In another sign that Ultra HD TV is gaining momentum, streaming video player provider Roku announced a new range of players, targeting both the high-end and the budget-conscious consumer.
Three of Roku Inc. 's newly announced models -- the Premiere, Premiere+ and Ultra players -- offer UHD support. The Premiere is priced at $80, with support for UHD and Higher Frame Rates (HFR) up to 60 frames per second. The Premiere+ adds support for High Dynamic Range (HDR); and the Ultra, Roku's top-of-the-line player at $130, adds Dolby Digital/Dolby Digital Plus decoding for advanced surround sound in home theaters.
Roku has also attacked the low end of the market with the launch of the Roku Express and Roku Express+, priced at $30 and $40, respectively. Roku Express is aimed at TVs with HDMI while the Express+ supports older TVs with a RCA/composite connection. They both support 1080p HD streaming video.
Roku's New Range of Streaming Players
That's a formidable line-up of players, and aggressively priced. The Express players are priced lower than Amazon Fire TV sticks and Google's Chromecast, and the high-end Premiere players are priced lower than Fire TV (which offers 4K but not HFR and HDR support) and Apple TV (no UHD, HFR or HDR).
The Consumer Technology Association (CTA) has already stated that 2016 will be a "flagship year for 4K UHD TVs," driven by falling prices and the introduction of HDR. CTA expects shipments of 4K UHD TVs will reach 15 million units this year. The industry organization cited the impact of 4K Blu-ray players as being important to building the ecosystem for the technology, with sales of 700,000 units predicted. The introduction of more 4K UHD content via pay-TV providers and streaming services will likely spur adoption further. (See Hurdles Ahead for 4K, HDR, ITU Unveils New HDR Standard for TV and 4K Set-Top Box Sector Will Quadruple in '16.)
While Roku has clearly decided it's the right time to be aggressive and really attack the market, to me it would make more sense to launch these products in November, closer to Black Friday. That is when the TV manufacturers will be dropping their 4K UHD prices and aggressively marketing their HDR capabilities. Roku's high-end devices would be even better positioned to ride that wave. As it stands, Amazon.com Inc. (Nasdaq: AMZN), Google (Nasdaq: GOOG) and Apple Inc. (Nasdaq: AAPL) all have time to develop a response before the peak holiday season shopping kicks off.
The other concern I would raise is about UHD content availability and user experience. There isn't a whole lot of really compelling UHD content out there yet, and getting high-bandwidth UHD streams delivered at a high-quality is a challenge. HDR has done very well in consumer tests, but is being held back by format differences. And while I appreciate that new markets will always evolve unevenly, and that device penetration will drive more adoption, I'm not sure an Internet streaming player is really the right spear-tip for this progression.
— Aditya Kishore, Practice Leader, Video Transformation, Telco Transformation