January 22, 2018

Roku's Entering the Smart Audio Market, But Won't Make the Hardware Itself

12 January 2018, 08:24 | Kevin Scott

Enlarge The 2017 Roku

Enlarge  The 2017 Roku

Streaming media organization Roku is extending its licensing system to incorporate producers of soundbars and smart speakers, and furthermore plans to dispatch another "Roku Entertainment Assistant", as a major aspect of a developing push to assume control over the amusement involvement in individuals' family rooms.

The California-based streaming media company announced it will grow its licensing program from things like TVs to soundbars and smart speakers, and, as part of this effort, it will also launch a voice assistant called Roku Entertainment Voice.

To help manufacturers incorporate the technology into their own products, Roku is providing reference designs for a smart speaker and soundbar. Roku outlined TCL, its third-party partner will reveal the first Roku voice assistant during the CES gadget show to be held in Las Vegas next week.

Owners of Roku TVs and players will get the voice-powered Roku Entertainment Assistant free of charge in a fall software update, the company said.

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"Consumers will be able to add great sound to their TVs and audio around the whole home in a modern way", Roku CEO Anthony Wood said in the announcement. It will enable Roku owners to speak simple commands, such as "play classical music in the kitchen", for example. If linking your home stereo or a TV soundbar to your Roku box makes you more likely to keep using your Roku box, mission accomplished.

And Roku's main strategy - positioning itself as a mass-market, low-priced alternative - seems like it will eventually hit a wall. Today, Roku says that one out of every five televisions sold is a Roku TV.

This is normally the part of the story where you note that Roku, which went public past year, is going up against much, much, much bigger competitors, who are using home video and audio as a way to extend their reach, not as a full-fledged business. This will allow these devices to work within the Roku operating environment, controlled by voice commands or a single remote. It clearly has Amazon Alexa in its sights and wants to be a key player when it comes to controlling people's entertainment experiences at home. And while Roku's assistant is now exclusively entertainment-focused, it's hard to ignore the similarities - especially when Alexa figures so prominently in the appeal of the Fire TV, Amazon's streaming device and a direct competitor to Roku's line of products.

From that point forward, eight TV brands have begun offering Roku TVs in North America. It launched a TV licensing program four years ago and works with brands like RCA, Hitachi, Hisense, Sharp and soon Magnavox. The assistant will be called Roku Entertainment Assistant which is created to go against the likes of Google Assistant and Amazon Alexa.

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