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The first TVs powered by Roku are here — well, almost: TCL is making its Roku-powered TV sets available for pre-order on Amazon Tuesday, and Hisense will bring its Roku TVs to retailers at the end of September. Both companies first announced that they were working with Roku at CES in January, but now they’re ready to share a lot more details, including the one that matters most: Roku TVs will be dirt-cheap compared to smart TVs from other major manufacturers. The suggested retail price for TCL’s 32-inch TV is $229.
Hisense director of product management Chris Porter wasn’t ready to reveal any pricing during a recent press briefing, in part because the Chinese TV maker is trying an unusual strategy with the release of its Roku TVs. Retailers won’t have any suggested retail pricing or minimum pricing requirements to adhere to, meaning that they’ll be able to sell the devices for as much or little as they want — but Porter said Hisense is aiming for what he called a “disruptive price point.” In other words: Hisense’s Roku TVs will be pretty cheap as well.
Both Hisense and TCL are selling four different models of Roku TVs, with Hisense’s line-up including models with 40-inch, 48-inch, 50-inch and 55-inch screen sizes. TCLs Roku TVs start a little smaller with the above-mentioned 32-inch model, followed by a 40-inch model retailing for $329, a 48-inch for $499 and a 55-inch for $649. All devices will feature virtually identical interfaces, which look pretty much like a Roku box, with some subtle differences. The channel store has been renamed to “streaming channels” to more clearly differentiate between smart TV apps, which Roku traditionally called channels, and the actual channels of your cable box or over-the-air antenna.
The other big difference is that Roku TVs have inputs for other devices, and try to simplify switching between game consoles, live TV and streaming by treating them all like apps on the home screen, complete with live previews for each input. Check the Roku-provided video below for a quick demo:
Roku has high hopes for its cooperation with smart TV manufacturers, which Jim Funk, the company’s SVP of product management, said could be beneficial for both sides. Relying on Roku helps manufacturers like Hisense and TCL compete with the big guys like Samsung and LG without massively investing in development, and the companies can also profit from Roku’s existing relationships with content publishers, Funk argued. “It is hard for TV manufacturers to get all the content they want,” he said.
Of course, this hasn’t stopped TV brands from launching their own smart TV efforts. Hisense, for example, also recently launched an Android-based smart TV line called Vidaa, which is being designed and developed by a team in Canada. Porter denied that Vidaa and Hisense’s Roku TVs are competing for the same customers. “They are complementary,” he said.