Roku focuses heavily on its licensing programs, which allow OEMs to make TVs, soundbars, and other devices that use Roku software and work seamlessly with Roku devices. But now, Roku’s getting into the audio business with an in-house product: the company announced the Roku TV Wireless Speakers today, a set of two HomePod-esque speakers designed to work exclusively with Roku TVs. It also developed the new Roku Touch tabletop voice remote that some users may find more useful and less intrusive than Amazon’s Alexa.
While the tech specs of the speakers haven’t been released yet, we know how they’ll connect to and work with Roku TVs. The speaker set pairs wirelessly with Roku TVs via Roku Connect, and, thanks to built-in software that works with Roku OS, the speakers will sync up with whatever you’re watching on the smart TV. Roku told Ars in a briefing that the speakers will play optimized audio from anything connected to the paired Roku TV, including cable boxes, antennas, and even Bluetooth devices like your smartphone.
“Optimized” in this sense refers to the software-improved audio quality: automatic volume leveling will boost lower audio in quiet scenes and lower audio in loud scenes (and in booming commercials), and dialogue enhancement will improve speech intelligibility.
Accompanying the Wireless Speakers is the Roku Touch remote, a unique addition to Roku’s remote family. The company has a standard remote that controls its set-top boxes and smart TVs, and it also has a voice remote that processes voice commands to search for and play specific types of content. The Touch remote is most like the voice remote, but it can be used almost anywhere in your home because it’s wireless and runs on batteries. It has a number of buttons on its top that can play, pause, and skip content playing from your Roku TV, and some of those buttons are customizable so you can program your favorite presets to them. There’s also a press-and-hold talk button that lets you speak commands to your TV, even if you’re not in front of it.
A Roku representative explained that the company wants to bring the same quality and ease of use to the entertainment audio experience as it has been able to bring to streaming in general. There are numerous audio solutions available for regular and smart TVs, but wading through the vast ocean of options can be tricky. Also, many AV receivers and soundbars can be expensive and hard to install—two qualities that Roku is hoping will not define its new wireless speakers.
But Roku faces a lot of competition in the smart-audio space from companies like Sonos, Apple, Google, and Amazon, which all have their own wireless speakers. We haven’t had the chance to hear Roku’s new speakers in action, so we cannot comment on quality yet, but the proper balance of audio quality and price will be key to the success of Roku’s Wireless Speakers.
The voice aspect of the new products is particularly intriguing since Roku’s voice assistant doesn’t live in the wireless speakers. Much like other entertainment-focused companies, Roku’s voice assistant isn’t meant to answer your every random question—it only controls your entertainment system and the content you stream with it. Some users may be more receptive to Roku’s Wireless Speakers with the Touch remote, because the voice assistant that can control their entire system only responds after they press and hold a button on the remote. Other smart speakers that are compatible with voice assistants like Alexa and Google Assistant can control smart TVs and sound systems, but they’re also always listening for other questions—and not all users are comfortable having an all-purpose, always-listening AI entity in their homes.
Roku’s Wireless Speakers and Touch remote will begin shipping this October, and the company is running a deal leading up to the release. For the first week of presales (July 16 through July 23), a bundle consisting of two Wireless Speakers, a Touch remote, and a Roku voice remote will be available for $ 149. From the end of that week until October, the price will be $ 179. When the new devices finally come out, the bundle price will be $ 199.
Listing image by Roku