Roku remains the Switzerland of set-top boxes, letting you play movies and TV shows purchased from multiple stores, including Amazon Instant Video and M-GO. On Friday the company added another entire ecosystem: Google Play Movies & TV is live in the Roku Channel Store.
The new channel, live in the U.S., U.K., and Canada, even supports the “Gift from Google” section. Visit it from your Roku for a free HD copy of X-Men, and other movies will rotate in. For TV shows, the channel will support season passes, making the latest episode of a series available the day after it airs on TV.
The Roku channel even supports Google Play’s Info cards. When you pause a movie or TV show, the names of the actors will appear next to their faces. That way you won’t have to whip out IMDb on your phone the next time you’re wondering, “Who’s that guy? I know I know him from somewhere…” (And if his name doesn’t ring a bell, at least you have a starting point for that IMDb search.)
Why this matters: Since Roku doesn’t sell movies and TV themselves, the company has no reason to lock out competing stores like the other boxes do. For example, there’s no Amazon Instant Video channel on Apple TV, and you can’t play Google Play Movies & TV purchases on your Amazon Fire TV. But Roku’s goal is to let you play anything.
Roku boxes still can’t break into the walled garden of content from the iTunes Store, but having Google Play Movies & TV is a win for both Roku and Google—not to mention customers like you and me.
Google’s content is now available directly on millions of Roku boxes—before this, the best way to watch Google Play Moves & TV on an actual TV was with a Chromecast, but that requires a second device (usually a mobile phone or tablet, or a PC or Mac). Roku provides an easier way, since you only need the set-top box and remote, and the user interface is right there on your TV instead of on a separate device.
This also puts Roku in a better position against competitors like the Chromecast, the upcoming Android TV devices, and even the Apple TV. The more content a set-top box can play, the better.