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First look: Roku TVs from Hisense and TCL are refreshingly simple

Susie Ochs | Aug. 20, 2014
Yes, the new Roku TVs are just smart TVs with Roku's familiar interface and huge content library built in. It may be simple, but it's still a brilliant result.

TCL will sell its Roku TVs in popular sizes at impressively low price points: 32 inches for $229, 40 inches for $330, 48 inches for $500, and 55 inches for $680. They're all 1080p screens with three HDMI ports, USB, and dual-band Wi-Fi, along with a composite video input and digital optical audio output. Larson also pointed out that a TV should look good even when it's off, and I thought the TCL Roku TV blended in well, with a thin bezel and tasteful stand.

The Hisense models
Hisense's representative, Director of Product Management Chris Porter, kept his message even simpler: Smart TVs are about content, "and Roku has the most content." Hisense had already been a Roku Ready partner, producing TVs with MHL ports perfect for the old Roku Streaming Stick (Roku Ready version), which came before the Roku Streaming Stick (HDMI version) that any HDTV can use. So it makes sense that Hisense would jump at the chance to produce smart TVs with the Roku interface already installed.

Hisense will manufacture Roku TVs from 32 inches to 65 inches, all 1080p models that look similar to the TCL versions, down to attractive hardware and the same software interface. The logo is different, of course, and the UI uses Hisense colors and slightly different icons, but other than that they're identical, and Roku will be able to update the software on both the Hisense and TCL televisions to keep feature parity with the Roku set-top boxes.

Prices remain unannounced for the Hisense models, but that isn't the company just being coy: Porter explained that Hisense isn't setting MSRPs or minimum advertised prices, instead going for a "stack 'em high and watch 'em fly" model of letting the retailers set whatever prices they want. Hisense is selling through retail channels including Best Buy, Walmart, warehouse chains like Costco, and Amazon, and those retailers will be able to pick whatever price they want--we wouldn't be surprised to see these TVs used as doorbuster deals around Black Friday in November, since the TV-and-Roku-in-one model adds a lot of value for consumers.

First impressions
I think TCL and Hisense are smart to partner with Roku for their smart TVs--the manufacturers can focus on making affordable, well-designed hardware, and let Roku handle the content deals and software updates. The TVs themselves look great for low-cost 1080p sets: thin and attractive, with a simple, easy-to-use interface. If you are in the market for one more 1080p TV before jumping on the 4K bandwagon, the Roku TV is a solid choice.

TCL is taking preorders on Amazon now, and the Hisense models will hit stores in late September.


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