Roku-based TVs from TCL & Hisense Are Ultra-Cheap, Not Ultra HD

– Another Barrier that Sales of UHD Sets Must Overcome
– What Will Apple Do?

Hisense and TCL will this fall each start shipping a line of low-cost 1080p HD sets with Roku’s proven and successful net-top box technology built-in. They are not UHD sets.

Make or buy is the question that makers of hardware have asked for years. That’s true for the smart TV technology that goes into TV sets; Sony, Samsung and LG have developed (made) their own. LG went so far as to buy a failed software division called WebOS from HP to control its smart TV destination.

Google tried and failed once at developing smart TV technology — the infamous Google TV — and is trying again with one called Android TV. It, like Roku, wants to supply its smart TV technology to makers of TV sets —— and other devices such as NTBs.

The Roku technology is a different kettle of fish from Android TV because its technology is proven. It has an estimated 44% of US NTB sales compared to 26% for Apple, according to Parks Associates. Roku has a couple of features that provide its unique selling points. Most importantly, it has lots of OTT sources — over 1,700 at last count — including all the popular ones such as Netflix plus many specialty sources.

The Roku technology also integrates local TV channels. When an over-the-air antenna is plugged in, Roku looks for local channels that can be received and creates an “Antenna” list for them to be selected in addition to its many OTT services.

There is no “input” or “source” button on the Roku-based TV sets’ remotes because all devices, such as a Blu-ray players are icons on the sets’ home screens. It’s a feature that Samsung has on its newest UHD sets although a source button on the remote functions as it does on other TV sets.

Both companies’ Roku-based TV sets have dual band Wi-Fi.

TCL and Hisense are also different. Both are based in China and manufacture TV sets on a grand scale and so can price their sets low. TCL is the world’s third-largest maker of TV sets and Hisense is the sixth.

Hisense does not set retail prices of its TVs but expects the Roku-based sets to sell for less than a comparable separate TV and Roku box. The Hisense sets are expected to start shipping in September.

TCL’s Roku-based sets will sell for:
32-inch 32FS4610R with 720p $229
40-inch 40FS4610R with 1080p $329
48-inch 48FS4610R with 1080p $499
55-inch 55FS4610R with 1080p $649

Those are attractive prices for TVs that have Roku and its 1,500 sources of videos included. All four of the TCL HDTVs are available for pre-order now and are scheduled to ship by the end of September.

The low prices for these and other 1080p HD smarts TVs are one of the barriers that makers of UHD sets must overcome. It can only be overcome with lots of “must see” UHD content shows — preferably sports, but DirecTV said it may be 2016 before it can start broadcasts of “live TV” and the wireline pay TV services are not even talking. Currently, the only UHD suppliers are OTT services.

Haier, the third major Chinese maker of TV sets, has yet to be heard from as to whether or not it’ll embed the Roku technology.

The big disadvantage of building smart TV technology into the TV sets is that although you can add OTT services and update the software, the set makers cannot upgrade the hardware — say from H.264 decompression to HEVC or HDMI 1.4 to HDMI 2.0. That can only be done by replacing the TV. That means the new Roku-based sets from Hisense and TCL can never be UHD TVs.

However, you can’t fault TCL and Hisense for buying proven smart TV technology for their TVs instead of developing and maintaining their own, especially because they are far removed from the North American and European markets.

Neither Roku nor any other maker of NTBs and smart TVs except Apple can offer direct access to Apple’s very popular iTunes OTT service.

What we’re most interested in is when the China-based set makers will launch Roku-based UHD TV sets because surely those are coming.

What Will Apple Do?
All of which leads to the overwhelming question: What will Apple do? — with both its Apple TV NTB that has now reportedly fallen far into second place in market share to Roku’s NTB and faces an onslaught from other NTB technology such as Google’s Chromecast, Amazon’s and TV sets that will have Google’s Android TV technology and also with Apple’s always imminent but never launched Apple TV set.

Apple is certainly not going to let a maker of TV sets embed Apple TV as Roku is doing with TCL and Hisense.

All we can say with some degree of certainty is that future Apple TV NTBs and Apple TV sets will have to be…


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