Skip to main content

Did Roku just upend the midrange TV landscape?

One of the biggest stories of CES 2023 isn’t on the show floor at the Las Vegas Convention Center. It’s not the hottest new gadget or even a bigger, better TV. It’s not a Sony car. It’s not faster. It’s not smaller.

No, the biggest news of CES 2023 may well come down to a logo. Specifically, the Roku logo adorning the front of new Roku-branded Roku TVs. That phrase sounds a little odd, of course. But the simple fact is that while “Roku TV” may well be the name for a television that’s powered by the Roku operating system — and three out of four new TVs sold in North America have been of that nature for a number of years now — the televisions themselves have always been made by another company.

TCL is the big name on that front. And it’s done very well in that sweet spot — affordable TVs that do what they need to do without overcomplicating things. You can get a large set for a reasonable amount of money, and they’re easy to use. They’re not for everyone — if you’re the sort who demands the latest and greatest in a new TV, you’re going to look elsewhere, like Samsung or Sony. But they’re designed and sold for anyone. The simple fact is you can buy a good TCL Roku TV for a reasonable amount of money and be plenty happy with it.

TCL made the TV. Roku made the operating system. And the two companies work together a little (OK, a lot) to make things work.

TCL's Scott Ramirez at CES 2023.
Phil Nickinson/Digital Trends / Digital Trends

That sort of symbiotic relationship always requires give-and-take, though, and that brings us to where we are now. Roku is going to make its own TVs. Only it’s not. By “make,” we mean control the overall process, from design to features to tuning the way things look. The manufacturing will still be up to someone else. That’s not unusual, and it’s exactly what Amazon, for instance, is doing with the Amazon Fire TV Omni Series. Amazon “makes” it, but TCL manufactures it.

Where things get really interesting — or, rather, where they’ll potentially get really interesting — is what it means for the future of Roku’s partnerships with the companies that have traditionally manufactured Roku TVs until now. TCL is one of the biggest, but it’s far from the only partner that makes Roku TVs, in countries all across the globe.

Roku hasn’t actually shown off the new Roku-branded Roku TVs yet. At least not publicly. (And should we call them Roku Roku TVs? Perhaps not.) So we don’t yet know just how close they’ll compete with the likes of the hotness from TCL. A lot goes into that equation, too. Will these new Roku TVs only be sold by Roku? Or be exclusive to some other retailer? And will they be positioned to go head-to-head with the top-shelf sets from all those existing partnerships? And who, exactly, will be manufacturing these sets?

“I don’t think that they’re necessarily going to be third-tier TVs that we’re used to seeing from brands like Insignia, or Toshiba,” opined our own Caleb Denison. “I think they’re going to be on the same level that we’ve seen from Hisense or TCL. To what degree? That remains to be seen.”

Is all of this going to blow up in Roku’s face? Or put the company in an even better position?

With all due respect to the companies that have put out actual products here in Las Vegas, the future of Roku and its partnerships have sparked interesting questions coming out of the early days of CES 2023. And as of right now, they’re unanswerable.

We’ll start to clear the fog later this year when we start to get those TVs in for testing. But for now, we’re getting the popcorn ready.

Editors' Recommendations

Phil Nickinson
Phil spent the 2000s making newspapers with the Pensacola (Fla.) News Journal, the 2010s with Android Central and then the…
The Golden Age of TV isn’t just over — it’s imploding
Streaming-Bubble-Burst

This was originally going to be a rant about how streaming TV is now worse than cable, but as I crawled deeper into the rabbit hole, I realized that not only is streaming TV starting to look just like cable did in the 1990s, but the so-called Golden Age of Television that we’ve been enjoying is a bubble that’s about to burst.

But maybe that’s not entirely bad. Stick with me.

Read more
TCL’s bonkers China-only microLED TV is as tall as Darth Vader
TCL X11H Max MicroLED TV.

When it comes to truly massive screen sizes of 110 inches or larger, it's hard to beat microLED. And when it comes to microLED, it seems it will be very hard to beat TCL. After showing off what we thought was a prototype 163-inch microLED TV at CES 2024, the company appears to have turned it into a real product -- dubbed the X11H Max -- which it will soon start selling for the equivalent of $111,300 (799,999 yuan), according to tech publication, ITHome.

That's a hefty price tag, but as other observers have noted, it actually makes the TCL X11H Max the most affordable microLED TV so far. According to its U.S. website, Samsung's 2022 110-inch model still costs $150,000, while LG's 136-inch Magnit microLED sells for a reported $299,999. Suddenly, $111,300 doesn't sound so bad.

Read more
What does the Star button do on a Roku remote control?
Roku Star button on the remote.

Anyone looking to bring additional smarts to their TV has probably stumbled upon Roku. The device is available in multiple formats -- but its remote control has remained largely untouched with these new product launches. There have been a few tweaks over time, but by and large, Roku is using the same remote today as it did years ago.

One of the most compelling features of the Roku remote control is the Star button. Its use isn't immediately obvious, but it essentially works as a way to access various menus or toggle different video options. For example, depending on what app is loaded on your screen, the Star button might let you turn on subtitles modify display and sound settings.

Read more