Roku unveils redesigned $100 Ultra streaming box, will add ability to stream HBO Max via Apple AirPlay


Roku is launching a redesigned version of its premium Ultra player and has announced plans to introduce a new standalone app for its free Roku Channel later this year.

And here’s an interesting wrinkle: the company plans to add Apple AirPlay 2 and HomeKit support for select 4K Roku models over the next few months, which would provide a new way to stream HBO Max on those devices. Roku hasn’t natively supported WarnerMedia’s HBO Max since its launch in May, as parties continue to argue over commercial terms. (Roku earlier this month signed a deal with NBCUniversal for Peacock.)

With AirPlay 2, Roku customers will be able to stream, control and share video and audio directly from an iPhone, iPad or Mac to a supported Roku device. HomeKit allows customers to securely control their Roku device using the Apple Home app and Siri on iPhone, iPad, Mac, Apple Watch or HomePod.

The refresh of the company‘s 2020 holiday lineup also includes a new all-in-one Roku Streambar ($130), which combines a compact soundbar with a 4K HDR streaming player.

The new Roku Ultra remains priced at $100 and is expected to ship in October (as does the new Roku Streambar). The upgraded 4K HDR device extends wireless range by up to 50%, according to the company, and finally adds support for Dolby Vision picture quality. It also supports Dolby Atmos sound when you pair it with compatible devices. The Ultra comes with a voice remote (with TV power and volume controls), headphones for private listening, a Lost Rangefinder and, for the first time, an HDMI cable in the box.

The company, which reported 43 million active streaming accounts at the end of June, makes virtually none of its hardware profits. Roku’s moneymaker is its “platform” segment, representing advertising and subscription revenue generated by content partners.

Hoping to attract more viewers to its Roku Channel, the company is releasing the free Roku Channel mobile app for iOS and Android smartphones, separate from the regular Roku app. The new dedicated mobile app does not require you to have a Roku device. The Roku Channel, which is also available on the web, offers free and ad-supported on-demand entertainment and live TV channels as well as access to premium subscription services.

“With streaming happening so much on mobile, we want to reach people who don’t necessarily have a Roku TV or a Roku player,” said Mark Ely, vice president of retail product strategy at Roku.

Additionally, the Roku Channel is expanding its lineup of free live and linear channels in the US with new channels. These include VENN, Cinedigm’s Bloody Disgusting TV, Studio71’s Craftistry, Circle, HappyKids.tv, Hi-Yah! – The Martial Arts Channel, iFood.tv, The Lego Channel, Maverick Black Cinema, MovieSphere, Skills + Thrills and WeatherSpy. New Spanish-language entertainment channels, including Sony Canal Novelas, Sony Canal Comedias and Sony Canal Compentencias from Sony Pictures Television and Tastemade en Español, starting September 29.

Meanwhile, other new features in Roku OS 9.4 include: performance improvements; on-screen tips to inform users of the voice commands they can use on their Roku device; updated theme packs (which now include sound effects) including Jungle, Western, Nautical and Kids; and the ability for Roku TV users to access the Roku Channel’s Live TV Channel Guide right from their home screen.

Roku OS 9.4 will start rolling out to select Roku players this month and should be available for all supported streaming players, including the all-new Roku Ultra and Roku Streambar, in the coming weeks, according to the company. Roku TV models are expected to receive the update in phases over the next few months.

Roku is also launching several new content promotions:

  • Apple TV Plus (usually $4.99/month) will be free for three months for eligible customers who purchase and activate a Roku device from October 23, 2020 through January 31, 2021.

  • Showtime, Starz, and Epix will each be available for 30-day free trials through the Roku Channel until October 4, 2020, with the purchase and activation of an eligible Roku device.

  • Pandora Premium (usually $9.99/month) will be free for three months for consumers who purchase a Roku device from September 25 through November 25. 6.

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