Roku is refreshing its very successful line of set-top boxes today. The new players have already appeared a bit prematurely at retailers in recent days, but today they're official. First up, the flagship Roku 3 is gaining voice search, which should put it on better footing against Amazon's Fire TV box.
It's basically what you'd expect; hit the dedicated voice search button on Roku 3's new remote, and speak out the name of a movie, show, actor, or director you're looking for. Results come up instantly, and in a brief demo, the Roku proved very accurate at understanding a spoken name or film title. As usual, you can click through and Roku's software will tell you where you can watch a specified movie or show based on which video services you currently subscribe to. You can initiate a voice search from anywhere (and at any time), though if you do so mid-movie, you'll briefly be taken out of Netflix or whatever app you were watching to see your results. The "new" Roku 3 retains its $99 price point.
Another new software feature being introduced today, the Roku Feed, aims to give you a heads up whenever movies in theaters right now eventually make their way to on-demand services including Amazon Instant Video, Vudu, Netflix, and others. Add a film like Furious 7 or The Divergent Series: Insurgent to your feed, and Roku will automatically notify you the moment it's available to stream somewhere.
Follow movies from the theater to your favorite streaming services
This "Movies Coming Soon" feature is just the beginning of Roku Feed, so it should be interesting to see where else the company takes it. My request would be for the Roku to present users with its own list of movies and shows leaving Netflix and Amazon soon, but we're not there yet. For now, we've still got you covered there.
But the best announcement today is most definitely the new Roku 2. Roku's middle-of-the-line media streamer isn't really so "middle" anymore. It's been upgraded with the same hardware specs and speedy performance as the Roku 3. The two devices are basically identical now. By going with the Roku 2, you lose out on the 3's fancier voice-capable remote, but since you can also initiate voice search with the Roku smartphone app — also being updated today — that's unlikely to be a deal breaker for most people.
At $69, this much faster Roku 2 is a pretty nice deal when lined up next to the Apple TV and Amazon's set-top box. It's in the same "impulse buy" territory Apple was shooting for with its recent price cut, and I'd probably pick this over Apple's aging box — even if you won't be able to watch HBO Now for a few months. The shortcut buttons that Roku chooses for its remotes change from time to time. On Roku 3, you'll now see Netflix, Amazon, Rdio, and Hulu. On the Roku 2, Sling TV takes Hulu's spot, which should give Dish's internet TV service some nice exposure. Both new players are available starting now. Looking beyond today, the obvious question is when we'll see an even more powerful Roku 4, but the company is keeping quiet on that subject for now.