere ($80) and Premiere+ ($100), both of which will support 4K video up to 60 frames per second. They've got faster quad-core processors than before, as well as dual-band 802.11AC wireless, which is useful for areas with congested WiFi. The Premiere+ also offers HDR, an ethernet port, a microSD card slot for more storage and an RF remote with a headphone jack.
At the high end is the $130 Roku Ultra, which replaces last year's Roku 4 and delivers the same 4K and HDR capabilities as the Premiere+. It also adds an optical audio port for connecting to older receivers and soundbars. The Roku Ultra sports a USB port for playing back your own files, voice search through its remote, and a lost remote button on the player itself. While it'll likely have its fans, the Premiere+ sounds like the best overall deal for most consumers. That model offers more features than the Roku 4 for a far lower price.
For now, Roku's more expensive players are only supporting the HDR10 standard, and there's no word if they'll ever be able to support the competing Dolby Vision standard. You'll also be able to play Dolby Atmos via HDMI pass-through (which makes your receiver deal with all the decoding). On the software front, a new "night listening" mode will compress the dynamic range of audio (so booming explosions don't shake the walls) and Roku's Universal search feature now works across 100 different services (the most recent being HBO Now).
Aside from the naming changes, most of the new players seem like fairly standard upgrades for Roku. The mid and high-end boxes all share the company's penchant for flat boxes with rounded edges, and their remotes all look pretty familiar as well. The $30 Express model seems the most intriguing, since it's the sort of thing you can easily buy to throw on TVs all over the house. It's also a smart way for Roku to connect people with older TVs (though it's a shame you'll have to pay more for composite ports). And don't forget, Roku's $50 streaming stick remains a compelling (and portable) way to get in on the binge-watching fun.