Roku might be working on an over-the-air (OTA) solution that could potentially allow device owners to watch and stream OTA content on any other compatible device. There’s also suggestions of DVR thrown in as well for good measure.
While Roku established itself as a popular device-maker, that was only the start of things to come. Since then, the company has massively expanded its software ecosystem (as well as its hardware lineup), and now offers device owners a robust user experience that includes access to free content via The Roku Channel, as well as the option to subscribe to premium networks.
One of the next major expansions by the company could come in the form of OTA free live TV. A recently published patent, titled, “Providing Over-The-Air Content To Any Device” explains how Roku will likely implement its OTA solution. The patent was first filed as early as 2018, although it was only published on July 11, via the United States Patent and Trademark Office.
Roku’s OTA solution
Reading between the lines, it looks like Roku wants to offer users a way to stream live OTA content to other devices, such as smartphones or other players/devices in the home. If that sounds familiar, then it should as other companies already offer solutions like this. In fact, Amazon does with its Recast device, and while not mentioning Amazon specifically, Roku explained how these “rudimentary approaches” are “time consuming and not user friendly.”
Further in the text, it seems Roku’s solution will not only include OTA content and listings, but they will be fused with streaming (non-OTA) content and listings as well. Essentially, Roku wants to offer an integrated user experience that combines the best of both OTA and non-OTA content and listings, with all of that accessible on a variety of different devices through streaming.
Complicated OTA streaming
Generally speaking, the OTA market is proving to be a complicated one in the world of streaming. Locast has tried to modernize the experience and has since been met with legal challenges by many of those in the broadcast industry. Then there are those that either offer hardware solutions (like Amazon) or software solutions (like Plex) to assist in the streaming to other devices. In contrast, it would appear Roku is looking at solving this problem from a holistic viewpoint, with a much more integrated and seamless user experience.
The image below summarizes how Roku sees its OTA and streaming solution working.
As can be seen, nothing here is too unusual in the sense that there will be a main media device that receives the signal over-the-air using an antenna (thereby avoiding the issues Locast has run into), and those signals can then be either relayed to additional devices (smartphones, tablets, etc). There’s also the mention of having the content held in storage, which suggests a DVR-like approach which draws on the device’s internal storage.
While Amazon’s Recast is similar in nature – records OTA live TV and allows streaming to third-party devices – it does need to be coupled with another Fire TV streaming media player or an Echo Show to begin with. In contrast, Roku’s solution appears to do away with that additional streaming player, by having the same technology built-in to the media player.
New Roku player & OTA app coming?
The first big takeaways here is the likelihood of an upcoming Roku player with antenna and OTA support. Roku hadn’t appeared that interested in OTA content before, and even in comments made to TechHive in late 2019, the company suggested OTA and DVR wasn’t really on its radar. Instead, its focus was primarily on streaming.
However, that might now be changing as it would seem highly unlikely that Roku is talking about a third-party (read: competitor) device when discussing the main media player in the patent. In addition, as the image above doesn’t indicate the use of an external tuner, that also could be included in a future device.
The other big takeaway is what Roku continuously refers to as an “OTA app.” Needless to say, this will be how Roku plans to ensure other devices, regardless of brand, are able to get in on the Roku OTA and DVR action. While it remains to be seen whether there will be a dedicated Roku OTA app or whether the functionality will be added to the existing Android and iOS Roku app, the result is the same with a major new software feature possibly coming to the Roku ecosystem.
Of course, this is only a patent at the moment, and it does also cover a wide variety of ways in which the technology could be used. As a result, there’s no particular guarantee that any of the features or use cases mentioned will be available in consumer products. Although, at the very least, it paints a picture of Roku’s recent thinking for the direction of its platform.