Listen Up: Roku Adds to Stream of Audio Products

Aiming for the ears of the growing number of consumers streaming video, Roku today announced two new audio products, a smart soundbar and a wireless subwoofer.

Roku, a streaming pioneer whose devices and software are used by millions of viewers, introduced Roku TV Wireless Speakers last year.

Each of the new devices cost $179.99. They can be preordered at starting Wednesday. They are expected to be available from Best Buy and in October.

The new products are designed to both improve the streaming experience for viewers seeking high-end sound, but to address common complaints about how loud commercials seem to be and one needs to turn the sound down during explosions and up again to hear intimate dialog.

“We’re very focused on being the best streaming experience. A huge part of that is the video, but just as much so the audio,” said Sheldon Radford, director of product management at Roku. "We want to do for home audio what we feel like we’ve done for streaming TV by making it simple and affordable and offering great value.”

Roku has over the last couple of year built centers for excellence for audio in its facilities in Denmark, the U.K. and California. “We’ve been working for quite some time on making sure that we can give you not just the best video experience, but the best audio experience as well,” Radford said.

The Roku Smart Soundbar has the Roku operating system built in, which means it is the only device a consumer needs to stream video and listen to programming, which the company said makes setup easy and reduces clutter.

Radford noted that as TV monitors get thinner, it’s more and more difficult to make great sound come out of their speakers.

The soundbar features four premium drivers--rather than the normal two. It also features advanced volume modes designed to reduce the need to fiddle with the remote control while watching TV shows and movies. Settings include Automatic Volume Leveling, night mode, which lowers volume for loud scenes and ups it for quieter one, and Speech Clarity, which boosts voice frequencies for crisper, clearer dialog.

“We want you to use a remote as little as possible here. Turn it on set the volume and forget about it,” he said.

The soundbar has the Roku Connect wireless protocol It also works with other model TVs and can be hooked up using HDMI ARC or HDMI and Optical audio cables. It will deliver Dolby Audio and offers the Roku Voice remote, works with other digital assistants, and has Bluetooth connectivity.

The Roku Wireless Subwoofer features a 10-inch driver in a sealed cabinet design and provides theater-like booming bass, the company said. It offers simple set up and works with the Roku Smart Soundbar, which optimizes the way sound is distributed when the two devices are both hooked up.

The subwoofer has the Roku operating system built in. That doesn’t mean it can act as a streaming player. “That allows it to be very intelligent and adaptable,” Radford said. “When the wireless subwoofer is paired up with the Roku Smart Soundbar, both of those devices are aware of each other and they change their sound setting in order to be optimized for that combination of speakers.”

The Roku Wireless Subwoofer is also designed to work with the Roku TV wireless bookshelf speakers. Roku said wireless subwoofer support for the wireless speakers is expected to be available in the coming months. 

“The speakers that we announced a year ago will actually now be able to be paired up with the Roku wireless subwoofer,” he said. “So we've increased the value for those customers that joined us early with those TV wireless speakers.”

Jon Lafayette

Jon has been business editor of Broadcasting+Cable since 2010. He focuses on revenue-generating activities, including advertising and distribution, as well as executive intrigue and merger and acquisition activity. Just about any story is fair game, if a dollar sign can make its way into the article. Before B+C, Jon covered the industry for TVWeek, Cable World, Electronic Media, Advertising Age and The New York Post. A native New Yorker, Jon is hiding in plain sight in the suburbs of Chicago.