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TCL, Hisense Launch First Roku TVs

LAS VEGAS — Roku, the developer of add-on smart- TV devices, is using International CES to unveil the first TV sets designed around the Roku TV platform.

Roku CEO Anthony Wood said Roku is working with Hisense and TCL to develop lines of Roku TVs that offer viewers the ability to access Roku’s vast library of more than 1,200 streaming apps directly through the TV, without the need to add on a Roku Streaming Stick or set-top device.

A total of six FullHD models will be offered between the two China-based TV manufacturers, and they will target mass market audiences, Wood said. Both manufacturers’ sets will be manufacturer-branded “Roku TVs,” Wood said, and neither manufacturer is required to make Roku the exclusive smart-TV platform in its 2014 assortments.

In fact, both set makers will also be offering Android- based smart-TV series in their lines this year.

But Wood said it is Roku’s goal to expand built-in Roku functionality to other TV brands, in a quest to standardize the smart-TV experience for consumers.

“The industry today needs a common platform across TVs that has all the content that consumers want to watch and integrates with their other devices. So for TV manufacturers and content producers, this is a big win,” Wood said. “Then for consumers, having lots of layers of menus makes things a little more complicated than it should be, and we think we can really simplify the user experience.

“There are some big problems the industry and consumer faces when it comes to big-screen TVs,” he continued. “You have Samsung, with roughly 25 percent of the U.S. market that is investing heavily in its smart-TV platform, but then you have the rest of the industry, which is investing at various levels but generally has hit the limit of what they can do.”

At the same time, he said, the content industry can’t afford to support all of the many smart-TV brands and platforms that exist.

Wood said that the platform Roku has developed, and the collection of service partners it has assembled, provides a powerful platform that goes well beyond what most TV makers are able to provide.

The first Roku TVs are positioned deliberately in mass-market TVs and not just in the high-end models where most smart TVs have been found to date.

Roku TVs will not cost much more than many non-smart models, Wood said.

They will all include Roku-style remote controls with a half the number of buttons of a typical remote control.

Wood said the Roku TVs will accept all forms of TV services, like television, and are not positioned as TVs for cord-cutters. He said Roku was designed to be simple and intuitive without a lot of elaborate command systems because TV viewing is still a mostly passive experience for consumers.

Roku TVs still do not include gesture or voice controls (outside of what some apps may choose to provide); however, the platform will include Dial capability, enabling remote-control operation using apps on smartphones and tablets.

When a Roku TV turns on, the user will immediately be taken to a Roku-style menu of signal source icons and programming options the user can select to view the program they want to see.

As for Ultra HD TVs, Wood said Roku is a big believer in the technology for the future, but no Roku Ultra HD TVs are expected at International CES.

Wood said that Roku leaves a lot of room for TV manufacturers using their system to differentiate their products from the competition. Set cosmetics, for example, are left up to the manufactures.

A spokesman for TCL said it will offer two TCL Roku TVs in 2014 in the E4610R series. Screen sizes will include 48 and 55 inches, with other screen sizes planned for introductions later in the year.

Both models, which are expected to ship in the third quarter at prices to be announced, offer Full 1080p resolution, LED backlighting, 120Hz refresh rates, a glass base and specially designed Roku-style remote.

Hisense did not disclose information on its Roku TVs as this went to press.