Roku preps Express, Premiere, and Ultra models (plus HDR!)


By correlating the recent Roku FCC leak against information obtained from two Canadian channels (1, 2), we now have a pretty good idea what Roku intends to do this fall with five new models… including potentially moving away from a tired, repetitive numerical naming convention and the introduction of HDR capabilities.

Roku Express

Replacing the Roku 1 in the streaming company’s lineup is the Roku Express (3700) and Express Plus (3710). As to what’s new and the differentiation between models, I’m not entirely certain. However, it’s reasonable to assume the 2016 Roku 1 would feature a more capable processor and if the distinction between the Premiere and Premiere Plus models (below) is any indication, perhaps the Roku Express Plus model features additional ports or that desirable headphone+voice control remote. I’m hopeful that at least one model will retain RCA composite outputs to support older televisions.


Roku Premiere

The Roku Premiere (4620) and doubly good Roku Premiere Plus (4630) look to slide into the Roku 2 and Roku 3 product slots. However, unlike their 2015 iterations, the 2016 Roku 2 and 2016 Roku 3 will both feature 4k capabilities. The primary differences between the Roku Premiere and Premiere Plus seem to be the inclusion of Ethernet and microSD for the Plus model. I’d also assume the Plus model ships with that better remote, as we see now when comparing the Roku 2 v 3.

HDR is apparently confirmed only for the Plus model at this time. But we’ll see if that designation sticks. In any event it’s a much-needed improvement over the 2015 Roku 4. Further, I’m hopeful they’ve figured out how to design these in such a way to overcome heat issues and do away with the (loud) fan — similar to the Amazon Fire TV which does 4K in a tight, fanless enclosure. In any event, Roku continues to offer 4k for less than the 1080p Apple TV.


Roku Ultra

The Roku Ultra (4640) replaces the Roku 4 in the lineup. Beyond the Premiere Plus’ features and functionality, the Ultra ratchets up its capabilities further with a remote control finder and optical out… as seen with the prior model. However, this flagship Roku also brings HDR for 2016 and is the only model to feature USB for accessing local media.

While one listing has these new streamers arriving as early as September 7th, I have my doubts given Roku’s suppression of their FCC filing citing some sort of marketing considerations – perhaps in relation to the new naming convention? But I imagine they’re quite motivated to get the boxes released this fall given the ever-critical holiday shopping season. And, given those Canadian valuations, it looks like prices will roughly track the 2015 models.

41 thoughts on “Roku preps Express, Premiere, and Ultra models (plus HDR!)”

  1. Nice scoop, Dave! Yes, built-in OTA would be a great differentiating feature. It’s there enough difference in pricing between base and plus models to account for the cost of a single tuner though? For that matter, I wonder if there’s not more going on with the Ultra than you outlined. $27 more just for optical audio and remote finder? Seems like a weak upgrade over the Premiere Plus. Maybe the Ultra has an OTA tuner and none of the other models do. (Or, most likely, none of them do.) But, hey, HDR is cool. The new Android TV Mi Box will have UHD HDR for $99 or less, so Roku needed to guard their turf.

  2. Even tho the Mi Box looks good on paper and pricing, they don’t have the name recognition or distribution of the other major players… It’s kinda too bad Sony, Logitech, Vizio etc gave up on Google/Android TV. Fool me once.

    By the by, I find Roku “Premiere Plus” branding amusing. It’s the Premiere edition! And Plus too! Reminds me of the phone so epic, they had to name it 7 times. (Not to mention we previously had the pokey TiVo Premiere.)

    PS Looks like the PC Canada listing has been pulled. Here’s the Bing cache:

  3. Android TV is used on pretty much all current high-end TVs, so they haven’t given up on it at all (unless they’re dropping it in next year’s models, which would be news to me). Roku’s CEO, in fact, noted in an interview this year that he believes the future of smart TVs will be dominated by two platforms: Roku and Android TV. Remains to be seen what kind of distribution Xiaomi will get for the Mi Box but word is the Chinese giant is planning to sell their smart phones in the US soon and they’re using the steaming box as an entry point into the US retail market.

  4. When the smoke clears the streaming box market will be Amazon,Roku, and Apple, Google chromecast. Android Tv boxes will be a trainwreck.

