WITH MORE THAN 2,000 channels to choose from, Roku‘s little streaming puck has never been short on content. You can even watch live TV on it now. But with so many options, sometimes it’s really, really difficult to find what you’re looking for.
To solve that issue, the streaming device maker is releasing new hardware with built-in voice search capabilities. It’s also pushing out an over-the-air update to current-generation Roku devices that improves the searching experience.
The biggest change is the addition of voice search to the highest-end Roku 3 box. Getting voice search will require purchasing a brand-new unit, which will now come with a microphone-equipped remote. At any time, either inside a channel app or in the main Roku interface, you just press the button on the new remote to launch the voice search. You can speak your request and search for movie titles, TV show tiles, actors and directors, or the names of specific channels.
This feature does require the new microphone-equipped remote, but Roku has no plans to sell the remote as a stand-alone accessory, so you have to buy all new hardware to get it. Of course, there’s no word yet on whether the performance of Roku’s voice search matches up to that of the Google Nexus Player and Amazon Fire TV devices, both of which have excellent voice search features.
Other interface enhancements will be available to existing Roku boxes via an over-the-air update, which Roku says will be done by the end of April. Among them is the ability to search for channels by name within the Roku Channel Store instead of having to page through each category to find the one you want. Roku also says there’s an over-the-air firmware update to the $50 Roku Streaming Stick that will speed up its performance significantly.
There’s another completely new feature in the interface, and it’s geared toward new releases across all the major streaming services. A “My Feed” option lets you select a movie that’s still in theaters or otherwise unavailable for streaming just yet, and the queue will alert you when it’s available on one of the Roku channels. Once it’s available, the My Feed queue will let you know.
Even with the new features, each Roku tier remains the same price. The Roku 3 with the new microphone-equipped remote—which still has the headphone jack and gamepad built in—will go for $100. The Roku 2, which now has the same processing guts as the Roku 3 minus the voice/headphone/gamepad remote, will cost $70. The basic RCA-cabled Roku stays at $50, as does the purportedly zippier HDMI Roku Streaming Stick.
Where does this leave the Roku lineup in the increasingly competitive field of set-top streaming devices? Largely in the same place, but with interface enhancements that bring it up to par with the existing Amazon and Google streaming boxes. Roku still has a big advantage in the amount of content it makes available, and its interface has always been a strong suit. The major threat to all these similarly priced boxes are the smart services built into modern TV sets—especially on 4K TVs—as well as the rumored Apple TV revamp waiting in the wings.