The problem with all of these brilliant streaming services around is that you never know which one has the specific movie or TV show you want to watch right now.
And that's why Roku's new Search feature is so awesome. Tap in a title and it almost instantly gives you a list of every service on which it's available. The list is in cost order, too, so if you're a member of Netflix and it's available there, that'll be the top result, with pay-as-you-go services such as Google Play being listed - along with the price - below. Make your choice, click the Roku remote's button and you're taken right to it.
But what if you don't have a specific movie in mind, just the inexplicable urge to watch something starring Nicolas Cage? Pop in the madman's name and a list of (mostly terrible) films in which he appears will, umm, appear. Click on one and again you'll get the list of services that have it ready to go. Even more vague searches for a genre or subject matter also work.
Of course this sort of global search has been seen before on other platforms, but never one (that we're aware of) that's as open or has as many services as Roku. It's that combination of the range of apps (called "channels" in Roku parlance) and this quick, powerful search that makes the system so compelling.
Best of all, you can do all of this searching and browsing on your smartphone so as not to interrupt what's already on. Find it, tap on it and the on-screen stream will instantly switch. Neat.
When Can I Watch That Film At Home?
Roku’s second new feature is My Feed, and it might actually be even neater.
My Feed takes you to a list of films currently out in cinemas or on the way to DVD - click on one and you can "follow" it. When that film becomes available on a streaming or pay-per-view service, it will let you know. Again, it may be that the film will be available on a lesser-known service, Roku is totally impartial.
When we met Roku I pointed out how handy it would be to be able to do this while away from your Roku, on your phone or even via a browser widget. In return I got an "it would, wouldn't it?" along with a smile that I interpreted as being a small step away from a conspiratorial wink. I'm not saying that's definitely on the way, but it sounds to me as though it's being looked into and would be mighty handy should it happen.
Roku 2 Good
Those software updates will start rolling out to all existing Rokus at the start of May, but there's new hardware, too.
The new Roku 2 looks practically identical to the current Roku 3, and that's because it basically is a Roku 3, with the same, snappy procesor but with a more basic remote that does without the built-in headphone socket and motion control. Given that at £70 it's £30 cheaper than the Roku 3, it could well become the best-selling Roku when it launches, which is also in May.
The Streaming Stick gets some love in the form of extra software optimisation, too, which should make it a little speedier than it currently is.
Essentially, Roku's covering the hardware bases better than ever, and if the Search and My Feed features prove to be as useful as they looked in the demo we saw, our love for the range looks sure to grow even greater. Full reviews of both the new and updated Rokus the moment we lay our hands on them.