Roku TVs will soon be able to detect what you’re watching on the tube, in order to steer you to internet-streaming content — but the feature is not as Orwellian as it may sound.
Roku-enabled TVs, thanks to a new operating-system update rolling out over the next few weeks, will be able to recognize the show or movie you’re watching via your cable or satellite set-top or over-the-air antenna. Compatible TVs will use automatic content recognition (ACR) technology to identify the content and then suggest additional viewing options available on via streaming services like Netflix, Hulu or Vudu.
It may seem vaguely Big Brother-ish, but Roku is being careful about ensuring consumer privacy: Users will be required to enable the feature via an opt-in prompt. In addition, the “More Ways to Watch” feature can be turned off at any time (although Roku says viewing information collected prior to the feature being turned off will not be deleted).
Meanwhile, such behavioral tracking is ubiquitous in the internet biz — and it’s perfectly kosher, as long as consumers’ data isn’t being used or shared without their consent. Note that in February, Vizio paid $2.2 million in a settlement with the Federal Trade Commission over charges that it installed software on smart TVs to collect viewing data from some 11 million TVs without informing their customers or asking permission to do so.
For now, the “More Ways to Watch” feature is available only in the U.S., and only for Roku-enabled television sets available from Best Buy’s Insignia, Sharp, Hisense and TCL. It will be coming first to conventional HDTV models first, followed by support for 4K Roku TV models later this summer.
Roku declined to reveal what ACR technology it is using for the feature. Vendors in the space include Audible Magic, Digimarc, and Gracenote (now part of Nielsen).
Other feature enhancements that are part of the Roku OS version 7.6 update include:
- Live TV pause on Roku TVs: When using the Live TV Pause feature on your Roku TV, you’ll now see thumbnail images displayed on the screen while pausing, rewinding, or fast forwarding. That’s supposed to make it easier to identify where you are in the movie or show to resume playing at the point you want to watch. In addition, Live TV Pause now supports closed captioning for the Roku TV “replay” feature to go back a few seconds to catch dialogue you may have missed.
- Favorite channels list for Roku TV tuner: The favorites list will allow you to browse only selected tuner channels, instead of the entire lineup.
- Custom input names for Roku TV: Users can now enter any name they want (up to 15 characters) for an input device (for example, “”).
- Faster resume from standby for some Roku TV models: HD Roku TV models will now resume from standby mode a few seconds faster than before.
The Roku OS 7.6 update is available to Roku devices sold after May 2011, as the company has phased out support for older streaming players. The update is expected to be complete before June.
According to Roku, as of March 31, 2017, it had 14 million active user accounts. Roku’s search feature now spans more than 300 channel partners, up from 150 channels in January.