  5. A trainwreck? On what, if anything, is that opinion based? The Nvidia Shield TV has already carved out a pretty good niche at the high-end as the most powerful streamer on the market and it runs Android TV. And the OS has found a number of backers in the smart TV arena (Sony, Sharp, RCA, various European brands, etc.). Meanwhile, a lot of high-profile app providers have come on board the platform in the last year. While Roku is also progressing as a smart TV OS, I don’t see Apple’s tvOS or Amazon Fire OS ever moving into that arena, so the choices for TV manufacturers are basically Roku, Android TV, or roll your own (e.g. Samsung). Android TV is simply standard Android with Google’s leanback UI and we know that Android — which powers something like 80% of the world’s smartphones — isn’t going anywhere. As long as Android TV continues to do well in the smart TV market, I see no reason why Google won’t continue to also license it to whatever hardware makers wish to use it for standalone streaming boxes (or, failing that, why Google wouldn’t offer it via a Nexus Player). It’s true that Android TV ranks fifth among the streaming box/dongle platforms you listed and it may stay there. But sales numbers for Android TV streamers continue to rise and I don’t see any reason why that whole category will become a trainwreck.

  6. I agree the Nvidia impresses. However, unless Nvidia releases numbers we have no basis for calling it successful. Looks like they have an upgrade in the pipeline… They’ll have to bring those prices down to hit meaningful sales figures is my guess.

  7. NVIDIA Shield is nice and super fast. I bought it to use as a Plex & HDHOMERUN DVR server of which it has worked very well but my guess is it is and will remain fairly niche as far as market share. The thing killing Android TV on market share is it only seems to come on high end TV’s with low end TV’s going with Roku as well as non compelling set tops besides the high priced Shield. Apple TV 4 is still my favorite streamer followed Roku/Android TV/Fire TV but I still need to use the Roku for Vudu and Amazon content. Roku 4K with HDR could be extremely compelling especially if it supports Dolby Vision which is on ZERO set tops right now. The main thing that has me down on Roku is the lack of OTA/Tuner support from HDHOMERUN or Channels. Tablo is a possibility but the lack of Cablecard support as well as slow performance gives me pause.

  8. Back to Roku… From Reddit, some interesting points –

    * Existing models should see some good sale pricing
    * Request for HDMI-CEC (like Fire TV and Apple TV)
    * Request for a remote with a lithium battery

  9. Why in the world Roku and other streamer don’t build very basic universal capabilities into their remotes is beyond me. Let the user control TV power and volume with the Roku remote, like the TiVo remote. That would be a great sales point, I would think. I doubt the average Roku buyer has an expensive Harmony universal remote lying around.

  10. Good to see Roku progressing. A separate box from the TV is still desirable for many of us.

    That said, to echo the Android TV comments above: most Sony TVs now have it. I got one with a 4K Sony recently and have to admit it’s pretty good when it works properly, plus no need to switch inputs or maintain a separate box. Still quirky but very impressive. Plus it includes the Google Cast features to fill in apps that aren’t native to the Android TV UI. I much prefer it to Roku right now. We removed the Roku from the living room and haven’t needed it since.

    Nvidia Shield is a very nice and expensive iteration of it, much more powerful than what is built in to the Sony TV or what you can find in a $100 Android TV set top box.

    Roku still has a place, even as a replacement for “Smart TV” interfaces as most TVs are smart these days. But as the Smart TV UIs improve, like Android TV, the need for a separate box may diminish.

  11. I tend to agree. Too many models and too much confusion. A simple and pro version would be ideal. Also the naming conventions have been super confusion, especially year-to-year when they have repurposed model numbers.

  12. As of today, Amazon is running a sale on their 2nd gen Fire TV box for $85, regularly $99. I’ll bet we see them announce a 3rd gen box with HDR support in Sept. Between the new higher-end Roku models, the new Mi Box, and possibly new Amazon Fire TV and TiVo Bolt+, I think support for UHD HDR (rather than simply UHD) will be the defining characteristic of high-end streamers this holiday shopping season. (The Nvidia Shield TV already got HDR support via a software update this summer.) I wonder if any of the devices will support the Dolby Vision HDR standard or only the more widespread HDR10 standard. I know that TV sets that support Dolby Vision must contain a special chip. I wonder if that’s true for external streaming boxes too.

  13. Five boxes (plus the stick!) sure does seem excessive and the price differential between models as you step up isn’t that extreme. Even if Roku can contain their manufacturing and marketing costs, I can’t imagine most retailers would stock all models as it’s a lot of shelf space for largely redundant functionality. While it gives them way more price points for consumers, it introduces a lot of complexity. For reference, the only (?) difference between the 2015 Roku 2 and Roku 3 is the upgraded RF voice/earbud remote.

