The TCL Roku TV is a natural fit for the No. 1 Chinese television manufacturer's expansion into the Western marketplace. It joins the company, unfamiliar to many consumers outside of China, with the well-established Roku streaming platform.
We got a chance to channel surf using their app-filled offspring at CES 2014. Both the 48-inch TCL 48E4610R and the 55-inch TCL 55E4610R run the new smart TV operating system that Roku users should be immediately familiar with. That means apps like Netflix, Hulu Plus, Amazon Instant Video, YouTube, HBO Go and Crackle are all pinned to the customizable home screen.
What makes Roku even better is that it has just about every special interest streaming app too. From the more known food channel Chow and the anime channel Crunchyroll to the almost certainly unknown Vietnamese American Real Estate and esoteric sciences channel Occult TV, there's no shortage of content for niche audiences.
In fact, there are over 1,000 streaming apps here, giving Roku the ability to claim that its platform has "more streaming channels than other Smart TVs at CES... combined." Those bragging rights were previously confined to set-top boxes like the Roku 3 or a streaming USB stick the size of the Chromecast. Roku's integration directly into TVs like the TCL 48E4610R and 55E4610R gives you one more reason to consider its low-priced 1080p television sets.
Roku TV updates, new features
Television manufacturers haven't been the best arbiter of app channel curation and deal-making. Not next to a streaming leader like Roku, and frankly, that's why this partnership is in place. It's the apps we want combined we the fluid interface that just works.
So it's a relief to know that Roku is being put in charge of the entire software ecosystem. This includes updating the list of apps and providing firmware upgrades for new features. TCL, meanwhile, is doing what it does best: handling the manufacturing and distribution of the TVs.
One of the more exciting features that's going to be available from the start is a sleep timer. That wasn't possible when Roku was strictly an outside-of-the-box solution, yet forums posts prove it has been a highly requested feature from sleepy TV watchers. They've been looking for a way to turn off their TVs after a set period of time. It's a feature some TV manufacturers have sidelined over the years and it remains absent from most monitors that may be doubling as a Roku set-top box display for some people.
The TCL Roku TV takes the old-fashioned sleep timer one step further. Instead of just turning off the television in a flash, it counts backwards from 10 and fades both the visual and audio content in an oh-so-gentle fashion. That ensures the tired-out TV goer doesn't get woken by by the abrupt change in the darkened room. It can always be canceled within the 10 seconds in case your TV-watching cure for insomnia didn't work in the set period of time.
The Roku home screen is also the TV's home screen - there's no need to press the TV/Video button seven times in order to cycle through. Instead, options like Cable, Game and Blu-ray line the top of this main screen. As TCL and Roku put it as CES, this is to ensure the elimination of the "gray snow screen" that your parents only seem to turn to when the volume is set to 11. Like the gradual sleep timer, it makes for a more pleasant, less jarring viewing experience for TCL TV goers.
TCL Roku TV specs, remote
Just because TCL's flat-panel televisions are affordable doesn't mean they're short on specs. Beyond the Roku TV enhancements, both the 48E4610R and the larger 55E4610R are backed by a full 1080p resolution and Direct LED technology.
Refresh rates and black levels for these HDTVs are also good with 120Hz Clear Motion Index and a 5,000,000:1 contrast ratio.
There are three HDMI ports around back along with 1 USB port, an optical audio S/PDIF port and a headphone jack. Older yellow, red and white composite cable input connections are there too.
The TCL reaches as far back as supporting a coaxial connection in the back. Over-the-air HD antenna, cable or satellite coaxial cables can also be hooked up directly to the TV thanks to this often sidelined feature.
The remote, while not finalized, looks and feels exactly like a Roku remote control. It's small, black and features purple directional buttons. Drawings for the finalized version indicate red power button at the top, a volume rocker and mute button on the side (like a cell phone).
There are also three slots for custom apps. Previous Roku remotes have featured Netflix, Pandora and Crackle in these spots.
The TCL Roku TV is exactly what we want from a multimedia perspective. Its app-filled menus are easy to navigate thanks to the Chinese company's decision to offload the software to the software experts at Roku. Makes sense, right? We really cringe whenever we see manufacturers try to do it on their own and it turns out to be a buggy and painfully slow mess.
The apps here are plentiful, while the remote's buttons are thankfully not. TV manufacturers tend to go overboard when TV is meant to be a relaxing experience. The price shouldn't be outrageously excessive either, though we're still waiting for the final cost of both TV models.
What you won't get here is the Roku streaming experience on your first 4K UHDTV and even a curved TV at that. CES 2014 was home to these newer technologies and TCL itself was boasting both UHDTVs and curved sets. The company expressed its desire to extend its Roku integration into other lines, but for now it's starting with what are bound to be price-appropriate 1080p LED-lit HDTVs this fall.