The holiday season is a few months away, so Roku is coming out with a new 4K HDR streaming player. That's par for the course. What's unusual this time around is the price: $40.
When it comes out in October, the Roku Premiere will be the cheapest 4K HDR player from a major manufacturer, undercutting its closest competitor, the Google Chromecast Ultra, by $30.
I met with Roku representatives at a private briefing in New York City, where they showed off the Roku Premiere and its slightly more elaborate Premiere+ variant ($50). While the Premiere doesn't come with all the bells and whistles of more expensive Roku players, like the Streaming Stick+ or the Ultra, it does offer the same 4K resolution and HDR color gamut.
For its price, the device's capabilities sound impressive. Roku has had to make some compromises to keep the price down, however. First and foremost, the device has the same physical design as the Roku Express: a small, blocky rectangle, which doesn't fit nicely anywhere in an entertainment center without a little creative positioning. The Premiere also comes with a bare-bones remote control, using a line-of-sight IR signal and eschewing a microphone.
(It's worth noting, however, that you can still use voice search on the Premiere via the Roku app on Android and iOS.)
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If you want a slight upgrade, though, there's always the Roku Premiere+, which is exclusive to Walmart. This device is identical to the Premiere, save for its remote control, which includes a microphone for voice searches and "point anywhere" functionality. In other words, the Premiere+'s remote doesn't have the same rigorous line-of-sight requirements as its Premiere counterpart.
It's also worth noting that both devices will come with an HDMI cable. At this point, I would imagine that just about everyone has a spare cord somewhere, but seeing as a good HDMI cable can set you back $10 or $15, including one with the Premiere makes the $40 price tag potentially even more appealing.
For viewers who can't live without a private listening remote, an Ethernet port, a USB port and a microSD card reader, the Roku Ultra will be getting a refresh this year as well. The remote finder will be getting the ESPN jingle and Game of Thrones theme song options — which is fine. What's more exciting, though, is that Roku will be replacing its standard earbuds with high-end ($40) JBL models, at no additional cost. The Ultra costs $100, and the revamped model will be available in early October.
Until we get our hands on the Premiere, we can't make any claims about its performance. But on paper, it sounds like it has the right specs — and the right price — for an entry-level 4K device. Since 4K players tend to hover around the $80 range at present, it will be interesting to see how other manufacturers react.