Ryan Michael Downey
Ahead of the Consumer Electronics Show, Roku CEO, Anthony Wood announced that Roku is partnering with TCL and Hisense to produce TV’s that integrate Roku’s interface. Hisense and TCL are among the companies that already collaborate with Roku on “Roku Ready” TV’s featuring the MHL connector utilized by the Roku streaming stick. Other Roku ready TV partners include Coby, Harmon Kardon and Westinghouse Digital. Hisense, Sceptre so there may be many more sets on the way. The move happens in the face of near constant yet never fulfilled rumors of an Apple branded television set. With multiple set top boxes, the largest group of video apps on any smart TV platform and more capabilities coming Roku is in an incredibly strong position going forward.
Roku Becoming More Prominent Year by Year
In one year Roku has gone from being a well-regarded set top box to a pseudo household name. While a majority of the public is still not highly familiar with set top boxes most people who are familiar with them know about Roku. The company which started development as a Netflix based viewer has bested giants in the technology sector. The list of other companies who have failed to match Roku’s media savvy and product performance include Samsung, Visio, Western Digital, Netgear, Logitec, Syabas, dozens of Google TV devices and numerous other set top boxes running various versions of Android. To date the Apple TV has sold more units than Roku but a study by Park and Associates shows that more people use Roku to stream more often than users of any other device including Apple TV despite its advantage in outright sales.
Winning The Headline War
After a constant barrage of online, TV and even movie screen based adds during the holiday season which saw almost every Roku model on sale at major retailers and online outlets, the company is once again front and center on to the front page tech news sites and trade publications. Without the sort of major announcement events utilized by Apple for the launch of their products timing is everything and Roku is totally in control of the rhythm right now.
How will the Roku TVs stack up to Sony Smart TV’s and the numerous Google powered TV’s?
The thing that smart TV manufacturers do not advertise is that a majority of people who own a smart TV do not typically use the internet features. The sets are simply purchased because they are the biggest TV’s with the best screens. What the Park Associates study shows is that when people buy a Roku they know why they are purchasing it and plan to use it. A telling aspect of Roku’s foray in to the smart TV market is that there will be multiple sizes of Roku branded TV’s in a way mirroring the Roku set top box’s multiple price entry points. Current Roku customers may well decide that a 32 inch TV with included Roku features is worth a go for a bedroom TV in order to avoid the need for extra hardware. And the price may be nice too according to Wood who spoke to CNN saying,
“We think that smart TV features should be in every TV for essentially the same price,”
Full Features Half the Buttons
In his blog entry Wood pointed out that the remotes for the Roku branded TVs will only feature 20 buttons. While it would be difficult to operate a TV with Roku’s minimalist controller design the remote should be considerably easier to navigate then some of the monstrous remotes that ship with many modern TV’s. Time Warner Cable customers will have the added bonus of the TWC channel which will allow them to access all of their cable channels from the TV unit. The sets will also allow users to use the Roku controller apps for both Android devices and IOS devices.
Most Customizable Smart TV Experience
A major failing for smart TV’s thus far has been the lack of an app store based around the TV experience. Google TV devices feature the Google Play store but it is hardly designed as a TV interface and Sony’s market simply piles in all of its available apps in one place. Roku with its subject based channel store provides easy access to it full official lineup of channels and will also be DIAL integrated meaning that users will be able to launch YouTube and likely other apps directly from their smart phones. Will the Roku system prove to be the magic bullet for smart TV makers? Right now there is a vacuum and Roku appears ready and willing to fill it. Will we ever see an Apple based smart TV? If Roku succeeds on the TV front an Apple television set is far more likely going forward.