Roku’s Private Listening Mode Is Getting a Big Upgrade

Roku’s private listening mode is one of the big things that helps set Roku devices apart from their competitors. Simply by plugging a headset into a Roku remote, or by activating the mode on a mobile app, viewers can get audio streamed through their favorite headphones rather than distracting the whole household with Westworld, or Star Trek, or (if you’ve got kids) PAW Patrol.

Until now, private listening has been restricted to a single person (or two, with a headphone splitter), but weary parents and overexcited preschoolers can now rejoice — Roku’s private listening mode will be available for up to four people at a time.

Credit: Roku

(Image credit: Roku)

Tom’s Guide met with Roku to learn about some enhancements coming in Roku OS 8.1, the latest version of the software that controls both Roku streaming devices and Roku TVs. There are some overall stability and user interface enhancements, but the biggest user-facing feature is private listening mode’s expansion. This update will allow up to four users to stream audio from anything on a Roku device simultaneously, right from their own iOS or Android device.

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For those who have never used private listening through the Roku app before, here’s how it works: You download a free Roku app from the iOS App Store or Google Play Store. Then, you log into your Roku account and ensure that you’re on the same Wi-Fi network as the Roku device in question. The app will detect what’s currently playing, then stream the audio directly to your mobile device.

Roku hasn’t revealed precisely how private listening will work for more than one person at once (will all four people need to log into the same account as the device connected to the TV, or simply be on the same Wi-Fi network?), but the process should be similarly straightforward.

I asked a Roku representative about how multiple private listening connections could be beneficial. After all, if a user activates private listening, it’s usually to isolate him or herself from other members of the household. He replied that the feature could be useful for parents after their kids have gone to sleep, or kids who want to watch TV while their parents work from home. The general idea is that two or more people want to watch TV, while at least one other person needs a quiet environment. This could be beneficial for families, or roommates who have significant others.

Expanding private listening isn’t necessarily a revolutionary feature in the streaming world, but it’s a useful one that, frankly, we’re surprised hasn’t been tried before. Roku will be rolling out the functionality to all modern Roku devices (anything recent enough to run Roku OS 8.1) throughout the month of May. You can use the time between now and then to stock up on some extra headphones.

Marshall Honorof

Marshall Honorof is a senior editor for Tom's Guide, overseeing the site's coverage of gaming hardware and software. He comes from a science writing background, having studied paleomammalogy, biological anthropology, and the history of science and technology. After hours, you can find him practicing taekwondo or doing deep dives on classic sci-fi.