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Roku OS 8.1 update includes free live news, updated Roku Channel, multicast audio

Brendan Hesse
roku os 81 update abc news live 8 1 featured vignette

Roku has announced that its next big update to the Roku OS, Roku OS 8.1, will be hitting your Roku streaming devices in the coming weeks. Like every Roku OS update, version 8.1 brings with it some new features and welcome changes to the operating system. The big-ticket item for the OS 8.1 update is the selection of live news channels coming to the Roku Channel. These ad-supported channels will provide 24-hour news feeds for free to all Roku users.

This feature serves as the launch point for a new around-the-clock news service, ABC News Live, which will be a curated stream of ABC news, ABC affiliate reporting, and “directors cut” versions of programming, such as the recent James Comey interview on 20/20. The stream will include a main feed, with two smaller feeds showing upcoming stories or breaking news. This differs from CNN or MSNBC’s non-stop live coverage, which usually revolves around discussion and debate. It’s enough of a change to differentiate ABC News Live from the rest, especially if what you’re interested in is the news stories themselves, and not talking heads or pundits.

ABC News Live is the main focus for the live news channels, but Roku is also rolling out a few other news channels as well, with a specific focus for each. Tech and entertainment buffs will be able to tune into a 24-hour stream of Cheddar’s curated news content, while PeopleTV will be there for those looking to stay up to date on celebrity and lifestyle topics. Finally, if ABC isn’t your speed or you simply can’t get enough news, the Newsy channel will cover general world news, and also feature programming from the networks’ numerous shows.

While these free, live news channels are Roku 8.1’s tentpole feature, they aren’t the only additions coming in the update. Roku is also bringing some much-needed enhancements to the Roku Channel’s functionality, specifically the ability to resume watching where you left off — whether that be in the middle of a movie or simply between episodes in a season of a TV series. Previously, you would have to manually fast-forward to where you left off in the content, but now a “Continue Watching” tab will be present on the Roku Channel landing page. Selecting your content will immediate pick up where you previously stopped watching. The other change to the Roku Channel is called Collections, which features curated categories for browsing content.

The last new feature users will get with Roku OS 8.1 is multicast private listening. While private listening modes are available on the Roku remote and when using the Roku app on your mobile device, Roku devices will now allow up to four separate iOS or Android devices to be connected to the Roku device wirelessly, delivering simultaneous audio to each. While it may not be an immediately obvious inclusion, we can see this being perfect in numerous situations, like if you happen to be watching a movie late at night with a group of friends but don’t want to wake your roommates, or are catching up on Netflix with your spouse while your kids nap.

Roku users can expect the Roku OS 8.1 update and all these new features to rollout beginning in May.