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Roku OS 9.1 update alters voice search to prioritize The Roku Channel

Roku today outlined new features coming to its streaming devices as part of the Roku OS 9.1 software update. The new update includes an opt-out feature for its Auto Sign Out Mode (now called Guest Mode), easier automatic sign-in for select apps on new Roku devices, and new updates to its voice search feature.

The latter update to voice search is the one most worth looking into more deeply; the company’s wording suggests Roku will give preferential treatment to its increasingly conspicuous Roku Channel.

“When you use voice search, movies and TV shows on The Roku Channel will now begin playback rather than display search results, including those available on 25[-plus] Premium Subscriptions services,” reads a press release announcing the update. This appears to mean that if the show or movie you’re searching for is in the Roku Channel or any of its add-on subscriptions (which include services like Showtime, Starz, and HBO as of an early April update), your query will autoplay the video there immediately. What’s not clear is whether Roku will send users to its ad-based content within the Roku Channel first, or if it will opt for other services you’re subscribed to as add-ons to the channel if the show or movie you want to watch is available on both.

The release goes on to say, “Playback will occur in most instances when the movie or show is available in The Roku Channel, or when a customer specifically indicates the channel name in their voice command.” The update appears to be more evidence of a pullback from Roku’s “agnostic” approach that has long appealed to users who prefer all services to be treated equally on their streaming device, in contrast to streamers like Amazon’s Fire TV devices, which tend to put Amazon Prime Video content at the forefront.

Along with the voice search update, Roku has added more useful updates such as an optimized feature in Roku Search that will be arranging searches like “comedy” or “action,” by criteria, including free, on-demand, subscription, and even 4K resolution to return a collection of movies or TV shows under that query. We’ve found frustrating search results when searching under such search terms in the past, so a more pinpointed search criteria for those labels is a welcome upgrade.

As referenced above, the update also allows for automatic sign-in on new devices for 10 services, including Sling TV and Pandora, when you’ve already signed in to those services on a previous Roku device. Other updates include a My Offer feature that will let you know if you’re eligible for any discounts or special offers on Roku devices, as well as the ability to enable or disable the newly dubbed Guest Mode for using subscriptions on Roku devices that aren’t your own.

The new Roku OS 9.1 update will be rolling out on all Roku streaming devices with model number 2400 or higher — such as the Roku Premiere+ and Roku Streaming Stick+ — as well as all Roku TV models in the coming weeks.  To check your device model number, go to Settings > System > About.

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Ryan Waniata
Former Digital Trends Contributor
Ryan Waniata is a multi-year veteran of the digital media industry, a lover of all things tech, audio, and TV, and a…
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