Not The Roku TV You're Looking For?

Dave Zatz —  August 20, 2014


took a super brief look at Roku TV back at CES, but CNET is now out with a more thorough once over as pricing and timing have been revealed. And that pricing is extremely competitive, with the 32″ TCL running a mere $229. While that’s pretty darn good for a 720P smart TV with WiFi, CNET wonders if budget sets from Vizio might provide better picture quality, given local dimming… along with providing their own raft of apps. Of course, no one comes close to Roku’s breadth (even if the vast majority of their 2,000 over-the-top “channels” hold no appeal). Yet, at launch, the Roku TV doesn’t much compel me. In fact, they seemed to have overlooked some very interesting cord cutter interplay.

As with LG, “TV” is an app. In fact, highlighting the TV tile will even live-preview whatever’s being broadcast (as will any other input tile, such as a STB wired up via HDMI). But Roku’s very fine universal search doesn’t incorporate current or upcoming OTA programming. In fact, there’s no guide at all (as far as I know) – just a sidebar of tuned channels. Which, I suppose, is at least a step up from the yet-to-be-released Roku Antenna that requires you flip inputs between apps and TV.


The Roku 3 remains my go-to streamer, besting Apple TV, Fire TV, TiVo, and Xbox One. And, if I were in the market for a budget smart set, for kitchen or office usage, I’d probably go with the Vizio – that also comes in a smaller 28″ size. Alternately, I’d simply get a “dumb” TV … and add over-the-top capabilities via the relatively inexpensive and clutter-free Chromecast or Roku Streaming Stick.

23 responses to Not The Roku TV You're Looking For?

  1. Remember that time TiVo and Best Buy launched a smart TV? I imagine this will do better… but I still don’t want one. Also, folks buy TVs less frequently than they might replace streaming accessories.

  2. I picked up a FireTV with the latest sale. It runs XBMC _flawlessly_, including all the various XBMC plugins. It really is quite snappy, comparable to my HTPC. I run XBMC 90% of the time and the remaining 10% is split between netflix and amazon. I don’t use the FireTV youtube app, even though it works fine. I prefer the XBMC plugin.

    If you prefer it, the Plex app is the AndroidTV version, which is a far superior UI to the Roku Plex app, even the Rarflix user version.

    Other apps on FireTV lack the huge breadth of Roku, but how often do you actually use any of those? Only notable missing app is HBO GO, and that’s coming.

    FireTV doesn’t compare well to Roku out of the box, but if you’re looking to expand your experience with Plex or XBMC it is a far more attractive alternative.

  3. I’m also waiting for a Netflix update on Fire TV… it’s the prior UI.

  4. Yes it’s the older UI, but it does support profiles, which is what I really care about.

    I personally find the older UI more easily navigable, so I don’t mind that at all.

  5. In terms of functionality, I don’t have a preference. But Fire TV is the only device I have that I watch Netflix running that UI, so it throws me. I assume it’ll be updated soon and we know HBOGO is a lock for this year. The Fire TV’s sideloading capabilities of Android apps also works in Amazon’s favor… although many apps don’t work well with the remote, as they were designed for touchscreen.

  6. Yes, every android app will run, but many require a touchscreen to really work, like the Xfinity app. I have a cheapo logitech K400 keyboard+touchpad that works fine with those apps.

    To be honest, Xfinity would be a neat bonus, but I don’t use the keyboard+trackpad much. I plugged a flirc into the FireTV, programmed my universal remote, and use that for everything. XBMC, netflix, and amazon cover everything I really care about.

    On a side note, I don’t recall ZNF ever reviewing the flirc. Such a fantastic device! Strongly recommend it.

  7. Yeah, I’ve loaded up both the FiOS and Xfinity apps with varying degrees of success.

    Flirc is new to me – I’ll reach out. If I’m reading it correctly, I can set it up on a computer and then put it in any USB jack in something near a TV. I assume it learn and relays IR commands? Related, I recently pulled out a Logitech Harmony Hub I was supposed to review like 18 months ago – it’s surprisingly decent. Need to do something on that as well.

  8. Not exactly. The flirc is basically a little USB keyboard chip combined with a learning IR receiver.

    To train it, you plug it into your computer, then select a keyboard button in their UI (say, SPACEBAR for play/pause in XBMC), then point your remote control– ANY remote control, including one from a DVD player you threw out 10 years ago– and press whatever button on the remote you want to send spacebar, say PLAY. Then you repeat that for all the controls needed.

