Roku updates OS with auto playback for Roku Channel, expanded voice and search features

The new Roku update is changing around how search results are displayed. (Roku)

Roku on Tuesday began rolling out the Roku OS 9.1 update, which will add features like automatic playback for the Roku Channel along with expanded voice and search capabilities.

The update is available today on select Roku streaming players and is expected to roll out to all supported players in the coming weeks.

Now when Roku owners use voice search, movies and TV shows on The Roku Channel will begin playback rather than display search results. That includes content available on Roku Channel’s more than 25 premium subscription add-on services. The company said playback will occur in most instances when the movie or show is available in The Roku Channel, or when users specifically indicate the channel name in their voice command.

“If playback from a voice command is not available for a specific movie or show, you’ll continue to see unbiased search results ordered by price, so you can choose the best viewing option,” the company said in a blog post. Roku is planning to open up the feature to more channels in the coming months.

Roku is also adding new voice commands like “replay” to go back a few seconds, “turn closed captions on/off” to toggle closed captions, and for Roku TVs with the Fast TV Start feature enabled, the TV display can be turned off while streaming select music channels like Pandora, iHeartRadio and TuneIn by saying phrases like “turn display off.”

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Roku is also changing around how search results are displayed. The results will be arranged as collections of movies and TV shows categorized as free, on-demand, subscription, 4K and other types of content.

The company is also updating existing features like Auto Sign Out Mode (now called Guest Mode), adding notifications about special offers to the navigation menu and Automatic Account Link, which carries over subscription service credentials to newly activated Roku player and TV devices.

As TechCrunch pointed out, the new features designed to increasingly surface and autoplay Roku Channel content make Roku into slightly less of a neutral platform for video services. But the new features are not far off from what companies like Amazon and Apple already do on their own devices and platforms.