Roku unveils new line of streaming devices following IPO

Daniel Howley

Fresh off its IPO on Thursday, Roku (ROKU) has announced its latest line of hardware products, as well as a software update for all TVs running the company’s Roku operating system.

Roku, whose shares doubled from their initial price of $14 to $26.54 at the close of the markets on Friday, debuted five devices on Monday including new entry-level and high-end streaming players.

From top to bottom

The top-of-the-line device, the Roku Ultra, starts at $99, down from $129, and features 4K and HDR compatibility. The box also includes a microSD card slot and USB. It also includes ethernet ports in case you want to connect an external hard drive or run a hardline cable to your router if you don’t have the best Wi-Fi connection.

Roku says the Ultra is its most powerful device, and is designed for use by people who have home theater setups, though there’s nothing stopping you from hooking this up to your bedroom TV, either.

The new Apple TV 4K, meanwhile, also streams 4K and HDR content, but doesn’t offer as many channels as the Roku Ultra and costs $149.

The next step down is the company’s new Roku Streaming Stick Plus. Starting at $69, the stick is basically a slimmed down version of the Ultra. Instead of a box with various input and output ports, though, the Stick Plus is, well, a stick.

Roku says the device, which looks like an oversize USB thumb drive, can stream 4K, HDR content and comes with the company’s new Advanced wireless receiver. Essentially an external Wi-Fi antenna, the receiver will help customers who have their Wi-Fi routers set up far away from their TVs ensure they can stream movies and TV shows without having to deal with annoying buffering issues.

If you’re not interested in streaming 4K, HDR content, and your Wi-Fi connection is fine, Roku also has its new standard Streaming Stick for $49. The device comes with a faster processor than the previous Streaming Stick and features the company’s remote with voice controls.

Finally, Roku is rolling out its new Express and Express Plus devices for $29 and $39, respectively. The Roku Express is a small box, slightly larger than the Streaming Stick, that sits under your TV and offers basic HD streaming. The Express Plus adds the ability to connect your Roku to an old-school TV via composite cables rather than HDMI.

All of the players have access to the same Roku interface and content, though the faster devices will load videos and menus much faster.

Roku OS 8

Roku has also announced its new Roku OS 8 operating system. The software includes an updated interface that allows Roku-powered TVs — those sets sold with Roku’s smart interface, not TVs you connect the players to — to pull in information from over-the-air broadcast antennas.

Connect an antenna to your TV, and Roku OS 8 will provide you with a menu that shows what shows are on and how long ago they began.

Roku also conveniently allows you to look up shows being broadcast and find out if you can stream them via various streaming services such as Netflix (NFLX), Hulu, Amazon (AMZN) Prime Video and others.

While these features are certainly helpful to Roku smart TV owners, I’ve always found it better to purchase a dumb TV, if you can still find one, and plug in your own streaming device. They’re easy to bring with you on trips and when they begin to slow down you can replace them instead of your entire TV.

Too much too soon?

Roku’s decision to launch a new series of streaming devices could be a risky move considering the company still isn’t profitable; it lost more than $15 million in Q2 2017.

The company makes its money from licensing its software to TV makers and via advertisements on ad-supported streaming channels. The company has also recently launched its new free Roku Channel, which largely seems to play the kind of movies your local TV station would play at 3 p.m. on Saturday. They’re not all great is what I mean.

Still, Roku makes the bulk of its money off hardware for the time being. While introducing  new products so quickly after an IPO might spook some investors, it could be a good sign if Roku can continue pushing out new products that improve on its old ones.

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Email Daniel at dhowley@yahoo-inc.com; follow him on Twitter at @DanielHowley.