In a fall product refresh short of transformational long throws but full of incremental first downs, Roku is showcasing a range of improvements to its latest operating system update, OS 10.5.
The streaming company is also rolling out a new primo 4K streaming stick.
As for OS 10.5, which will roll out to tens of millions of Roku-enabled smart TVs, hockey puck players and streaming sticks in the coming weeks, Roku is seeking to make its Live TV Guide, voice and surround sound features easier to use.
> Live TV -- Roku has been on the forefront of a movement among streaming platform operators to recreate the linear pay TV channel surfing experience, combining OTA and digital channels into a live, linear smorgasbord featuring more than 200 options with its Live TV Channel Guide. If you own a Roku-enabled smart TV, the Live TV Channel Guide is one of the easily accessible apps on your home screen. Up until OS 10.5, users of Roku peripherals had to go through the Roku Channel to find the Live TV Channel Guide, but now they have home screen access, too.
> Sound -- Roku said its customers increasingly use Bluetooth headphones while streaming video on its players and licensed smart TVs. New automatic AV synchronization features now make sure the lips match the words for those using Roku in private listening mode. Meanwhile, those who listen via the Roku Streambar or the Roku Smart Soundbar now have additional surround sound configuration options, with 3.1 and 5.1 setups being added to the mix of possibilities. Roku is also expanding the range of audio devices that can work with a Roku home theater rig, with TCL launching a $180 smart sound bar based on Roku's recently introduced reference kit.
> Voice -- Roku has worked to make its hardware platform agnostic, attempting to build in fluency with Alexa, Google Voice and Apple HomeKit, along with its own proprietary voice technology. With OS 10.5, a new feature called Roku Voice Help can be found in the settings menu that educates users on the kinds of commands Roku Voice supports and provides examples, like how to search for movies and TV shows, launch channels, play music, control playback, and more. Roku Voice Remote Pro owners will also get tips on using handsfree voice. Meanwhile, Netflix and Spotify have been added to Disney Plus, Hulu and Pandora among the list of apps that are now searchable via Roku Voice commands.
While Roku's fall product refresh is particularly light on new hardware, the company is introducing a new 4K/HDR streaming stick. Priced at $50, the Roku Streaming Stick 4K includes a quad-core processor and redesigned WiFi tech which doubles the reception range over Roku's prior HDMI sticks.
Roku is also bundling its new streaming stick with its rechargeable Voice Remote Pro for $70.
Daniel Frankel is the managing editor of Next TV, an internet publishing vertical focused on the business of video streaming. A Los Angeles-based writer and editor who has covered the media and technology industries for more than two decades, Daniel has worked on staff for publications including E! Online, Electronic Media, Mediaweek, Variety, paidContent and GigaOm. His reliable mid-range jump shot, deft ambidextrous post-up game and tough interior defense have been criminally overlooked.
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