Roku has announced the next version of its operating system for TVs and set-top boxes and it’s adding a range of helpful new features.
One of the more exciting parts of this software launch is Roku OS 11’s new Photo Streams. This feature lets you create a personalized screensaver using your photos uploaded directly to your Roku device. You can do so using your computer or smartphone.
Photo Streams may sound like a minor thing, but this officially turns any Roku-enabled display into the same type of picture-sharing platform as Google TV, Amazon Fire TV, and Apple TV-connected devices. Roku OS 11 will allow you to invite friends and family members to contribute to the Streams and share your albums with other users so it appears on their respective devices.
Previously, Roku’s interface focused on delivering the basics: a menu where you could choose the app with the content you wanted to enjoy. But since TVs are getting higher resolutions by the minute, every dormant screen is now an opportunity to put a makeshift digital photo album in your home or even a makeshift art installation.
Roku OS 11 has a few other notable new features. The main screen now emphasizes finding something to watch with What to Watch on Roku. Like Google TV and Apple TV, this particular home screen will offer personalized suggestions on what to watch based on popular and trending content and any new titles added to streaming services.
There’s also a Live TV on Roku Home Menu, an extension of the Live TV Zone Roku introduced a few months back. The Roku Channel will offer free live content and links to the existing cable alternatives, like Hulu and YouTube TV.
On Roku audio products, the OS 11 update adds automatic speech clarity settings to help amplify dialogue on quieter movies and shows. Some soundbars and third-party accessories readily offer this ability, and it’s nice to see Roku embed it into the software.
Roku Streambars and speakers will offer five new sound modes, including Standard, Dialogue, Movie, Music, and Night, which will hopefully help with those late-night binge marathons when everyone else in the house is sleeping. The new OS will also expand its A/V syncing support by adding a calibration tool through the Roku Mobile app. This will help you better sync audio with the action on the screen. The feature will be available if you have a Roku player or Streambar connected to the app.
Speaking of the Roku mobile app, it’s getting an update, too. The free app will offer a better companion experience on your smartphone. You’ll see information on where to stream movies and TV shows and which channels stream content for free or require subscriptions. And like Google TV’s Watch List, there’s now a Roku Save List, which lets you bookmark movies and TV shows you want to watch.
Lastly, and perhaps most excitingly for folks who can’t stand inputting their login information letter-by-letter, OS 11 will introduce the ability to get into your account with an email and PIN code using just your voice. OS 11 also supports Spanish, German, and Portuguese spoken languages.
The streaming wars have been heating up in recent months and it’s clear Roku is moving fast to get its software’s feature set up to par with what everyone else is doing. As I mentioned, many of the new features in Roku OS 11 can be found in competing streaming OSes. Buying a smart TV, streaming dongle, or set-top box is another way to add to your home’s connected ecosystem. With Apple, Google, and Amazon building theirs out to include devices of all kinds, Roku can at least make the same abilities available without making consumers feel like they’re locking themselves into one particular subset of devices and services.