The new Roku 4’s 4K streaming service compatibility is clearly evident.
Over the years, traditional audio/video products have followed a product introduction schedule not unlike that of the automobile industry. Although new car models no longer appear en-masse in September and October, every manufacturer updates its line once a year. Similarly, AVRs and TV manufacturers have traditionally followed a “once-a-year” new model cycle. In the world of streaming products, however, new model introductions seem to take place on an 18- to 24-month cycle.
Evidence of this may be found in the new AppleTV, TiVo, and Chromecast products unveiled in the past month, replacing models that date back to 2013 or even earlier. Perhaps following suit, today, Roku has introduced the first new addition to its product line in about two years. Despite the rise of “Smart TV” products, Roku, along with competitors such as Amazon’s FireTV and Chromecast, have developed a strong market for adding a wide range of streaming services beyond the obligatory movie services and YouTube found in TVs.
Just as the inclusion of 4K capability has attracted the most attention to the new TiVo Bolt models, so too its the inclusion of 4K services in the new Roku 4. Given that, we will deal with that feature set first. The new Roku 4 bests the 4K functionality of its streaming competitor, the new Fire TV, by offering both 60 frames per second streaming and the HDMI 2.0 output required to deliver it. By comparison, Amazon’s 4K device is capable of only 30 frames per second, which indicates that its HDMI output is 1.4 only. Of course, it is worth noting that while these two devices at least offer 4K in some fashion, remember that the new Chromecast and fourth-generation Apple TV are HD only.
Given that both Netflix and Amazon Prime have announced support for HDR video, which requires HDMI 2.0a for optimal system integration, it is still an open question as to whether or not the new Roku 4 will be upgradeable to the newer HDMI standard in the future. Keep in mind that any HDMI 1.4 product is stuck at that level, but indications are that firmware upgrades may make it possible for HDMI 2.0 products to show HDR in 4K at a later date. It will be interesting to see if the Roku 4 will eventually be offering such an upgrade.
The importance of 4K content to the Roku 4 is obvious. As an example, there is a 4K/UHD category in the Roku Channel Store and a curated “4K Spotlight” channel that will make it easier for users to select from the available 4K services. At launch, those will be Netflix, M-Go, Amazon Instant Video, Vudo, ToonGoogles, and YouTube. To make this all possible, the Roku 4 is based around a Quad-Core processor, and it joins its competitors in offering 802.11ac wireless as well as a hardwired Ethernet port.
Thanks to the new processor, wireless system upgrade, and other hardware and software improvements such as an increase from 512MB of RAM to 15GB, the Roku 4 has more than UHD to make it an attractive upgrade. Examples of this are an upgrade for the user interface to 1080p, the ability to handle streaming media speeds as high as 40Mbps bandwidth voice search capability using the Wi-Fi Direct remote.
The new Roku’s new OS 7 and forthcoming Mobile App, soon to be available to most current models will also include a “Hotel and Dorm Connect” feature. Similar to what Chromecast offers, this will make it possible to use Roku products outside of the home network where additional login credentials are required. The new mobile app will also include pinch-to-zoom capability when viewing personal photos along with phone capabilities permitting users to cast 4K images captured on a phone or tablet to a home display.
At a retail price of $129.99, when it is available later this month, the new Roku 4 will encourage the appearance of Roku boxes in more rooms in a home as the current models are replaced with the 4K model in a main viewing location allowing the current models to filter down to a bedroom or den. We hope to have a Roku 4 available for first-hand observation before the end of the month and will report on its 4K performance then. In the meantime, look for a first-hand report on the new Chromecast and Chromecast Audio models in this space shortly.