CORRECTED Apr. 6, 3:16 PM ET.
Gary Busey now has another video streaming box to yell at. Roku today (Apr. 6) introduced a new version of its $100 Roku 3 video streamer that allows you to search content by voice, as an alternative to pecking out search via the keys on its remote, across 17 content channels. With it, Roku catches up to the Amazon Fire TV and several smart TV makers that already offer speech recognition.
The company also upgraded the speed of its $70 Roku 2 box, but didn't add a voice-search enabled remote option to this player or to its popular $50 Roku Streaming Stick or Roku TVs.
In addition, all current Roku boxes get a new feature called Roku Feed that allows them to "follow" material they are interested in. The service is launching with Movies Coming Soon, which provides updates on when movies that hit cinemas in the previous five months will be available for streaming. Roku Feed will also tell you which services, such as Amazon, Netflix or Vudu, have the content, and for what price.
Movies Coming Soon doesn't send popup alerts, so you'll have to periodically navigate to that screen in the Roku interface and look for updates. But when I asked Roku about alerts, they told me the idea was "really good feedback."
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While Roku hasn't changed the model number, only the new Roku 3 models will get the voice search remote-control upgrade, since it requires new hardware - a microphone-equipped remote control. Roku hasn't said if it will sell the new remote separately. However, the updated Roku mobile app for Android and iOS allows voice search for all current Roku players and Roku TVs..
By either voice or typing, Roku allows search by movies or TV show title, actor or director. An update now allows you to search for a specific channel, such as Netflix or Hulu — handy, since Roku now offers well over 2,000 channels.
If you don't care about chatting with your remote, check out the updated version of the Roku 2 box. It now has the same processing power as the Roku 3, allowing it to run faster, and costs $70 — basically matching the new discounted $69 price of the Apple TV.
Roku gave us an advanced look at the voice search feature - or tried to. Either a buggy Wi-Fi connection or problems on Roku's server kept it from working. We'll test it out soon once we get a player from Roku and will provide an update.
As with many other voice recognition services, Roku's sends your mutterings up to a third-party cloud service for processing (Roku hasn't revealed which service). Roku listens only when you press a button on the remote, and the company told us that it doesn't collect data on user's utterings — beyond using it to improve search results.
This article was corrected to clarify that the Roku app brings voice search to all current players and TVs.
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