Just a few months after Roku introduced a $59.99 entry-level streaming video player, the company has lowered the bar further with a new $49.99 player, the Roku LT. That's half of the price of an Apple TV, which retails for $99.99.
The new player offers the same 720p high-definition video and built-in wireless of the $59.99 Roku 2 HD but leaves out the Bluetooth and microSD card slot (meaning that you can't add the Wii-like remote to play games).
Roku also offers the Roku 2 XD ($79.99) and Roku 2 XS ($99.99). Those models offer Bluetooth and a microSD card, but also add 1080p streaming capabilities (and Ethernet support on the XS). The Roku 2 XS is the only one of the bunch to include the Roku Game Remote with motion control that takes advantage of the built-in Bluetooth for playing games (only Angry Birds is available right now) and navigating the device's interface.
The new Roku LT will be available online at Roku.com and Amazon.com and in retail stores beginning in early November. While Roku's current most affordable Roku 2 HD model sells online for $10 more than its official $59.99 price (thanks to the lack of free shipping), Roku has assured us that the sticker price of the Roku LT will be $49.99 when it appears in Walmart and Target stores next month.
In other Roku news, the company has announced that it's adding HBO Go to a channel roster that counts Netflix, Amazon Instant Video, Hulu Plus, and Pandora among its 300 choices. To get HBO Go programming you do need to subscribe to HBO via a cable or satellite provider, so it's not the "cable cutter" dream solution--but it could be a cheap an easy way to add a de facto cable box to another room in the house.
In case you hadn't noticed, Roku has been bulking up its channel lineup in an effort to gain a competitive advantage over Apple TV, and the new $50 price point on the LT also bolsters Roku's case as a formidable alternative Apple's little box.
Roku isn't the only online media streamer getting HBO. Microsoft has already announced that HBO Go will be hitting the Xbox 360 later this fall, and Samsung pledged in March that the service would hit its Internet-enabled TVs and Blu-ray players before the end of the year (but has yet to provide further details). Thankfully, owners of older Roku players or Roku 2 boxes have nothing to fear: they'll also be able to access to the new channel after a simple software upgrade.
Look for HBO Go to hit the Roku platform in late October.
Editors' note: This story was updated after its original publication to further clarify the product's retail price, and to note the impending availability of HBO Go on the Xbox 360.