Roku to Roll Out Voice-Activated Digital Assistant

In addition to expanding its reach to smart speakers and audio devices, Roku is also in the process of developing its own voice assistant. TCL, which now manufactures Roku TVs, will be the first partner and is expected to announce its plans during its January 8 CES press conference in Las Vegas. Instead of marketing the software as artificial intelligence that can schedule your appointments, turn off your bedroom lights and order your groceries, the Roku assistant's primary job will be to help you play music and video on devices throughout your house. But the assistant could be asked to start music on a sound bar in the living room - or speaker in another room - even if the TV is not on by asking, for example, "Hey Roku, play jazz in the living room".

When it comes to streaming audio and video in the home, Roku provides one of the most comprehensive solutions. The new assistant will be available in smart speakers, but Roku isn't making them itself. Today, Roku refuses to be defined as just a TV device.

They are calling this ecosystem Roku Connect and it will be able to connect to Roku devices wirelessly to form a completely wireless home entertainment system.

One advantage Roku has in its own space is that it already has a voice-operated remote control that could execute simple commands.

While the likes of Amazon's Alexa, Apple's Siri, and the Google Assistant offer such smart capabilities though the Amazon Echo and Google Home Mini respectively, Roku won't butt heads with the tech giants as it plans to keep its virtual assistant entertainment-focused.

Roku started out its licensing program by opening its TV operating system to other manufacturers in 2014, via partnerships with TCL and Hisense, which resulted in so-called Roku TVs, or affordable smart TVs that ran on Roku's operating system and displayed Roku's interface.

"Amazon Prime and Netflix will be very happy to tap into Roku connect voice controls", he told TechNewsWorld. The first products to support the Roku Entertainment Assistant are expected in the fall of 2018 but Roku-powered smart soundbars and speakers should be along sooner. Most recently, Funai announced that its Magnavox and Philips-branded smart TVs will be based on Roku.

While Roku's voice-activated assistant is set to become more capable, its functionality still seems to feature a much narrower scope when compared to major players like Google Assistant and Amazon's Alexa.

Roku began licensing its software to TV manufacturers four years ago.

Vanessa Coleman