Window Shopping Roku IDK (Independent Developer Kit)

I’ve been given a pair of Roku streaming devices that were retired from a friend’s household, as they knew I like to take things apart to look inside. Before I do that, though, I briefly investigated what might be fun to do with intact and functional Roku devices. I was quite pleasantly surprised to learn that Roku has recently (announcement dated October 26th, 2021) released an Independent Developer Kit (IDK) for hobbyists to play with Roku hardware. This is different from their official Software Development Kit (SDK), which is available to companies like Netflix to create their Roku apps (“channels”). Many other differences between the IDK and SDK are explained in their IDK FAQ.

The Roku SDK requires a business partnership with Roku, but the IDK is available to anyone who is willing to work at low level in C++ and has a Linux development machine available to the task. No direct support for Windows or MacOS, but as the resulting binary is uploaded through a web interface, theoretically a Linux virtual machine could be used to run these tools. The list of example apps hint at what is accessible through the IDK: the OpenGL ES API, interface to the Roku remote control, interface for audio playback, and interface for video playback. (Including Wildvine DRM-protected content.) And it sounds like an IDK app has pretty complete control of the machine, as only one IDK can be installed at any given time. If it takes over the Roku shell, that implies control over the entire system even greater than possible with SDK-developed Roku channels.

But I couldn’t test that hypothesis due to the final requirement: a Roku device with IDK support. A chart listing all Roku hardware has a row for “IDK Support” and the old devices I’ve been gifted are both shown as “No”. If I really want to play with the Roku IDK, I’d have to go out and buy my own Roku device with a “Yes” listed on that chart. At the moment I don’t see the advantage of buying Roku hardware for this purpose. On the surface Roku IDK appears less compelling than developer support available on Google Chromecast or Amazon Fire TV devices. Or for ultimate openness, we can go with a Raspberry Pi. Maybe I’ll find a reason for Roku projects in the future, in the meantime these two old devices without IDK support will be disassembled. Starting with the smaller streaming stick.

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