Roku is trying to heat up the streaming battlefield again, with the upcoming UK release of a new streaming player: the Roku Express 4K.
The device, which is an upgraded version of the Roku Express, will offer a faster processor and Ultra HD picture quality – at a higher price point.
In addition, Roku announced today the release of Roku OS 10 – a new version of their operating system, which will roll out to existing devices in the UK (and worldwide).
And, as is often the case, Roku also announced a few US-only devices, which may or may not make it to our side of the pond.
Roku, which is one of the leading streaming device providers in the US, has its work cut out for it in the UK, where – according to Strategy Analytics, its market share was a mere 4% in 2020.
Samsung’s Smart TV devices had a market share of 30%, and the Amazon Fire TV streaming devices were at 19%.
The new Roku Express 4K will try to compete with Amazon on both price and performance – so let’s take a closer look…
The Roku Express 4K
The brand new Roku Express 4K shares its form factor with Roku’s 2019 Express – it’s not a stick, but a tiny box that connects to your TV with an HDMI cable.
In our original Roku Express review, I noted that it felt a bit slow and underpowered, while the HD-only support was obviously another downside.
The Roku Express 4K tries to address both these issues: it has a faster, quad-core CPU (Realtek 1315, as opposed to the previous ARM Cortex A53), and even more importantly, 1GB of RAM, where the previous Express only had 512MB.
And while the original express only supported a resolution of Full HD (1080p), the Express 4K now supports a resolution of up to 4K at 60fps, along with HDR10/10+ and HLG support.
The Express 4K will also support Dual-Band WiFi for a faster connection, as well as support for a wired Ethernet connection via the microUSB port.
And, while the Roku Express costs £29.99, the Express 4K will cost you £39.99, and will be available online and in UK stores in May.
Note, however, that unlike some of Roku’s other streaming devices – the Express 4K doesn’t come with a voice remote. You can still control it with an external Amazon Echo or Google Home device if you have one – but it doesn’t have its own voice search capability.
The Roku Premiere Conundrum
If you’re wondering where this puts the Roku Premiere – which was, until now, Roku’s mid-market product in the UK – we’re wondering the same thing, as it costs the exact £39.99 for now, and is also tiny 4K streaming box.
The Premiere, however, does come with a voice remote.
But things get even more confusing if you look at the new US naming conventions – over there, Roku announced today the Roku Express 4K ($35), and the Roku Express 4K Plus ($39.99) – which in essence replaces the Roku Premiere, and DOES come with the voice remote.
So in the UK, it seems the Roku Express 4K is the (more expensive) version of the Roku Express 4K sold in the US, and the Roku Premiere, which will keep its name here for now – is the one above it.
Will we get the actual Roku Express 4K Plus in the UK, and will the pricing for the Roku Premiere change? That remains to be seen.
- Update: We’ve been told by Roku that once the Roku Express 4K is out, it will replace the Roku Premiere in the UK.
Roku OS 10
Roku also announced today the release of a new version of its operating system, which will begin rolling out to existing devices across the UK. (The new Roku Express 4K will come pre-installed with OS 10).
Some of Roku OS 10’s features include:
- Automatic WiFi Detection: If you have more than one WiFi network at home (for example, on 2.4Ghz and 5Ghz), the Roku device will now detect which one is better – and will recommend, with an on-screen prompt, which one you should connect to.
- Apple AirPlay 2 & HomeKit Support: While this was already available on 4K devices, it will now roll out to the older HD Roku Express as well.
- Automatic Game Console Configuration: This is mainly for Roku TV users (though there’s only one model sold in the UK, for now) – a feature that will automatically detect game consoles, when you connect them to your Roku TV, and will configure supported features to optimize the TV’s performance for playing video games.
In the US, Roku also announced a new “Instant Resume” feature, which will enable streaming apps to resume streaming the last film/show you were watching before you exited the app.
We saw no mention of this in the UK – presumably because it requires support from every app’s developer (and thus even in the US, it won’t work with the big names such as Netflix and Amazon Prime Video, for now).
As always, Roku is teasing us with a few products which were only announced for the US market (that brings memories of the Roku Ultra streaming player, for example, which was never sold in the UK).
- Roku Voice Remote Pro: A rechargeable Roku remote, with a built-in headphone jack, two customizable shortcut buttons, and an always-on microphone that can respond to the “Hey Roku” command with you having to press a button. It will cost $29.99.
- Roku Streambar Pro: A full-sized version of the Roku Streambar, which is a soundbar combines with a Roku streaming player. The Pro version comes with the new Voice Remote pro, and supports Virtual Surround. It will cost $179.99.
We hope we’ll see these two in the UK at some point.