It's with good reason that the Roku streaming sticks and boxes regularly come out on top of our set-top box round ups. Affordable, fast and loaded up with literally thousands of internet TV channels, they're able to squeeze tonnes of content into an interface so easy to use, a tech luddite could get on with it. Alongside a revamped player line-up, Roku has just announced a series of tweaks to its streaming interface that subtly but meaningfully improve the system.
Most important of all is the new Search feature. It works across all Roku apps, searching the content available within each service in order to find the movie, TV show or actor that you're looking for. This includes apps you've not installed yet, letting you find exactly where the movie you may be searching for is hiding. Roku also hinted that eventually this search function could become more intelligent, returning results based on interests (say, a film about fly fishing, that's not called "Fly Fishing: The Movie", based upon the search term and its database of movie knowledge).
Perhaps the best part of this feature however is that it also shows you the comparative pricing of a TV show or movie, across the services where it is available. Without a content store of its own, Roku is able to deliver an unbiased list of results -- you'll clearly be able to see if a movie is available cheaper through Amazon than through Google Play, for instance, or whether a film is available to stream for free through a subscription to a service like Netflix. It's a great feature, and one that competitors (such as Amazon, Google and Apple) will be uncertain about offering as it could undermine their own stores.
As well as the new Search feature, the Roku update introduces a "My Feed" area. Here you can set the player to track news on films currently in the cinema, with the box alerting you when your brand new movie of choice becomes available to stream. It'll continuously search for price and service fluctuations too, keeping tabs on when to get the best bargain on a film you're craving to see.
While all existing Roku set-top boxes and streaming sticks will be getting the update, Roku has also announced the launch of a revised and revamped Roku 2 player (pictured up top). The puck-like box will now retail for a cheaper £69, having cut some of the frillier features of its remote control. It will be removing the mostly-superfluous motion controls, swapping the Wi-Fi input beam out for a standard line-of-sight IR blaster and (sadly) removing the headphone jack from the remote that allowed you to plug in for some quiet late night viewing. Other than that, it's pretty much the same as the £99 Roku 3, which stays on the market.
Both will also be getting dedicated Netflix, Google Play, Rdio and YouTube buttons added to their remotes.
Expect to see both the software update and new Roku 2 player land in May.
We've also reached out to Sky to see if its Now TV box (which is based on the same hardware and a tweaked version of the Roku software) will be getting the update. We'll update this post as soon as we hear from them.