One of the biggest benefits of external streaming devices or TVs built around a third-party operating system is that they can typically receive more significant feature and technology updates than smart TVs with proprietary OS baked into the product.
Such is the case for Roku, which announced the latest version of their operating system, known as OS 11, earlier this week. This is the company’s third update to the main Roku OS in the past 12 months and the first major update since the announcement of OS 10 last May.
To be clear, OS 11 isn’t a totally new user interface and presentation, but it does do some things that one suspects customers may have been requesting as well as a few nuggets to keep up the pressure on Roku’s competitors.
Perhaps the most visible, or should I say audible, improvements are particularly in the way Roku devices deal with audio when used with Roku’s Wireless Speakers, Streambar, or Streambar Pro. When connecting these products, users will find new Automatic Speech Clarity and Sound Modes. The former is said to dynamically identify and amplify dialogue so that it doesn’t get lost under the rest of the sound mix. The latter present new, specially tailored, Dialogue, Movie, Music and Night modes along with the current “Standard” mode.
In addition, OS 11’s AV Sync feature will let supported Roku players and audio products use a simple calibration tool — soon be part of the Roku mobile app — to better sync audio with on-screen action. Many users will find this tool valuable, particularly considering the video-to-audio delay that is sometimes an inevitable consequence caused by compression and transmission issues on streaming services.
The Roku app is a key part of some of the advancements delivered by OS 11. Just as many use a personal photo for the main splash page on your phone, tablet, or computer, OS 11’s new “Photo Stream” feature will allow you to upload photos using the mobile app or your PC to serve as your own personalized screen saver and digital photo frame. A Roku user will even be able to create a shared album so that everyone in a group may add photos and use them.
The Roku app is part of yet more OS 11 upgrades. The user interface, or “visual experience” will be refreshed to provide more information about movie and video streaming content. This will also include highlights of free channel content as well as which services the user is already subscribed to. You’ll also be able to save movies and shows on the go so that you may pick them up and continue streaming when you return home.
With regard to the main, in-home menu screens, OS 11 is adding a “What to Watch” menu item as a new destination to lead you to streaming content you frequently interact with. This will include both new and trending content. There will also be an addition to the “Live TV” menu on the home screen. First added in January, it will now provide viewing recommendations to free live and linear content from both the Roku Channel and a variety of “cable alternatives” such as Hulu, Philo, Sling, fuboTV, and YouTube TV.
Last, but not least, Roku’s Voice Enabled Keyboard will expand language support from English to Spanish, German, and Portuguese in the U.S. and supported countries. The ability of using voice commands to simplify device and channel setup and login with voice, rather than on-screen entry for the email addresses, passwords. and PIN information rather than the often laborious and error-prone manual entry is a great benefit of voice remotes.
In total, you may say that there is nothing revolutionary is OS 11, but perhaps that is not the point. The flexibility of streaming devices makers such as Roku, as well as their OS-embedded TVs and soundbars shows how they are looking to retain and expand their market share in a world where virtually every TV is a smart TV. Roku’s OS 11 will start rolling out over the next few weeks.
While it hasn’t yet appeared on the various Roku products in my home, the one that I am really waiting to see it in is the combination of Roku’s Streambar Pro, Wireless Speakers, and Wireless Subwoofer. I am testing them for a forthcoming review, and some of these improvements answer questions that I have noted about that device ecosystem.
As soon as OS 11 rolls out, I’ll take a look and complete the review on what already has proven to be an interesting alternative to traditional soundbars. Keep reading here and hopefully it will pop up in your inbox soon.