Roku blazes a wireless audio trail for new soundbars at CES 2021

Soundbars are immensely popular for one very good reason: Simplicity. A power cable and an HDMI cable are typically all you need to get one set up and connected to your TV. But Roku — the king of simplicity in the streaming world — thinks we can do better. Ahead of CES 2021, the company has announced that it has created a new reference design for a soundbar that doesn’t need to be physically connected to a TV at all. Well, to a Roku TV, to be precise.

The reference design is an expansion of the existing Roku TV Ready program announced a year ago that lets Roku TV owners configure their audio gear using a simple on-screen interface. Now, any compatible soundbar will still be configurable via Roku TV Ready, but it won’t require an HDMI cable. The system uses Roku’s proprietary version of Wi-Fi — the same Wi-Fi connection it uses for its Roku Wireless Speakers — which lets you place a soundbar more or less anywhere you want.

It’s a great solution for anyone who has chosen to wall-mount their TV but doesn’t want to try to hide additional unsightly cables running to a soundbar. Roku claims that soundbars equipped with this new feature will offer “impressive audio and video synchronization.”

Any company that wants to take advantage of the reference design may do so, building and selling wireless soundbars under their own brand. Roku says that TCL is expected to be the first company to announce a Roku TV Ready wireless soundbar at its CES 2021 event on January 12.

Technically speaking, there is already a wireless Roku TV Ready sound system on the market: The Enclave CineHome Wireless Speakers are Roku TV Ready, and once you plug the CineHome Hub into your TV via HDMI, the actual connections to the individual speakers are wireless. But, it’s not a soundbar, and there’s still that matter of the HDMI cable.

Roku also noted that Element will launch a 2.0 Roku TV Ready soundbar and 2.1 Roku TV Ready soundbar with a subwoofer later this month. These aren’t going to be wireless models, but you can bet they’ll be very aggressively priced.

The streaming company also took advantage of the CES 2021 excitement to announce a major milestone: Roku was the No. 1 smart TV software platform in the U.S. in 2020, with a 38% market share. Overall, Roku’s platform now has more than 50 million active monthly accounts, a number that Amazon’s Fire TV platform has also recently hit.

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