Roku is today announcing the Premiere and Premiere+, two new devices that offer 4K HDR video streaming for prices starting at $39.99. The latter will be exclusively sold at Walmart and include a remote control with voice search capabilities that’s more convenient than the IR remote bundled with the regular Premiere. But aside from that (and a higher $49.99 price), the Premiere and Premiere+ are identical. Both support 802.11n Wi-Fi and have a quad-core processor inside for responsive performance. With regards to HDR, you’re getting HDR10, but not Dolby Vision.
At $40 for the standard Premiere, Roku is getting extremely aggressive on price. Amazon’s 4K-capable Fire TV costs around $70, as does Google’s Chromecast Ultra. And even at $40, you’re still getting an HDMI cable in the box. The Premiere has a low profile that’s not quite as slim as a streaming stick, but not far off. It looks a lot like the prior Express device.
The Premiere and Premiere+ go up for preorder today and will be available starting in early October. Separately, Roku is also “updating” its top-tier Roku Ultra by adding JBL earbuds to the box; the hardware is otherwise identical and will sell for the same $99.99 price. That’s also coming next month.
Remember that Roku CEO Anthony Wood has made clear that he doesn’t consider Roku to be in the hardware business. It’s an advertising company. Roku’s streaming players are merely a vehicle for racking up active user accounts and generating more advertising revenue. Aside from listening to the Vergecast episode linked above, I also highly recommend Wood’s recent interview on Peter Kafka’s Recode Media if you want more details on the ins and outs of how the company makes money. But Roku definitely still makes a lot of hardware. Here’s the entire current lineup:
For many apps on its platform, Roku receives a monthly slice of each subscription that originates from a Roku device. The company has also been putting a big emphasis on The Roku Channel, an in-house, ad-sponsored app that offers a mix of catalog TV shows, movies, and live news that can be viewed for free. And Roku has recently given more prominence to free, ad-supported content from its streaming partners with a “Featured Free” section of the home screen that brings together shows and movies that don’t require a login or subscription to stream.
The shortcut buttons on Roku remotes? Paid placement. And now the company is even adding branded sounds to its “lost remote finder” feature. (There’s a button on top of the Roku Ultra that you can press to have the remote emit a sound.) Starting in November, you’ll be able to replace the default sound with ESPN’s SportsCenter alert sound or the Game of Thrones theme song. An advertising company, indeed.
But $40 sure is a cheap gateway to an endless array of streaming apps and 4K.