Roku has partnered with Hisense to create an affordable Smart TV with buckets of streaming apps
Roku is arguably the most complete set-top software available right now. It has an exhaustive list of streaming and catch-up services that neither Android TV, Apple TV, Amazon’s Fire TV, nor Chromecast can quite match. Couple that with a television designed by Hisense – a maestro of affordable panels that bring many of the features and picture quality certifications you’d usually expect to arrive with much higher price tags – and surely it’s a match made in heaven. Right?
Well, yes. Of course, there are compromises and nitpicks, but most of those are easily forgotten as soon as you double-check the receipt and realise just how affordable this affordable Smart TV really is.
We’ve always liked Roku’s software for its sheer simplicity. Like the operating system that powers the iPhone, Roku is essentially a grid of identically-sized app icons. And that’s about it. You can customise the background and colour palette used on the TV with the dizzying number of themes – from pictures of puppies peering around Netflix icons, to impressionistic bursts of colour, or moody shots from your favourite serial killer drama. If you’ve ever used a Roku Streaming Stick, or a NOW TV device (which are powered by the same software – albeit with a few restrictions from Sky), you’ll know exactly what to expect when you switch-on the Roku TV.
As you’d expect, Roku software works pretty solidly as a way of powering the entire TV experience. While it can’t hold a candle to the likes of Apple TV or Fire TV when it comes to gorgeous auto-playing trailers, full-bleed images that fill the screen …there’s something really nice about a stripped-back interface that does everything in its power to get out of your way and drop you back into the episode you were bingeing.
But simplicity aside, the biggest benefit of owning a television powered by Roku is the sheer immense number of apps at your fingertips. No other brand has the same wealth of streaming options that you can find on Roku – not your Sky Q box, Virgin Media’s TV V6 box, Apple TV 4K, Fire TV Stick, YouView, PlayStation 4, Chromecast… none of them.
There’s an exhaustive list of catch-up services, streaming apps, and games to enjoy
For starters, Roku has the full selection of Google and Amazon-owned streaming apps. While these two companies finally pledged to bury the hatchet and allow YouTube on Fire TV and Fire tablets, and Prime Video to work with Chromecast …the experience for device owners still isn’t ideal. For example, while you can now watch YouTube videos on Fire TV, there are not dedicated Google Play Movies or Play Music apps available.
Roku has access to Netflix, Prime Video, Google Play Movies, Apple TV+, NOW TV – to watch exclusive Sky content contract-free, Shudder, Sky Store, MTV, UKTV Play, BBC iPlayer, ITV Hub, All 4, my5, YouTube, HayU, Sky News, Plex, RedBull TV, NBA, UFC, Rakuten TV, and thousands more. There’s a lot here.
Of course, the vast majority of these can be found in some combination in the built-in menu on a new Samsung TV or the Fire TV Stick attached to your existing Smart TV.
What makes Roku unique is the fact that every streaming service you’d want to watch has a built app, which will save you switching inputs, picking up different remotes for different devices …all that hassle.
Roku TV owners will also be able to access the Roku Channel – an exclusive channel that lets you stream Hollywood blockbusters and television boxsets without paying a penny. Better yet, Roku won’t even force you to sign-up with an account to get access to the hours of entertainment available on the Roku Channel.
But all of this is available on the Roku Streaming Stick, or any of the other HDMI dongle-style devices in its line-up. What about the TV itself?
The interface is simple. But it really works and gets out of your way as quickly as possible
Thankfully, Hisense has a pretty solid track record when it comes to spending money on the parts that matter on an affordable TV (and saving money where you won’t noice as much as you settle down for a movie night with friends and family). And that’s no different this time around with the Roku-branded set.
The 4K TV panel is sharp and colourful and will be a serious upgrade for anyone who is still watching boxsets on an older 1080p HD set. This is an LED panel, which means there’s a backlight panel built from hundreds or thousands of LEDs that light the individual pixels. These pixels provide the individual dots of colour that make up the picture on-screen. This technology works well, however, it does mean that darkness can look a little grey-ish and light, which is caused by light bleeding from nearby pixels lit by the expansive backlight.
Given the price of this Smart TV, you’re unlikely to get anything other than LED. Thankfully, this is a solid LED panel, so it’s a joy to tune-in to the dizzying number of streaming services available through the excellent Roku software.
And better yet, the Roku-branded set is HDR certified. So, you’ll be able to benefit from better contrast in your documentaries, movies and TV shows than you’d get from a bog-standard 4K LED TV. Sky TV recently updated its Q boxes to benefit from this picture upgrade and streaming services like Netflix and Disney+ already support the format, so there should be no shortage of content to enjoy.
Starting from £245, this is an affordable Smart TV. Unfortunately, that means the design isn’t as refined as it could be
Being a budget set, there are some elements of the Smart TV that could do with a little refinement. For one, the design isn’t anything to write home about. Anyone expecting the sleek stylish appearance seen on the best from Samsung will be disappointed.
This is a plastic set, that doesn’t look great from any angle other than directly infront of it. Wall-mounting will do it a favour, but if your lounge means the Smart TV will be on show from a few different angles, you might want to increase the budget and get something with a little more design flair.
The speakers are pretty good. But if you’re looking to hear the rumble of explosions, you’ll need to invest in a soundbar. This’ll also save you from constantly having to adjust the volume to hear characters whispering one moment, then diving for the remote to drop the volume again when an ear-splitting car chase takes place a few moments later. Roku has a Speech mode designed to bring voices forward while dulling background noise, but it’s not as good as a dedicated soundbar beneath the TV.
And for the ludicrously affordable price of this Smart TV, there should be some leftover to treat yourself to a soundbar.
Roku Smart TV review: Final Verdict
Hisense continues to impress with its affordable 4K TV design, focusing on what really counts – the pin-sharp screen, HDR support to future-proof the Smart TV for years to come, and the thin bezels to minimise the footprint of this panel.
But the star of the show is really the Roku software. It doesn’t have the glitz of some of its rivals, but boy, does it deliver where it counts. Fast, reliable and packed with just about every streaming and catch-up service you could ever want to watch – the Roku software really delivers here. Coupled with a nifty remote design, you’ll have to keep reminding yourself this is an affordable 4K TV.
And starting from £245 for a 43-inch panel and only rises to £449 for an expansive 65-inches, this is seriously affordable.