Next month, Roku will launch a nifty update for the smart soundbar and subwoofer it launched final fall: Owners will quickly have the ability to pair these audio system with Roku’s current wireless TV speakers to create a 5.1-channel encompass sound system.
Unlike most soundbars, Roku’s doubles as a streaming video participant akin to a Roku Streaming Stick+, offering each video and audio output when plugged right into a tv’s HDMI-ARC socket. Roku’s streaming distant additionally handles audio settings, so that you don’t want to juggle a separate distant to boost dialog, scale back loud sounds, or increase bass ranges. An on-screen menu system guides you thru pairing the subwoofer and satellite tv for pc audio system, and with the brand new encompass setup, you may up-mix stereo audio to encompass (for motion pictures and exhibits) or sync audio evenly throughout the entrance and rear audio system (for music).
This sort of system might develop into the following large battleground for streaming media platforms equivalent to Roku, Amazon Fire TV, Apple TV, and Android TV. Budget 4K televisions are available for lower than $500 now, together with ones that assist superior HDR codecs equivalent to Dolby Vision and HDR10+, and you may get streaming gamers to match for lower than $50. Unless you propose to be on the bleeding fringe of TV decision at 8K, the following logical step is to verify sound high quality retains up.
The drawback with residence theater audio
Having beforehand talked to corporations like Roku, Amazon, and Google about their residence theater audio ambitions, I do know they’re all tackling the identical drawback: Upgrading from a budget audio system constructed into most TVs is simply too intimidating for non-nerds.
With so many corporations providing their very own mixtures of soundbars, subwoofers, satellite tv for pc audio system, and receivers, it’s laborious to know the place to begin. And whereas HDMI-ARC (and the newly-upgraded eARC) are speculated to make setup less complicated by letting a single HDMI port provide audio to all inputs; in observe, issues can disintegrate while you’re making an attempt to string collectively a TV, an exterior streaming field, and a completely separate sound system. I’ve heard from readers who battle with audio latency, or are scratching their heads over HDMI handshake points. And personally, I groan each time I must grapple with the unintuitive distant on my Vizio 5.1 soundbar system.
While Roku’s sensible soundbar won’t enchantment to audiophiles who’re keen to tolerate these inconveniences for a superior audio expertise, it compensates with excessive ease of use for everybody else: A single machine plugs into the TV for each streaming video and improved audio, and Roku’s software program handles all the pieces from optimizing audio high quality to pairing further audio system and subwoofers.
This strategy, after all, is sensible provided that your TV consumption principally comes from a single enter supply. If you’re continually switching backwards and forwards between, say, the Roku soundbar and a cable field, you’ll nonetheless get the identical soundbar audio, however with out the comfort of Roku’s software program to handle settings. That’s why this subsequent frontier in streaming gear will primarily enchantment to those that’ve already reduce cable TV. It would possibly even persuade extra of us to chop the twine within the first place.
State of the speaker methods
Beyond simply Roku, different streaming platforms are additionally making an attempt to simplify residence theater audio, albeit with blended outcomes.
Amazon and Google have each labored with current audio corporations to construct their respective Fire TV and Android TV software program into soundbars. Reviewers on Amazon, nonetheless, have dinged the Anker Nebula Fire TV Edition soundbar for poor sound quality (TechHive’s personal assessment is in progress), and whereas the JBL Link Bar with Android TV sounds nice, it struggles as a streaming participant.
Amazon has additionally been constructing an extendable system by itself by way of Alexa Home Theater, which permits customers to pair sure Fire TV gadgets with Amazon’s Echo audio system. A pair of Echo Dots or an Echo Studio, as an illustration, can sit by the tv, whereas an Echo Sub can present deeper bass. The result’s better-than-TV audio with highly effective Alexa voice controls, however with some drawbacks: At current you may’t add rear audio system to make a 5.1 encompass sound system, and you will need to use the clunky Alexa app to set all the pieces up.
Apple has additionally dabbled in residence theater audio by way of the Apple TV streaming field, which may join wirelessly to any AirPlay 2 speaker for output. If you’ve got a HomePod speaker in entrance of the TV, you may route Apple TV audio by way of it just by holding the play/pause button on the house display screen and choosing the HomePod from the audio supply listing. Through Apple’s Home app, you may even pair two HomePods collectively for a wider stereo impact. Still, Apple hasn’t but created its personal 5.1 resolution, and in contrast to Roku, Apple TV doesn’t provide any audio enhancement choices past a “reduce loud sounds” toggle in its settings menu.
Looking forward, although, these corporations all have a robust incentive to make audio a precedence and work by way of these points. Beyond simply offering a greater expertise for cord-cutters, built-in residence theater methods like the sort Roku is constructing will signify a robust type of lock-in for streaming platforms.
After all, when you’ve invested in Roku’s soundbar, subwoofer, and satellite tv for pc audio system, chances are high you’re not going to be switching to a Fire TV or Apple TV anytime quickly.
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