Roku has built some very good mainstream speakers and soundbars since 2018, and now the company is looking to help its TV-manufacturer partners build soundbars of their own.
The company has come up with a reference design for a soundbar that wirelessly connects to TVs operating the Roku operating system and certified as Roku TV Ready. And by wireless, I mean you don’t need an HDMI or even an optical cable. The only cords involved are the power cables for the TV and the speaker.
The wireless connection in Roku’s design utilizes Wi-Fi, but in a point-to-point fashion between the soundbar and the TV, instead of sending the audio from the TV to the soundbar over your home’s Wi-Fi network.
In a conversation with Roku’s VP of Product Strategy Mark Ely earlier this week, I learned that the specification uses a lossless lossy codec for streaming, but Ely wasn’t able to tell me whether the company was using FLAC or something else. I wasn’t able to learn the resolution or sample depth of the stream, either. Ely did say that the connection delivered excellent audio/video synchronization.
This is a two-channel design with the option of adding a wired or wireless subwoofer. There are no other inputs or outputs, and Ely said there are no plans at this time to expand to surround sound using Roku’s wireless speakers or anyone else’s. The soundbar can be controlled with the same Roku remote that comes with the TV.
A Bluetooth receiver is also onboard to accommodate customers who wish to stream music from a mobile device or other Bluetooth source to the soundbar. If you want to listen on headphones, you’ll need to have a higher-end Roku remote that includes a wired headphone jack.
Roku TV-builder TCL will be the first manufacturer out of the blocks with a new soundbar based on Roku’s reference design. The company is expected to announce more details about its new product early next week. Meanwhile, Roku is expanding its Roku TV Ready program with a new two-channel soundbar and a 2.1-channel soundbar with subwoofer from Element. Roku TV Ready products don’t necessarily require a Roku TV, but they do integrate quickly and easily with one.
In other news, Roku is crowing that the market-research firm NPD Group has named the Roku OS as the number-one smart TV operating system sold in the U.S. and Canada, with a 38- and 31-percent share of those markets, respectively. Various manufacturers, including Hisense and TCL, sell Roku TVs in size classes ranging from 24 to 75 inches.
Updated shortly after publication when Roku informed us that Mark Ely had misspoke when he said the soundbar reference design featured a lossless audio codec. The design is actually based on a lossy codec.