The next big Roku firmware update is coming soon, and with it a new feature that could make watching your favorite movies and shows more enjoyable by boosting the volume of dialogue.
As part of the Roku OS 11 firmware update, the company is introducing a speech recognition feature to all its best streaming sticks. If it works as intended, it should allow for spoken dialogue to stand out more without increasing the volume of other audio such as music, ambience or sound effects.
A movie's audio mix can often undercompensate for dialogue when it's competing with a variety of other audio sources. Not only should this new feature allow for a more cinema-like experience when watching your favorite movies and shows, it could be a welcome accessibility feature for those with hearing difficulties.
Can you hear me now?
So how does Roku's speech recognition tech work? It's not all that dissimilar to the active or hybrid noise cancellation features found in many of the best wireless earbuds and headphones.
The software identifies spoken dialogue, and runs it through an AI that attempts to isolate that dialogue from the rest of the audio mix. By doing so, the speech recognition AI is able to boost dialogue volume independently of other audio, allowing for a greater level of clarity.
This could be super-helpful depending on the type of movie or show you're watching. For bombastic action movies, the speech recognition AI could bring some much-needed clarity to separate dialogue from the sounds of speeding cars or explosions, for example.
Alternatively, the more intricate dialogue of slower-paced thrillers or mysteries could be easier to follow, especially for viewers who love hanging onto every word in order to better make sense of the plot.
Analysis: better audio for everyone
While we're big fans of anything that makes it easier to pick out the sometimes muffled dialogue in movies and shows, we're particularly excited about the potential of this feature to improve the viewing experience for those with impaired hearing.
In some cases, these viewers may no longer have to rely on subtitles to enjoy their favorite movies and shows, with the boosted dialogue potentially allowing viewers to focus on the on-screen action rather than having to glance downwards to read text.
Plus, Roku OS 11's upcoming audio modes, which add specific profiles for movies, music, speech and more, could work very effectively in tandem with the speech recognition feature. That could allow for all-round immersive audio while still keeping spoken dialogue at the forefront of the mix.
While a number of manufacturers have plans to add voice recognition smarts to their smart TVs, including TCL, Google and Amazon, Roku's application of the tech could be the first time we've seen it be deployed to streaming sticks specifically.
Roku streamers are already immensely popular with a wide range of demographics and age groups, so it's great to see the brand implement the tech into its range of affordable streaming sticks without forcing people to buy a separate – and potentially expensive – smart TV to access the feature.