Roku’s latest system software begins a not-so-subtle shift towards pushing the firm’s own streaming service. For those who have appreciated agnostic, if ad-riddled, interface so far, this might be a bad thing.
“Roku OS 9.1 is an update to the Roku operating system that powers all Roku devices,” a Roku blog announcement notes. “This update includes enhancements to voice capabilities, Guest Mode, Automatic Account Link and other improvements to overall streaming performance across Roku devices.”
Interesting that the most dramatic change here explicitly called out in that blurb. That bit about “enhancements to voice capabilities” is less innocuous than it seems at first.
“When using voice search, movies and TV shows in The Roku Channel will now begin playback, rather than display a search results screen,” Roku explains. “[This] includes entertainment available via the 25+ Premium Subscription services available on The Roku Channel. Playback will occur when the movie or show is available only in The Roku Channel, or when a customer specifically indicates the channel name in their voice command. If playback from a voice command is not available for a specific movie or show, customers will continue to see unbiased search results ordered by price, so they can choose the best viewing option for them.”
Roku Channel, of course, is core to Roku’s evolving services strategy. It launched in late 2017 and offered free, ad-supported movies and TV shows. Then it expanded to the web and, in January of this year, added support for premium subscriptions in a bid to preempt Apple’s then-rumored TV+ service.
Roku OS 9.1 adds other new features and changes, of course.
Auto Sign-Out Mode has been rebranded to Guest Mode. It allows visiting guests to sign in to subscription channels using their own account credentials and then automatically sign-out after a set period of time, a feature that can be useful in hotels and the like. Search (including voice search) now provides filters for popular categories like comedy and action, and it will soon flag content that is available in 4K. Roku customers in the US who are eligible for special offers will now see a My Offers link in the navigation menu. And it’s now easier for users to configure Automatic Account Link for subscription channels.
Roku says that Roku OS 9.1 is now available on select Roku streaming players and will roll out to all supported streaming players in “the coming weeks.” I’m not seeing it yet on my own Roku.