    Tim, the Fire TV is often on sale at the price. Having said that, I do expected a refreshed Fire TV box and Stick.

  14. “Why in the world Roku and other streamer don’t build very basic universal capabilities into their remotes is beyond me. Let the user control TV power and volume with the Roku remote, like the TiVo remote. That would be a great sales point, I would think.”

    It’s such a great idea, someone already figure it out:

    Cheap, and works great. THERE’S your mom and pop solution.

  15. I wonder what I can sell my Roku 4 for. I didn’t have issues with it like many people had(like the red push). But it would be nice to have a ROku that handled HDR content. Although a lot of good it would do with Vudu since Vudu only uses Dolby Vision HDR. And my TV only has HDR 10. Like most HDR TVs.

  16. Universal remote is an interesting problem – it adds a small amount of cost to the hardware but maybe a greater cost in terms of ongoing support. By the time they factor that into the higher-end models, maybe those folks already have Harmony (as I do) or other? Apple *tries* to solve this in a couple of ways, including HDMI-CEC.

    Sideclick has looked promising. Although I’m not sure it’s as cheap as Adam suggests at $30 when Roku 1 goes for $35 on sale and full-fledged universal remotes run less. ;) But it is a great idea and slick implementation.

  17. Yeah, Adam, I’m aware of Sideclick, it’s been around quite awhile. It looks like an ergonomic misfire to me and, as pointed out by Dave, costs an extra $30, which is excessive for what it is. If Roku (or any streamer manufacturer) is looking for an easy way to differentiate and add value to their product while only modestly increasing their build and support costs, add TV/receiver power and volume controls to their remotes. Seems like low-hanging fruit to me.

    Yep, Dave, Amazon does run their Fire hardware on sale from time to time but running it at this time of year, combined with recent stock instability for the Fire TV box (as reported by AFTVnews), plus all the competing TV streamer hardware set to release soon (which Amazon must know about) are pretty good indicators that we’ll see a Sept. refresh from them. Heard any more on those rumors that an OTA tuner will somehow be supported with the next gen Fire TV?

  18. Maybe September, maybe not. But seems highly likely we’ll see some sort of Fire TV refresh this fall. Stick is looong overdue. Elias and AFTVNews is the man and I defer to him. However, the OTA reference I read about looked European in standard… We’ll see if it comes to pass and if the US gets any love. A merged guide of OTA plus all those “channels” Amazon now resells would be pretty interesting.

  19. Hmm. Interesting. Would seem odd to me for Amazon to support European but not North American OTA tuners. And yes, if it happens, it would seem likely to be as a complement to live streaming channels that Amazon would offer. (Didn’t you or AFTVnews dig up some code that pointed to the possibility of live streams/channels from Amazon?) That would be pretty attractive for cord-cutters like myself. Unfortunately, Amazon still insists on a UI and search that aggressively promotes Amazon content/apps uber alles, but that’s another story.

    One last bit about universal remote controls: yes, one can use something like a Harmony to control your streaming box, TV, receiver, etc. but such third-party universal remotes lack voice control, which is a major feature of Apple TV, Android TV, Fire TV and (maybe to a lesser extent?) Roku. So whatever I end up choosing as my next streaming box, I’m probably going to want to use its voice-enabled remote as my main point of contact, not the Harmony 650 I already own.

  20. I see manufacturers running away from OTA support.

    I expect by 2020 most TV OEMs will have followed Vizio’s lead and dropped all tuners from their offerings.

    Think how much it simplifies manufacturing SKUs when you don’t have to carry differnt models that support ATSC (1.0 or 3.0) vs. DVB-T/T2 vs. ISDB-T, etc.)

    All they have to do (at least here in the U.S.) is avoid the use of the word “television.”

    Currently Vizio refers to their tuner-less models as a “HD Display.”

    That, and “UHD Display” (for 4K and above) are probably generic enough that other companies could use the same phrases without worrying about trademark infringement.

  21. If you have a DVR you may have never even used the tuner in your TV. I don’t think I’ve used an internal tuner on a TV since 2003.

  22. I agree with Bill that we’ll probably see more tunerless TVs, especially if ATSC 3.0 happens, fracturing the OTA landscape here in the US during the transition. (Some markets will have some, but not all, stations in 3.0 while other markets won’t yet have any stations in 3.0. It’ll be messy for awhile.) From what I’ve read about ATSC 3.0, it looks like the vision from its industry boosters is for external network-connected tuners that can pipe OTA TV (and blend in with it internet-based content) to all the screens around your house.

