Roku, a little set-top box startup a few years ago, is now setting the agenda for some of the biggest (though perhaps not best-known) TV makers in the world. It started last year at CES 2014, when Chinese companies Hisense and TCL signed on to build smart TVs based on Roku's set-top box interface and content apps. Now fellow Chinese firm Haier (through its US branch) as well as Insignia (Best Buy's in-house brand) have also announced plans for Roku TV models. Insignia has promised models this spring, without giving specifics. Haier is aiming for the fall, in screen sizes from 32 to 65 inches.
TCL debuted four Roku TVs in 2014, including a 55-inch model we just reviewed. In the first half of 2015, 12 of its 14 new models will be Roku TVs, although it hasn't given further details on size or resolution. However, TCL says it plans to be the first company to build a 4K/Ultra HD Roku TV, which seems like it will be a separate product later this year. I've asked TCL for more info about the lineup, but that's all the company has shared so far.
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Tom's Guide has tested Roku TVs from both Hisense and TCL. We've been impressed with the slick interface, and in the case of the 40-inch Hisense model (see review), with surprisingly high image quality. Roku plays a big role in the final product because it not only provides the interface but also specifies the "reference design" — the main circuit board and processors — that the TV will be built around. (TV makers can improve upon the baseline design with additional components.) That could be especially good for Insignia which, based on our recent review of a standard 32-inch model, has a long way to go in image quality.
Haier's Roku TV lineup looks to be the most diverse, with only the larger screen sizes, the 40- and 60-inch models, supporting full HD 1080p resolution. Those models will also feature an audio system called Sound Chamber, which, according to Haier, will be a sonic nirvana including,"superior dampening, improved mid-range response, cleaner and deeper bass, as well as overall richer sound texture." Our ears will be the judges, but given how poor audio is on most TVs (not just budget models) it's nice to see someone making it a priority.
We'll update you as more news trickles out and as we get some expected hands-on time with new models here at CES 2015.