    Then you plug the flirc into any device that works with a USB keyboard. When you press PLAY on that ancient DVD remote control, the flirc sends SPACEBAR to the device, just like a USB keyboard would. It is thus infinitely configurable and works with any IR remote.

    Very cool for HTPCs and recently, android devices too.

  9. Also regarding the harmony hub, I don’t have one, but from what I’ve heard it will control the fireTV directly via bluetooth. That’s pretty cool.

  10. I paired the mini remote and/or the hub and/or my phone to Fire TV over Bluetooth. Gotta figure out which thing is transmitting. But, yeah, cool.

  11. So really, there’s not all that much to explain about the experience. It’s pretty much Roku pre-installed on a TV. The best ideas are always pretty simple.” —Gizmodo

    I think Roku TV OS will become to TV manufacturers what TiVo OS has become to Cable operators. A way to catch up and compete with their bigger competition.

    Alternately, I’d simply get a “dumb” TV … and add over-the-top capabilities via the relatively inexpensive and clutter-free Chromecast or Roku Streaming Stick.

    The new $50 Roku Streaming Stick(2014) still uses the slow and discontinued Roku 2 CPU (BCM­2835/600MHz) w/ 512MB. I assume extra 256MBs of memory allows the latest Netflix to run unlike the Roku2s. The built in Roku TV OS maybe adds $5-$10 to the cost of a TV as it just licensed software and a better on-board SoC CPU.

    Chromecast seems to be a failed experiment. It was Google’s answer to Apple TV & Airplay. A couple of million techies bought it because it was cheap @ $39 and it was by Google. They played with it and thought casting was cool (which it is) but then stopped using it because they really just wanted a handheld remote. If TiVo had released this device w/o a remote there would be a riots in the street! :^)

  12. Selling millions of anything is an accomplishment.

    Speaking of remotes, if Roku TV shipped with a universal remote and came with number buttons (instead of paid placements), I’d be more interested in getting one for Mom. I like the simplistic UI, browsing TV and DVD as tiles rather than figuring out “inputs” is good for old people. Wonder if I could go the other direction and turn any of her Comcast remotes into a controller for this? Looks like the Hinsense flavor will end up at Costco – good prices, stellar customer service and return policy.

  13. Wow, a TV remote without number buttons! I missed that. :) So you are suppose to pull up the channel guide to go directly to a channel? I guess with 48 million cable household they assume you’ll use the cable remote for cable and the Roku remote for everything else (has volume)?

    I like the Roku TV for the reasons you mentioned with it’s simply UI and big icons showing Netflix, DVR, Cable. One button brings up the smartTV. Every application you want (including HBO, Showtime, Amazon Prime). All with as it’s one less box and power plug.

    At least it’s a start which others can learn from. I’m talking to you Samsung!

  14. I think they are greatly over estimating how many bargain basement TV’s they can move using a built in ROKU. Vizo is a different story, people actually buy them for their picture quality.

  15. @Rodolpho, So I can even program this Flirc thing using a TiVo remote to control my WMC PC setup?

  16. Yes, you can. As long as you don’t have a TiVo there, anyway.

  17. Actually come to think of it, you could do that even if you DO have a TiVo in the same room. TiVo remotes can work on any of 4 separate channels, and some have a little switch that switches between channels 1 and 2. So you could theoretically use the same remote to control your TiVo and your HTPC, just moving that little switch. Or two TiVo remotes, each dedicated to a separate channel. Would confuse the hell out of any visitors to your house, though.

  18. Yeah good points Rodalpho. I appreciate the info, thanks!

  19. Can you cast from ios device to a roku? Pics and video from camera roll? Video from safari etc?
    Maybe I’m better off waiting for the Apple TV refresh.

  20. @ Jack Mehoff you can actually cast from Youtube and Netflix to Roku. I am not aware of any other Apps, hope that helps.

  21. Jack, the Roku app can beam photos and videos from your iPhone camera roll to Roku devices – including the TV. Similar for Android. No native beaming of web browser stuff or mirroring.

  22. @Jack The Android apps Twonky Beam (also for iOS), PlayTo, and R-Cast can be used to send videos to a Roku (after you’ve installed the associated Roku channel). The Plex and PlayCast channels can also receive videos cast from the Plex and PlayOn mobile apps, respectively.

  23. The RokuTV does support directly entering channel numbers via the remote apps or via 3rd party IR remote controls. The latest version of the Roku apps on iOS and Android can download the tuner channel list from your RokuTV and let you directly tune to those, as well as showing all the TV inputs on the main channel list.