    On a different note, it looks like there’s another refreshed streamer coming soon. Someone down under spotted an FCC submission for a new version of the Nvidia Shield Android TV console. September to early October is the time of year for new goodies!

  23. -needs USB 3.0
    -too many models possibly.
    -Sadly getting more expensive not less and some devices losing USB. So pay more get less options.

  24. I’m good with the UI. Charmingly simple and sprightly to navigate. I find Amazon’s cluttered. I don’t really use voice on either of them or my Apple TV,.

  25. I have a 2016 Vizio P-series 4K displays that offer both the superior Dolby Vision and now regular HDR10 via a firmware update. I have watched numerous 4K movies and shows from Vudu and Netflix featuring Dolby Vision and am glad I passed on Samsung and Sony. Plus I get deeper blacks from the Vizio’s 128 zone backlighting. Incredible picture! I just returned a 4K Roku 4 and latest Amazon 4K Fire TV because neither supported HDR and HDR makes as much or even more difference than 4K for picture enhancement, especially the Dolby Vision approach. I hope the new HLG spec replaces HDR-10.

  26. @derrik:

    How would the Roku benefit from USB 3.0 over USB 2.0? It doesn’t copy files from one location to another, and streaming video from an attached USB drive doesn’t come close to taxing the data rate of USB 2.0. (Even the maximum bit rate from a UHD Blu-ray is less than 1/3 that of USB 2.0…closer to 1/4).

  27. Too late. I already bought a Nvidia Shield TV- does everything I need it to plus runs Kodi and Plex as well.

  28. Frankly, the only thing that Roku could do that would cause me to consider an upgrade from my Roku 3s is to add fully intergrated OTA capability. I’m not looking for DVR capability, just the addition of icons on the main menu screen for all local OTA networks in my market which I choose to retain. Adding the OPTION of passcode protection for each channel, plus settings and the channel store would also be a plus.

  29. I’d love to see OTA integration (even without DVR capabilities) in any of the next round of streamers to debut this fall. There’s only so much more than can be done to improve and differentiate these boxes from Roku, Amazon, Nvidia, etc. The high end already has 4K UHD and universal voice search. HDR will be added across the high end this fall. Hopefully at least one of them wises up and offers a version with a single built-in OTA tuner with live listings somehow integrated into the UI. Seems like there are too many cord-cutters out there who rely on a combo of live OTA + streaming to ignore such a feature.

  30. I hope to see Roku include a fully functional web browser on a new model.It seems like Roku/Apple/Amazon/Google are all conspiring to not allow web browsing on your TV when you use internet connected streaming devices.Screen mirroring from phone/tablet/laptop is unreliable and in many cases impractical(like when you want to talk on your phone and other people are watching something).I find it ridiculous that when you already have an internet connected device hooked up to to your TV,you have to use yet another internet connected device to surf the internet.That is why I use my Chromebox with wireless keyboard on TV more than I use the Roku.

  31. Well, the retail DVR scene just got more interesting today. Dave, whacha think of Plex DVR for OTA and CableCARD? I imagine the Tablo folks are not having a great day…

  32. It seems Plex is primarily pitching it as an OTA DVR, so I’m not sure to what extent CableCARD will be supported — it adds complexity. But choice is good and Plex could be a single front-end for a lot of folks now. However, initially, there’s no live TV or buffer and DVR scheduling is handled via the web UI vs application. If I ever have any free time, I’ll load it up. :)

  33. Yeah, it can definitely be used with the HDHomeRun Prime CableCARD tuner. Don’t know if there are restrictions or problems in terms of recording content flagged by the cable provider. But, as you say, they’re pushing it more for OTA/cord-cutter folks, which makes sense. As TiVo well knows, there just aren’t many cable subscribers who are interested in buying and setting up their own retail CableCARD-equipped DVR.
    It’s definitely not a full TV solution at this point since it doesn’t, as you point out, allow for live TV watching, much less live TV with trick play. Plex hints in their comments section that they’re considering adding that. I imagine they eventually will, as well as update the Plex client app (at least on some STB platforms) to allow for DVR management (scheduling and deleting recordings). If they end up providing all that functionality as an included feature of Plex Pass ($40/yr), which also does other stuff, that’s a pretty great deal. BTW, they’re using Gracenote TV listings data.

    Hope you have some time to try out the beta and write up a review for us.

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