On Thursday, Roku made several announcements regarding its streaming video players. The company updated its iOS and Android apps with new music and photo features, finally slapped a price and (rough) ship date on its upcoming Streaming Stick product, and added a Vudu channel to its growing lineup.
With the latest versions of the remote control apps for iOS and Android, Roku has added a new feature called Play On Roku. Users can now stream photos and music from their smartphones or tablets to the TV through a Roku hardware player (similar to AirPlay on the Apple TV).
With Play On Roku, you can advance through photos with a swipe of your mobile devices screen, or enable a slideshow (complete with musical accompaniment). With music, you’ll see a screen saver on your TV with artist, album, song title, and cover art displayed.
During an in-person demo, I got to see the photo and music functions in action, and they worked well and felt nicely designed.
The feature supports JPG and PNG images and MP3 and M4A audio, and works with Roku 2, Roku LT, and Roku HD (model 2500R) models, as well as the upcoming Streaming Stick (more on that shortly).
Roku has also announced that its Roku Streaming Stick will ship in October for a suggested price of $100 (the same price as its top-of-the-line Roku 2 XS set-top box).
Originally announced at CES in January, the Streaming Stick is designed to plug into the MHL (Mobile High-Definition Link) port on newer HDTVs, Blu-ray players, and other consumer electronics devices and deliver the full Roku experience without the need for a set-top box. The Stick has integrated Wi-Fi, but no ethernet or USB ports.
Roku is certifying devices as Roku Ready that are designed to work out of the box with the Streaming Stick. During the 2012 holiday season, Roku says you can expect to see Roku Ready HDTVs from Apex Digital, Insignia, and Hitachi.
The Streaming Stick is designed to work with a TV’s existing remote control for easier integration, and some Roku Ready TV remotes will have special buttons for controlling the Stick. Roku told me that some manufacturers will offer a bundle that includes the Streaming Stick, and the company will also sell it as a stand-along boxed product.
The big difference between the two is that the bundled products won’t include the enhanced remote needed for playing games, although you can purchase one separately. And speaking of the remote, Roku has added volume buttons that can control the TV volume when using a Streaming Stick.
Finally, Roku added a Vudu streaming channel to its lineup. Vudu is a movie and TV rental/purchase service available on many HDTVs, Blu-ray players, game consoles, and streaming media devices. As of Thursday, the same Roku models that support the Play On Roku feature above can now access Vudu as well.
Vudu offers TV shows and movies in up to 1080p HD with Dolby Digital Plus 5.1 and 7.1 surround sound. Like other such services, movies are available to watch the same day as they’re released on DVD/Blu-ray.