Roku streaming devices have always been the popular and affordable way to add some smarts to “dumb” TVs. Even when Chromecast brought its $35 streaming dongle to town, Roku had an answer with its slightly more expensive (and more versatile) Roku Streaming stick. Now the company’s first efforts to move out of the box and into the TV have come to fruition, as top Chinese manufacturers TCL and Hisense have announced their new Roku TVs will soon land in stores.
In all, TCL is releasing four Roku TV sizes under the FS4610R model number. There’s the 32-inch at $229, the 40-inch at $329, the 48-inch at $499, and the 55-inch at $649, all of which are available for pre-order today on Amazon, and will land in stores “in the coming weeks.” Hisense has not yet announced pricing, but we do know that the company will release four sizes of its H3 model, including a 40-inch, a 48-inch, a 50-inch, and a 55-inch – and we expect pricing to be similar.
When the first Roku TVs were unveiled in January at CES, they seemed like a no-brainer. The brilliantly simple interface – which now offers around 1,700 different apps to play with – has allowed Roku devices to compete with the big boys like Google and Apple based almost solely on excellent functionality and ease of use. What was surprising was Roku’s choice in partners; two Chinese manufacturers that have barely made a dent in the U.S. TV market, with performance that is average at best.
However, when TCL, the top dog in China, released its pricing for its new Roku TVs today, the reasoning for those partners became clearer. Roku has always been a bit of a working-class streaming machine, and with pricing that contends with many dumb LED TVs on the market, Roku is making a great case for the cord-cutter without a lot of money to burn to consider stepping into a new display.
The new TVs for both manufacturers will operate very much like Roku streaming devices, only with live TV added in. Your DVR, antenna, or inputs like your Blu-ray player and gaming console will all be incorporated as “channels” alongside the rest of the apps in the vault like Netflix, Hulu Plus, Facebook, and Twitter, as well as a massive horde of lesser-known apps to explore. And just like the boxes, the homepage is customizable, so all your HDMI inputs and your apps can be arranged at your preference. Universal content searching from the “top 13 streaming” apps is also part of the package.
Control over the TVs can be handled by the remote, which will incorporate the basic controls from Roku streaming boxes, including the incredibly simple design that Roku-heads have come to love. That should make the experience decidedly familiar, only with more options available. Users will also be able to control the TVs through Roku mobile apps for iOS, Android, and Windows devices.
As for performance, well, that’s another story. Both manufacturers are releasing full HD 1080p models, all of which sport three HDMI ports, a USB port, Wi-Fi connection, and an optical digital audio output — standard specs for their class. TCL claims the TVs incorporate a 120Hz refresh rate, but Cnet reports that the TVs sport native 60Hz panels and produce the claimed 120Hz refresh rate through digital processing. The top two Hisense models reportedly have native 120Hz panels, so they may have better performance when it comes to fast-motion content.
That said, while we haven’t had a chance to review a TCL TV, we’ve had our issues with Hisense displays in the past. Both companies have been steadily increasing their performance chops, but the Hisense 55-inch TV we reviewed a while back still seemed to have some growing pains. On the other hand, at TCL’s prices, videophile-level performance shouldn’t be expected, and the sets may do just fine for the average viewer.
The smart TV to buy?
Whether or not you should purchase a Roku TV may depend on how picky you are about your picture, and whether or not you already have your streaming device of choice lined up. Users with an older premium TV and a Roku box may better off just sticking with that system for now, since these likely won’t offer much of a picture upgrade. However, there’s definitely something to be said for an all-in-one solution, and the accompanying ease of use.
We’ll likely be reviewing a new Roku TV from both manufacturers soon, so we’ll give you our final verdict on the whole enchilada once we’ve had some time alone. For now, you can pre-order a TCL Roku TV on Amazon today, and Hisense’s models should be landing in January.