Roku has established itself as the maker of America's most popular streaming set-top box, with nearly 8 million units sold in the U.S. But the company has always thought out of the box, and today the Saratoga, Calif. company announced ahead of the International Consumer Electronics Show that it is readying Roku-branded TV sets that are expected to hit store shelves in the fall.
There will be six Roku TV models on the CES show floor, manufactured by Hisense and TCL. The two Chinese companies shipped 21 million sets in 2013, about 9% of all TVs globally, according to Roku. In 2012, TCL rose to become the third largest TV maker based on revenue and units shipped, behind Samsung and LG, respectively. The Roku TV sets will range in size from 32 to 55 inches.
"We want Roku TV to be widely adopted and available at a bunch of different price points," CEO Anthony Wood tells Fast Company. Roku, which was named to Fast Company's Most Innovative Companies list in 2013, says it's up to the manufacturers to release pricing, which likely won't happen until later this year.
"We focused on the design principles that made our player successful and are applying that to TV," Wood says, noting that Roku's user interface was built in-house. "This is our software. We license the software. We also did some of the hardware reference design." The remote control design, for example, will feature only 20 buttons, which is fewer than most and in keeping with Roku's quest for simplification (though it's ultimately up to the manufacturers whether or not to adopt these reference designs).
The Roku TV is, performance-wise, somewhere between a Roku 2 and Roku 3. The basic specs remain intact, such as the 1,200 channels of HD video, and the ability to search across multiple channels. By adapting Roku for TV sets, the company helped introduce a few features to improve the viewing experience, including automatic disabling of the antenna input if no antenna is detected. The headphone jack that's been immensely popular on the remote control of the Roku 2 and top-of-the-line Roku 3 players might also be a feature on the TV remotes, if the manufacturers go along with the plans.
By powering connected TVs, Wood says his company overcomes a major hurdle for manufacturers. "There's a long list of apps that don't come to [smart TVs]" because of the different platforms, but Roku's robust ecosystem helps solve that problem. "They don't have to worry about their software anymore, and they get a much higher quality solution," he adds.
Roku is unlikely to be the only company joining the smart TV race at this year's CES. But with 1.7 billion hours streamed in 2013, a 70% jump from the year before, it's become a player that more established consumer entertainment brands cannot afford to ignore. What remains to be seen is how many TV manufacturers who currently source product from Hisense and TCL will want to produce Roku sets for consumers—and that's the real purpose of introducing this product at CES, where buyers and sellers make deals that determine what will be sold at retail later this year.
In the meantime, Wood says his company remains committed to its bread and butter. "The box business for us is still growing, and it's growing rapidly," he says. "And we think it will continue to be for a long time."
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