With voice control ecosystems dominating pre-CES announcements this year, it’s now the turn of streaming media player giant Roku to announce today that it will make it easier for Roku TV customers to wirelessly incorporate smart soundbars, smart speakers, surround sound and multi-home into their home entertainment setups. As part of the ‘whole-home audio’ concept, the new Roku Connect software will communicate wirelessly and enable control by voice, and both features will become available as free software updates for owners of Roku TVs and players during Q3 of 2018.
Roku says it will create the voice assistant software itself, while allowing actual hardware design and integration parameters to be developed by OEM partners. The first of these is confirmed to be TCL, who in turn will announce plans to offer the first device under the new program at a press conference at CES on January 8th.
It should be stressed that Roku is not looking to replace other smart speakers, acknowledging that there is already massive adoption of Echo and Google Home devices, but is positioning itself as the voice activated system of choice when using those devices. Furthermore, the voice assistant itself, known as Roku Entertainment Assistant, is primed for home entertainment, and not initially for video calls and smart home applications. It will, however, include basic Q&A features for seekers of news and weather information, but the defining feature will be the voice control of a Roku TV or player, as well as of licensed OEM partner products.
Customers will be able to say, for example – with the prerequisite “Hey Roku” command each time – “Hey Roku, play jazz in the living room”, at which point a smart soundbar with Roku connect will begin playing music even if the TV is turned off. Voice control will also activate playing or pausing of media you’re already watching on your Roku device.
“We’ve always focused on making it incredibly simple for consumers to find and enjoy streaming entertainment on their TVs, and with an expanded Roku ecosystem, consumers will be able to add great sound to their TVs, and around the whole home in a modern way,” says Roku CEO Anthony Wood. “Consumers will love the benefits of a home entertainment network, such as having more affordable options, adding one device at a time, using their voice, having simplified setup and Wi-Fi connectivity, and holding just one remote control. OEM brands benefit by offering their products in a more appealing way to our already large and engaged audience of millions of active accounts.”