Roku is launching its latest streaming hardware: a redesign of its Ultra player, which will finally allow users to stream HBO Max. The new device will retail for $100, and will be released next month, according to a report by Variety. It will come with a series of software updates as well, giving users access to more content than ever before.
The new Roku Ultra player will come with support for Apple AirPlay 2 and HomeKit — apps that will allow users to stream HBO Max on their TV. For months, users have been frustrated by the stalemate between HBO Max's parent company, WarnerMedia, and the two biggest streaming hardware providers, Roku and Amazon Fire TV. Just last week, WarnerMedia and Roku reached an agreement to host the NBC streaming service Peacock at last, and now HBO Max will follow suit. However, it will reportedly come through less conventional means.
The AirPlay 2 app for Roku is not specifically designed to let users watch HBO Max, but rather allows them to stream and control content directly from an Apple device. Assuming they have an iPhone, iPad or Mac, they can cast HBO from there to the big screen. Likewise, Apple's HomeKit allows them to cast from these devices, as well as an Apple Watch or a HomePod, using Siri.
This indicates that the negotiations between Roku and HBO Max are ongoing, but that Roku is looking for some relief. Customers are not sure who to blame for this incompatibility, and many are turning to other devices to get their HBO Max fix, potentially costing Roku users. One of the most popular alternatives is to stream HBO Max on a video game console like a PlayStation 4 or an Xbox One.
The AirPlay 2 and HomeKit apps will become available on select other Roku models when the new Roku Ultra drops, but only relatively new 4k models. Additionally, the new Roku Ultra will reportedly increase its wireless range by 50 percent, come with voice remote, TV power and volume controls, and even a headphone input for private viewing. Other feature include a lost-remote finder, support for Dolby Vision picture quality and a complimentary HDMI cable.
The ongoing disagreement between Roku and HBO Max stems from Roku's dependence on user data and advertising profits. The company has more lucrative deals with TV networks, which are treated as "Roku Channels" on its platforms, than with streaming services like Netflix or Hulu. HBO was previously treated as a "Channel" on Roku, but now wants streamer status. Roku is not eager to share its profits in that way.
While these media juggernauts duke it out, at least users will have a workaround coming soon. The new Roku Ultra is expected to be released in October of 2020, along with a host of other new Roku hardware and software.