Roku Develops Voice-Controlled Digital Assistant, Launches OS Licensing Program For Smart Speakers And TV Soundbars

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When it comes to standalone media streaming hardware, Roku is the market leader with it family of affordable devices. Roku has even managed to integrate its streaming goodness into smart TVs, including popular budget brand TCL. First initiated in 2014, the Roku TV initiative has grown to include eight television brands (the recent addition of Magnavox will make it nine), and Roku claims that one out of every five smart TVs sold in the United States is running the Roku OS.

Now, Roku is looking to further extend its reach by expanding its technology licensing program to include smart speakers and soundbars, which will connect to Roku TVs and Roku settop boxes using Roku Connect. Roku Connect allows devices to wirelessly communicate with each other, and can be controlled via a single remote (or through the Roku smartphone app) or with voice commands.

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Roku Connect also serves as the launching pad for the Roku Entertainment Assistant. The Roku Entertainment Assistant -- which is somewhat of a competitor to Alexa, Google Assistant and Siri -- leverages the Roku OS to use your voice to execute media-centric commands and control Roku apps as long as you have a Roku TV or Roku settop box on your home network.

"For example, customers will be able to say, 'Hey Roku, play jazz in the living room' and a smart soundbar with Roku Connect will begin playing music – even if the TV is turned off," Roku explains in its press release.

The Roku Entertainment Assistant will be incorporated into soundbars and smart speakers. Like its partnership with TCL and Hisense with Roku TVs, Roku won't be selling its own branded soundbars or smart speakers. Instead, it will license its OS and technology to OEM partners. Hardware that meets Roku's criteria will be emblazoned with a Roku Connect logo.

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“We’ve always focused on making it incredibly simple for consumers to find and enjoy streaming entertainment on their TVs, and with an expanded Roku ecosystem, consumers will be able to add great sound to their TVs and audio around the whole home in a modern way,” said Roku CEO Anthony Wood. “Consumers will love the benefits of a home entertainment network, such as having more affordable options, adding one device at a time, using their voice, having a simplified set up and Wi-Fi connectivity, and holding just one remote control. And, of course, OEM brands benefit by offering their products in a more appealing way to our already large and engaged audience of millions of active accounts.”

Roku TV platforms will be updated to support Roku Connect and the Roku Entertainment Assistant later this year. Roku also makes it clear the licensing Roku Connect software will be free for OEM partners, and will not be taking licensing revenue from smart speakers of soundbars "in the foreseeable future."