This app could change how you use your Roku

Unification is the predominant theme for cord-cutting in 2020. Rathing than bouncing between a half-dozen or more streaming apps, we’ll see more attempts at funneling all our subscriptions into one big TV guide.

The latest effort comes from Reelgood, which just released a nifty new remote control feature for Roku devices. When you find something to watch in Reelgood’s streaming guide apps for iPhone or Android, you can press a button and launch the video directly on your Roku player or smart TV.

I’ve been using a pre-release version of Reelgood’s new app this week, and while I ran into some issues with a handful of services, it worked flawlessly with content from Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime Video, Disney+, Tubi, and Crackle. Roku itself doesn’t provide anything like this, so using Reelgood’s remote app might be even better than navigating with an actual remote.

Remote control trickery

If you’re not familiar with Reelgood, the app provides universal search, recommendations, and a watchlist for your streaming services. Select the services that you use, and you can browse for movies and shows across all of them at the same time. Reelgood will also tailor its recommendations over time based on what you’ve added to your watchlist.

In the past, Reelgood was siloed off from streaming devices such as Roku players or Amazon Fire TV Sticks. You could use Reelgood’s mobile app or website to track shows or get recommendations, but ultimately you’d still have to pick up a separate remote and wade through a bunch of menus to reach the actual content. (One exception: You could use Reelgood to launch other videos apps on your phone, then launch video on your TV via Chromecast.)

With the remote control feature, Reelgood is no longer an island. You just select a movie or show in the Reelgood app, then select any Roku on your Wi-Fi network for playback. Roku will then launch the appropriate app and load the movie or show you’ve selected. Reelgood’s mobile app even provides a virtual remote control, so you can pause, fast forward, or rewind without reaching for the physical Roku remote.

reelgoodroku2 Jared Newman / IDG

Reelgood’s app will automatically find any Roku devices on the same network, so you can send content to them.

Eli Chamberlin, Reelgood’s head of product and design, said via email that the company is using some trickery to make this happen. When you select a movie or show in the mobile app, Reelgood transmits a set of identifiers for that content to the Roku, similar in nature to links on the web. Roku doesn’t officially provide this data to app makers, so Reelgood has done a lot of data mining to figure out which identifiers will prompt a particular video to launch.

“We have indexed so much content from various services, along with many different types of content identifiers, that we can construct many different permutations of these links to see what works,” Chamberlin said. “We’re currently wading our way through each and every service, combining different data we collect to get ones that launch the content successfully.”

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