Roku is tackling a new challenge, announcing Monday that it is getting into the speaker business to save our living rooms from flat sound.
The firm has built a reputation for inexpensive, simple television accessories and leads Amazon’s Fire TV, Google’s Chromecast and the Apple TV in the U.S. market, according to research company Parks Associates — even though it tends to get overshadowed by those bigger names. Roku said in May that one-quarter of all smart televisions purchased in the United States have Roku software built in, thanks to partnerships with such brands as TCL, Insignia and Hisense.
But Roku isn’t looking to compete with Amazon or Apple on speakers: The new $200 Roku device doesn’t have a voice assistant built in, unlike the artificial-intelligence-powered Echo and HomePod. (Amazon founder and CEO Jeffrey P. Bezos also owns The Washington Post.)
Instead of aiming to be the command center of the home, the Roku speakers are simply going for better sound. Lloyd Klarke, Roku’s director of product management, said the company saw a need for speakers because television makers have often had to compromise on audio quality in the pursuit of thinner, flatter televisions.
Roku has opted to keep voice control limited to searching its own catalogue of available shows and songs, which can be activated by pushing a button on its remote control. If you’d like to control your system from farther away, the company has introduced a different type of remote control called the Roku Touch.
Roku, which went public in September 2017, has plans to expand its brand beyond its streaming devices. The company in January laid out ambitions to become more of a platform, saying that it will be licensing its name and software to other hardware manufacturers. But in the case of the speakers, Klarke said, Roku wanted to build them itself, because it saw the opportunity to make something simple and affordable.
Affordability may be one of the new speakers’ greatest selling points. A pair of speakers, a revamped remote and the Roku Touch will retail for $200 when the product launches in October. (Those who preorder will get a lower price.) That’s half the price of the smart Sonos Beam sound bar, though it is about the same price of other best-selling sound bars from competitors, such as Yamaha.
Setting up sound devices can often be complicated, but Roku’s new speakers can simply connect over WiFi. The only cord each speaker has is a power cord. The speakers work only with televisions that have Roku software.
The speakers are still in an early stage of development, but Klarke said they will equalize the noise coming out of your television — no more rushing for the remote during a surprisingly loud commercial. You will be able to turn the feature off, however, if you’re watching something and want to get the full effect of whispered dialogue or a huge explosion.