Absent of an actual Apple television, Roku introduces Roku TV

Absent of an actual Apple television, Roku introduces Roku TV

Apple TV's biggest competitor is Roku, a small set top box that similarly streams content from various providers. The company is taking its concept to the next level with Roku TV, television sets that actually integrate Roku technology inside. TV makers TCL and Hisense are the first two manufacturers with models to show at this week's Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas.

Roku is offering the Roku TV license to other manufacturers; they provide a reference design platform and a software stack to enable TV makers to integrate Roku's technology directly into the set. Roku TV provides an unified home screen on the TV that enables users to watch content including movies and TV shows, or listen to music. What's more, the interface can be controlled either using a standard remote or with a downloadable app for iOS and Android.

In principle, Roku TV works the same way as the streaming player - televisions equipped with the technology will have access to the "Roku Channel Store," which sports north of 1,200 channels - movies, TV shows, live sports, music, kids programming, news, foreign language content and more. Roku TVs will be able to be updated with new content as it comes online, as well.

While Apple has the lion's share of the streaming box market in the United States, Roku has continued to plug away with new models of its own devices year in and year out, reaching segments of the market Apple doesn't, such as older analog TV sets. And as you can tell from the number of channels, Roku's established a huge number of content deals that Apple hasn't matched with the Apple TV...yet. Despite that, the Apple TV remains the dominant streaming player in the United States - analysts attribute this to the Apple TV's synergy with other Apple products like the iPad, iPhone and Mac.

Roku's move will undoubtedly get analysts' chins wagging again about Apple's future plans for the television market. While Apple CEO Tim Cook has called TV an "area of intense interest," Apple has only iteratively updated the Apple TV since its last major release in March of 2012. The company has brought online a handful of new channels, but the Apple TV remains a low-cost streaming box that works with a television via an HDMI connection, rather than a full-blown television set as some analysts like Gene Munster have long predicted.

TCL and Hisense are both unknown brands in the North American market, but Roku says they have aggressive expansion plans for 2014, so I wouldn't be surprised to see these sets in stores soon. "Smart TVs" with integration for Netflix, Amazon Video on Demand and other services are nothing new - Samsung and other companies have produced them for years, but so far consumer response to them has been pretty tepid. Most consumers are content to just use their TVs as dumb terminals for their cable boxes, game consoles and Apple TVs. It remains to be seen if Roku and its manufacturing partners will really be able to articulate and execute an effective marketing strategy to help build awareness of Roku TV with American consumers.

Roku's licensing model is an interesting way to embed itself into the TV market without having to offer its own branded product. As the TV market has become more and more price driven, that's put the balance of power in favor of large manufacturers who can manage economy of scale more effectively than a niche player. Having said that, licensing core technology for use in other manufacturer's devices isn't really in Apple's DNA, so I'd be very surprised to see Apple do anything similar.

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Peter Cohen

Mac Managing Editor of iMore and weekend Apple Product Professional at a local independent Apple reseller. Follow him on Twitter @flargh

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Reader comments

Absent of an actual Apple television, Roku introduces Roku TV


I think the comparison to Smart TVs is perhaps more relevant than speculation about what Apple may or may not do in the future. With a Smart TV, you only get a handful of major services (Netflix, Pandora) and whoever the TV maker has special deals with, and I don't have a lot of confidence that the Smart TVs will keep up with new services or changes to the existing ones… do I want an "M Go" or "Crackle" button on my remote if those services disappear in the next few years? Roku channel development is thriving, so a Roku TV is a pretty interesting value proposition as just "Smart TV that won't go obsolete".

FWIW, I'm writing this while preparing Keynote slides for a half-day class on Roku programming I'm teaching Wednesday at CodeMash. I'm an iOS/Mac developer by day, but I really like what Roku is doing with TV.

I become a roku fan, buy a roku 3 on my vacation so I came back to Brazil...
Now roku don't work, it has disabled netflix and others services out of US.

I love the Roku, it's everything the Apple TV isn't; open. I have 3 Apple TV's at home, but for my office, I have almost 70 Roku's connected to TV' around the building streaming content from a central Wowza server. Add in a little PHP web-services code and the Roku remote API, and I have 70 TV's I can control from a central location. I would have loved to use Apple TV's for this, but the closed ecosystem stood in the way of that. Apple really needs to wake up here.

Love my Roki (Original, 2XS, and 3).
The only thing that makes me wish for a AppleTV every once in a great while is Airplay. Other than that Roku is several cycles ahead in content providers.
I just wish Roku would sell their streaming OS to existing TV manufacturers. "With Roku inside"
Manufacturers can then drop their limited SmartTV options.

I really wanted a Roku, but couldn't look past that giant banner ad they have on the home screen. Perhaps if they were giving the device away for free, but they're not ...

Not a fan of software built into my television. I prefer to have the external roku box/chromecast/apple tv. This way if one part malfunctions, I'm not screwed. I liken smart televisions to TV's with the built in VCR were back in the day.

Roku is a great box. It needs usb port but aside from that I'd buy it over an Apple TV. Though i'm waiting to see if WD brings out a new box. But unless your buying media from apple which i'm not I see no great reason to choose Appletv over other devices right now.