Ever been browsing the guide on your TV, see something you like airing in the future, and say to yourself: "I wish I could watch that right now."
With a new feature on Roku TVs, you can.
Smart TVs from brands like TCL, Hisense, RCA and others that run Roku's Smart TV system have long been among CNET's favorites. One big reason is that, unlike competing Smart TV systems, Roku is always rolling out updates that add new functions, like the ability to pause live TV, no DVR required and suggest streams based on what you're watching live.
The latest free update, Roku OS 8, brings a slew of new additions. The coolest is integrated into the all new grid-style program guide for live TV from a connected over-the-air antenna, which Roku calls Smart Guide. It takes the form of innocuous purple asterisks next to show names.
When you see an asterisked a title, like "Night Court" or "Jack and the Beanstalk" from the image above, you can hit the asterisk key on the remote and up comes a page labeled "More Ways to Watch." It shows which streaming services carry that show and episode, and another click launches it.
The feature builds on the original implementation of More Ways to Watch, which used automatic content recognition to pop up windows and suggest streams based on what you're watching on any external source (antenna, cable, DVD or Blu-ray, whatever). The new Smart Guide only works with over-the-air antenna shows, not cable or satellite, but has the advantage of including future airings in a familiar grid format. And since it doesn't use ACR, it doesn't have that technology's privacy concerns.
Beyond Smart Guide, which contains 14 days of over-the-air programming information, the update brings a couple of other new features.
Voice control: In addition to search, Roku TVs now support select voice commands like app launching, switching inputs and tuning to an antenna channel. If the TV is off, a voice command like "launch Netflix" will turn it on and launch the app. Roku's voice control still isn't as good as Amazon Fire TV Edition sets, however, and for Roku TVs without voice-enabled remotes, you'll need to use the Roku app.
Search results incorporate antenna content: Roku has my favorite cross-platform search, and now its TVs can include over-the-air antenna shows in the results.
Private listening for over-the-air shows: You've been able to listen to Roku TV audio from apps via headphone, either connected to your phone using the Roku app or with a compatible remote. Now you can listen to antenna shows that way too.
New features for streamers too
In addition to the TV-only extras listed above, Roku OS 8 is also adding the following capabilities to all of its devices, including its new Roku streaming sticks and boxes as well as TV.
Single sign-on: This feature sounds similar to Apple TV's. Signing on to one TV Everywhere app that you have rights to as part of a cable subscription (like Watch ESPN) automatically signs you in to others, like Watch TBS or ABC (30 are available at launch). The catch? Not every cable or satellite provider is included. Just like Apple TV, Comcast and Spectrum are major holdouts.
Natural language voice searches: In addition to bare terms like "Jennifer Lawrence," Roku search can now recognize natural language queries like "show me movies starring Jennifer Lawrence."
Categories on 4K Spotlight: On its 4K TVs and players, the 4K Spotlight app gets an update to add categories, making finding TV shows and movies in 4K easier. Devices with HDR support get those shows and movies broken out as well, and the same goes for Dolby Vision TVs Roku like the TCL P series. The app still doesn't incorporate shows from Netflix, however.
The free update to Roku OS 8 rolls out to devices in October and TVs in November. All Roku TVs, going back to the original ones in 2014, get the update, but some older streaming players do not.