Roku, the consumer electronics company best known for its devices that deliver Internet video to televisions, is making a more ambitious play for the living room -- unveiling the Roku TV.
The Silicon Valley company announced at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas -- a trade show that is ground zero for gadget news -- that it would enter the fast-growing smart TV market.
Roku plans to license its software to television manufacturers, which will build and distribute the Roku TV. Two Chinese electronics manufacturers, TCL and Hisense, are the first to partner with Roku on the smart TV.
Roku is entering a competitive market, with established television manufacturers including Samsung, LG and Sony; and entrants from Silicon Valley, such as Google Inc.'s re-branded Android TV (formerly known as Google TV). Apple has long been rumored to be working on a TV.
"If you think about streaming, the two categories of products growing are set-top boxes like ours ... [and] smart TVs," said Jim Funk, Roku senior vice president of product management. "We want as big a platform as possible for Roku."
Rather than go it alone, Funk said Roku elected to strike partnerships with established TV makers TCL and Hisense, the third- and fifth-largest television manufacturers in the world, respectively.
Colin Dixon, chief analyst for researcher NScreenMedia, said Roku will focus on managing the software and delivering the streamed content while the manufacturers focus on what they do best.
"It solves a really big problem for the middle-tier and small TV manufacturers," Dixon said. "These guys don't have the wherewithal to recruit all the content and applications they need to be successful."
Funk said Roku will bring the uncomplicated Internet streaming experience of its devices to this new smart TV. The screen will draw together all sources of entertainment content in one place -- so viewers can choose whether to watch a program airing on TV, watch a Blu-ray movie, play a video game, stream a TV show on Netflix or listen to music on Pandora.
The remote control will have just 20 buttons, roughly half the number found on other devices.
As with the Roku streaming players, users also will have access to the Roku Channel Store, where they can choose from among 1,200 channels that offer TV shows and live sports, news, music, fitness and lifestyle programming.
The Roku TVs will be available in the U.S. this fall, in sizes ranging from 32 to 55 inches. Pricing has yet to be announced.
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