Roku is mostly leaving its hardware lineup untouched for the fall — with a couple exceptions. Today, the company is introducing an enhanced Roku Express that now includes dual-band Wi-Fi for more robust, dependable streaming performance. Still priced at $29.99, the device is available for preorder now and will be in stores on October 16th.
The Express is Roku’s introductory streaming device and accordingly sticks to 1080p quality; you need to move up to the Roku Express 4K Plus — which already includes dual-band connectivity — if you want to watch 4K / Ultra HD content. The basic Express comes with Roku’s simplest remote, so you’ll need to use the company’s mobile app if you want to use the private listening feature with connected headphones. The new Express arrives ahead of a rumored Google Chromecast HD expected at next month’s hardware event.
Roku is also announcing what it calls the Roku Wireless Bass, an affordable subwoofer that costs $129.99. That saves you $50 compared to the Roku Wireless Subwoofer. You can pair the Wireless Bass with a Roku Streambar, Roku Wireless Speakers, or Roku TV Wireless Soundbar. And setting it up is quick and painless since everything is within the company’s ecosystem.
A slimmer profile allows for more versatile placement options compared to the bulky Wireless Subwoofer, but even with a smaller form factor, Roku says the Wireless Bass delivers “rumbling lows” and “rich depth” — all with wireless convenience. It will be available later this fall and start shipping on November 7th from Roku, Amazon, and Best Buy. The Wireless Bass will also be bundled with the Roku Streambar for a combo price of $249.99.
New Roku OS 11.5 software features
Alongside the new devices, Roku is laying out some significant new software features that customers can expect “in the coming months.” Several of these are designed to improve discoverability and help you find something to watch. There’ll be a new item on the Roku homescreen called “The Buzz,” and here’s how the company describes it:
Users can quickly browse a frequently updated collection of posts featuring entertainment-centric, short-form content from popular streaming services and entertainment brands, such as AMC Plus, Apple TV Plus, BET Plus, Crackle, Hallmark Movies Now, IGN, Plex, Popcornflix, Showtime, Starz, The CW, Tubi, Vevo, and Wondrium, with more to come. Posts within The Buzz may include video clips, images, trailers, interviews, and other content to help users discover movies and shows that match their interests. Users can engage with content featured in The Buzz by liking posts, saving content to watch later, following profiles to view future posts, or immediately streaming the movie or show featured in the post.
The Buzz is really one of those things you’ll need to try for yourself to see if the new portal has any value. But I think everyone will appreciate two other new features on the way: continue watching and a platform-wide save list. Continue watching is exactly what you expect and will make it simpler to hop back into content from supported apps like HBO Max, Netflix, Paramount Plus, and the company’s own Roku Channel, “with more channels to come.” It won’t be found on the homescreen: instead, you’ve got to navigate to the “what to watch” section, where you’ll find the continue watching row.
And then there’s the new save list, which lets you “save movies and shows from across the Roku platform” so they’re easier to find later on. Your save list is also located in the “what to watch” section. Once this feature rolls out to you, there will be a “save” option on movie and TV show details pages. Roku says this is “an expansion of the previously launched save list within The Roku Channel and the Roku mobile app,” but to me, it’s clearly a bid to match similar features like Google TV’s watchlist and Apple TV’s Up Next. The big question is whether some services like Netflix will opt out of Roku’s version, as has been the case with others. I’ve asked the company for comment. These features lose a lot of appeal if any one big player decides not to play ball.
Upcoming Roku software updates will also expand Bluetooth private listening to the latest Roku Ultra, Roku Streambar, and Roku Streambar Pro. You’ll be able to pair any Bluetooth headphones or earbuds to these devices and listen to content privately without disturbing others. Private listening is currently available on Roku’s premium remotes and through the mobile app, but it’s nice to see it brought to the actual streamers.
Roku is also making improvements to voice search, revamping search results to be more visual, and adding categories to its live TV guide for more convenient branding. The channel store is also being rebranded as “The Roku Store,” another sign that the company is taking greater control over its hugely popular platform.
Roku isn’t yet sharing a specific release date for the OS 11.5 update and other new features, only promising that they’ll arrive over the next few months.