I spent the first 26 years of my life in…
Here’s something that happened in Vegas that didn’t stay in Vegas. Way back in January–a month I’ve tried hard to forget, along with the rest of winter 2014–Roku announced that it had hooked up with TV makers Hisense and TCL.
That was no shameless CES one-nighter; the union resulted in new lines of HDTVs with Roku features woven straight into their DNA. And those TVs are now available for preorder. The big question: Should you consider one?
Roku, of course, is known for delivering everything from Amazon Instant Video to Netflix to YouTube. But until now, that delivery came courtesy of a set-top box–or at least a dongle (the Roku Streaming Stick)–that plugged into one of your TV’s HDMI ports.
The Hisense H4 series and TCL Roku TVs bypass the box; the Roku stuff is baked right in. In other words, they’re “smart” TVs, but with Roku brains instead of some home-brew app/streaming system (like the kind commonly found in Vizio TVs).
I have mixed feelings about this. On the one hand, I love Roku; to my thinking there’s no better streaming solution for today’s cloud-powered TV viewing. I’m also partial to lesser-known brands like Hisense and TCL, which in my experience offer solid bang for the buck. (My current TV, for example, is from a no-name company that sells exclusively through Walmart. It was dirt-cheap, and it’s been every bit as good as the Toshiba that came before it. The Toshiba that died on its third birthday, incidentally.)
The TCL FS4610R 32-inch Roku TV, for example, will retail for $229–a very competitive price for a TV of that size. Over at my local Costco, a 32-inch Vizio smart TV goes for about $250. TCL will also offer 40-, 48-, and 55-inch models in the same series, with prices of $329, $499, and $649, respectively. A 55-inch Samsung smart TV would cost you around $1,000.
Hisense has yet to announce prices for the H4 line, but it’s a safe bet they’ll be closer to TCL’s than to Samsung’s.
So what are the downsides? For starters, you don’t get the more advanced remote that’s included with the standalone Roku 3 box. It has the best feature ever: a headphone jack so you can listen in private. You also lose out on features like a microSD slot for accessing other media (though you can “cast” media from your phone or tablet straight to the TV) and an Ethernet port in case your Wi-Fi network lacks the muscle for smooth streaming.
Those are minor nits; the biggest one, for me, is that a traditional Roku box easily goes from one TV to another. You can even take it with you on trips. Here, the bit extra you’re paying for Roku capabilities doesn’t buy you any portability.
That said, if the TVs are less expensive than the competition anyway, and you’re already in the market for a new one, I’d definitely choose baked-in Roku over baked-in proprietary “smart” features. You not only get significantly more channels (1,500 and counting), you also get one of the world’s best streaming ecosystems.