The sad truth is that, as TVs have gotten slimmer, the speakers inside have gotten smaller right along with them. But Roku believes it has a solution for our AV anguish using software it introduced at CES 2018 called Roku Connect.
With it, Roku will have its hands on the controls of both the audio and video experience, allowing Roku TVs and the Roku TV Wireless speakers connect seamlessly for a better sound, without lag.
It's a lofty goal – and one we'd be a bit skeptical of if we hadn't heard it for ourselves – but, during our short demo with them, that was exactly the case.
The speaker itself looks like a black Sonos One with the Roku name subtly embossed on the top. They were pre-production models so it's likely some specs will change before launch, however, we were told that they weigh about four pounds each and include one 3.5-inch woofer and one .75-inch tweeter.
The speakers are designed to be placed on either side of your television for a wider more immersive soundstage or can be hung on the wall if desired.
The Wireless Speaker's biggest trick up its sleeve is that it doesn't require any wired connection to the TV itself – just plug these speakers in to an AC socket and they will automatically contact and connect to your TV using your Wi-Fi.
If you want to connect your phone or tablet, however, Roku isn't going to leave you out in the cold: Bluetooth is included so that you can stream music from other devices, controlled through an app.
Of course, while the Roku app will allow you to control your Roku TV and Roku Wireless Speaker setup, it's far from the only way. In fact, Roku plans on including two remotes – one is its upgraded Voice Remote (now sold as an accessory to its sticks, etc…) and the other is a new tabletop remote called the Touch.
The latter does not need line of sight to the TV as it uses RF codes to send commands, enabling it to be placed anywhere in the house. It has buttons that can be programmed and can control volume, play, pause, and skip forward or back, and Roku says that it's designed to sit in an adjacent room to where you watch TV, thereby allowing you to control the volume without fear of losing the TV remote.
Roku demonstrated these speakers using two TCL 6 Series TVs. One model was a standalone and the other connected to the Roku TV Wireless Speakers.
As you might expect, the standalone TV sounded shrill and tinny with a narrow soundstage while the TV with the speakers had a wide soundstage and much more detailed audio. There were clear vocals as if from a non-existent center speaker and music also had a better range with fuller, richer stereo sound, especially on the lower end. The difference in sound was amazing.
Another neat trick the speakers have is Automatic Volume Leveling that boosts the sound when it gets too low, lowers the sound in loud scenes or adjusts the volume for booming commercials. All settings can be changed in case you want to get the full effect of a movie while still supporting full stereo sound and dialogue enhancement.
This technology, in part, was engineered by a company Roku acquired last year called Dynastrom, a multi-room audio startup based out Denmark.
We will have to wait for the final version but if it is anywhere close to what we experienced in the demonstration this is will be an easy purchase decision.
The only problem we see is marketing since the speakers will not be sold with the TVs and will require a separate online only purchase directly from Roku's website.
Roku advises that it's beginning sales this way so there will not be unnecessary returns from those purchasing non-Roku TVs. These speakers will not currently work with Roku sticks or external boxes for now – however, this seems to be a good first step for low cost Roku TVs to connect reasonably priced speakers.
This week only the speakers are available now for pre-order for $150, but the pre-order price will increase to $180 starting on July 24. Shipping is expected to begin by the end of October and the full bundle, which includes two speakers w/ power cables, Roku TV Voice Remote, Roku Touch and 4X AAA batteries, will be sold for $200 (about £150, AU$270) exclusively through Roku's website.