Roku’s announcement at CES that it will build and market a smart TV with the Roku’s guts inside has started a ball rolling. Where it stops, who knows?
Now, or by this fall, there’s going to be a real player, with a real aim of convincing viewers that it can give them one TV set that will satisfy their viewing needs without the need for additional boxes of any sort.
If there is a world of would-be cord cutters out there, and various studies say there are, Roku TV looks pretty tempting. Looking beyond the product introduction though, the fact that Roku has jumped in is great news that suggests that big integration of TV with the Internet, for the masses, is at the verge of happening. I wonder what Malcolm Gladwell is watching.
All of that could be happening, if the viewer, qualifies as somebody not that interested in sports or news, the two kinds of content that are still difficult gets for online video. Roku does offer something like 1,200 apps, or channels, but like the top of the line cable systems, most of those are totally useless aimed at non-existent or just pathetically miniscule niches. Also, it seems to me, OTT viewing is better if you have no burning need to stay absolutely and precisely current, all the time, about everything. That sounds like a lot of qualifiers. In reality, it’s quite workable.
The new Roku TV sets will be built by two Chinese (who else?) manufacturers, Hisense and TCL, that may seem to you like brands based in Whoozat Province, because you’ve probably not heard of them before.
But in fact, Hisense is the largest manufacturer of TV sets in China, reports Wired, with $11 billion in sales last year, and TCL is similarly large. In the U.S, Hisense has only sold $600 million in electronics last year, mainly under the Dynex and Insignia brand for Best Buy. It wants to get bigger and this year, as if to say it means business, at CES it took the acres of Las Vegas floor space vacated by Microsoft.
According to CNET and PCMag, however, up until now, these brands have generally been notable only for the fact that they work when you press the power button. They aren’t, or at least haven’t been, considered top of the line.
No matter. The Roku connection is a reason to get way better, and in a hurry because Roku is stepping up after Apple has so far not introduced its own branded and outfitted TV set. If it happens, that will easily grab the Applostles out there and could leave Roku in the dust.
Now, a lot of TV brands offer smart TVs, including Samsung, Panasonic, Sharp, Vizio and LG, and prices are down in the affordable range. Fortune reports stats from NPD group that says sales have doubled in the last year-–from 11% to 22% of all the sets sold. But only 38% of the buyers said connectivity was important, which follows the pattern with other TV tech advances over the years. Only half the VCR users ever knew how to program them; a relatively small percentage of HDTV buyers at first hooked up the sets for maximum HDTVness .
And, of course, in keeping with the consumer electronics tradition, smart TVs have been, until lately, kind of hard to work. My early model from LG is best used if you think to get started an hour or two before you want to actually watch it. (I will confess part of this might be what happen when you combine a smart TV with a stupid user.)
But the game is on, in a real way. And for content providers, for advertisers, for networks, for TV set manufacturers and for consumers, now the fun really, really begins.