Roku, Inc. recently announced an update to the Roku operating system, which will roll out to users over the next several months. Roku OS 11.5 adds features for discovering, accessing, and streaming entertainment, including updates to What to Watch, the addition of "The Buzz" to the home screen menu, a new Channel Store experience, enhanced search functionality, and (finally) the addition of categories in The Roku Channel's Live TV channel guide. More information on these features is provided below.
"What to Watch" - Updated Features
Roku's most-recent major update, OS 11, added "What to Watch", which provides suggestions for content and channels based on users' viewing history. The current version of What to Watch includes Continue Watching and Save List rows that are specific to content streamed on The Roku Channel. With OS 11.5, Continue Watching and Save List are being expanded to include content from across the Roku platform, including premium channels like Netflix and Paramount+. (New features available to U.S. users only.)
"The Buzz" - Home screen menu addition
Roku home screens are getting a new menu item, The Buzz, which is described as "a collection of posts featuring trailers, interviews, and video clips from your favorite streaming channels." Users will be able to like posts, follow specific channels, save content to stream later, and immediately stream content featured in The Buzz. (Available to U.S. users only.)
Channel Store - Becomes Roku Store with new "experience"
It appears that the Streaming Channels menu option on the Roku home screen, also known as the Roku Channel Store, is becoming just "Roku Store." Instead of a list of channel categories with a grid of channel icons for each category, Roku Store users "will have a visual and immersive experience within the store where they can navigate through different categories to easily find and shop for new streaming entertainment." Roku offers no specifics on how the Roku Store will be different from Streaming Channels. Nor does Roku say whether Movie Store and TV Store will be incorporated into Roku Store, but Roku's overall strategy seems to be focused on steering viewers to content, with less emphasis on specific channels.
Search - Enhanced functionality
This is a feature that seems to have already been rolled out to at least some Roku devices running OS 11. In the past, a search for an actor or title would turn up a decidedly bland list of films and TV shows. With the updated search (which Roku says is coming in OS 11.5 but is already available on my Roku devices), you get results that are more visually-interesting, with thumbnails and categorized content. For example, a search for Tom Cruise returns headshots of related actors along with thumbnails for all Tom Cruise movies that are also categorized as Included with Subscription, Free, Rent/Buy, Romance, and War Movies. A search for "Star Wars" returns a Star Wars Roku Zone, thumbnails for available Star Wars movies and TV shows, Roku channels with Star Wars in the name, and several clips and videos. The search results also provide suggestions for refining the search - in this case, you can add to the search with terms like "spin-off" and "film" or you can choose a different search like "lego star wars".
The Roku Channel - Live TV categories added to channel guide
The Roku Channel's Live TV programming grid (aka channel guide) is finally getting a much-needed update with the addition of categories, similar to what has long been part of the Pluto TV app. With over 300 live streams, jumping back and forth between channel can quickly become tedious. In addition to Recents and Favorites, you will be able to jump to categories that will include News, Sports, Movies, Entertainment, Kids, Crime, Music, and En Español.
Additional updates are being made to Bluetooth Private Listening, which allows users to listen to their TV through headphones connected to certain Roku remotes or paired through the Roku Mobile App, and to Roku Voice, which will display channel options relevant to the voice search on the Roku screen. More details on Roku OS 11.5 can be found in the Roku® OS software release notes.