Roku TVs have become hugely popular in recent years as an affordable option for getting smart TV functionality without paying a premium. But are these budget TVs from the streaming device makers actually any good? In this comprehensive review, we’ll examine Roku TV models in-depth to see if they’re worth considering for your next TV purchase.
An Introduction to Roku TVs
Roku launched their first smart TVs with built-in Roku operating systems back in 2014. The aim was to provide the familiar Roku streaming platform in a TV set without needing to connect an external device.
Over the years, Roku has partnered with major brands like TCL, Hisense, Sharp and others to offer Roku TV models. They’ve expanded their lineup to include HD, 4K, and premium options at budget-friendly price points compared to competitors.
Roku TVs run the same Roku OS used on Roku streaming devices. This gives you access to thousands of streaming apps like Netflix, Hulu, Disney+, and more. You also get features like universal search, free TV through The Roku Channel, and options to cast or mirror content from mobile devices.
But how good are the displays, hardware, user experience and smart features on these affordable smart TVs? Do they sacrifice performance for the low prices? We evaluated a wide range of the latest Roku TVs to find out.
Roku TV Pros and Cons
- Inexpensive compared to competitors
- Easy to use Roku operating system
- Simple remote with voice controls
- Thousands of streaming apps and channels
- Works with Apple AirPlay and Google Cast
- Free TV through The Roku Channel
- Easy to setup and intuitive interface
- No support for Dolby Vision HDR on most models
- Limited ports on basic models (HDMI, USB, etc.)
- Basic remotes lack advanced controls
- Picture quality varies greatly by model
- Roku ads on the home screen
Key Takeaways on Roku TV Benefits
The main allure of Roku TVs is the affordable price while still getting a decent smart TV experience. Even cheaper models compete well on features against more expensive brands. The Roku OS also makes streaming media simple with all the top apps and handy features like the Roku Channel and universal search.
However, these are budget TVs in most cases without some higher-end features like advanced HDR support. And Roku doesn’t manufacture the displays so picture quality depends on the partner brand. Overall performance reflects the lower costs. But for casual viewers or secondary TVs, Roku sets are compelling budget options.
Picture Quality on Roku TVs
One of the most important factors for any television is how good is the actual picture. Roku partners with value brands not known for top tier display tech. And some Roku models use lower quality panels to meet lower price targets.
But there are still some decent options that perform admirably considering the affordable pricing. We’ll look at some of the factors affecting video quality on Roku TVs:
Resolution – Most current Roku TV models are 1080p or 4K. Resolution matters more on larger screen sizes. 720p HD is passable on 32″ sets but inadequate for 65″+. 4K offers enhanced clarity on 55″ or larger.
HDR – Some Roku sets support HDR (High Dynamic Range) like HDR10 for expanded color and contrast. But few models offer advanced HDR like Dolby Vision found on higher-end brands. Lack of Dolby Vision is a notable omission.
Backlighting – LED backlighting with local dimming provides the best results, boosting brightness and black levels. More basic edge lighting is used on cheaper models with inconsistent backlighting.
Refresh rate – Standard 60Hz refresh rates cause motion blur on action scenes. Some premium Rokus boast 120Hz refresh rates for smoother imagery during sports and movies.
Panel types – More expensive Roku TVs use VA, IPS or OLED panels for improved viewing angles and color accuracy over cheaper sets. But lower-cost models may use basic TN panel types.
Roku TVs span entry level to moderately priced so quality varies greatly. Some perform admirably while cheaper models fall flat. Check reviews of specific models to make sure picture quality meets expectations before purchasing.
Picture Quality Recommendations
The sweet spot for getting decent picture quality from a Roku TV seems to be in the 55″ to 65″ size range with 4K resolution, local dimming LED backlighting, and at least HDR10 support. Mini-LED backlighting found on some models like the Hisense U8H provides a noticeable bump in contrast and brightness approaching higher-end sets.
You’ll also want to keep an eye out for 120Hz refresh rates and advanced panel tech like IPS, VA or OLED depending on your needs. Aim for mid-range models from TCL, Hisense or Sharp for the best balance of price and performance. Just don’t expect OLED-beating quality from these budget-minded brands.
Roku TV Hardware, Features and Performance
Beyond just picture quality, Roku TVs need good hardware under the hood to deliver solid smart TV performance. Let’s examine some of the key hardware specs and how they impact real world use.
Processor – A fast processor is essential for smooth streaming, system responsiveness and running advanced software features. Higher-end Roku sets pack quad-core CPUs, some with dedicated AI processing. Slower dual-core chips in cheaper models can cause sluggish performance.
RAM – Having at least 2 GB of RAM is recommended for uninterrupted streaming with enough overhead for system resources and running multiple apps. Insufficient RAM leads to buffering, crashes or buggy behavior.
Storage – Most models have 8 GB internal storage for the Roku OS and app data. Some higher memory models are available if you plan to install many large apps. Expandable storage via USB is rarely offered though.
Wi-Fi – All Roku TVs include 802.11ac dual-band Wi-Fi radios. Upgrading to Wi-Fi 6 routers can provide better range and throughput if your set supports the latest standard. Low-end TVs may lack 5GHz support resulting in poorer streaming quality.
HDMI 2.1 – Only premium Roku sets include full 48 Gbps HDMI 2.1 ports required for 4K/120Hz gaming and high bandwidth media. Many models are limited to HDMI 2.0.
Gaming features – Serious console or PC gamers will want to verify their Roku TV choice supports gaming focused specs like Auto Low Latency Mode (ALLM), Variable Refresh Rate (VRR) and 120Hz refresh rates. TVs lacking HDMI 2.1 are not optimal for gaming.
Smart TV experience – The familiar Roku OS provides a versatile streaming platform and app selection. But cheaper models sometimes suffer from laggy menus and sluggish response to commands. Performance varies greatly across price points.
Look for mid-range and higher Roku TVs with enhanced processing power, adequate RAM, and the latest connectivity options for the smoothest smart TV experience. Entry level sets force some compromises on hardware.
Pros and Cons of the Roku TV Operating System
A core part of the Roku TV experience is the Roku OS software platform. Here are some benefits and drawbacks users can expect from the smart TV interface and ecosystem:
- Intuitive, easy to use menu system
- Simple remote with voice controls
- Universal search across thousands of streaming apps
- Free live TV and movies with The Roku Channel
- Options to cast shows from mobile device
- Automatic updates improve performance over time
- ads on the home screen are annoying
- Limited customization compared to alternatives
- Some performance lag on low-end models
- No built-in web browser
- Geared heavily towards pushing content from Roku streaming partners
The streamlined Roku operating system clearly caters to the streaming-first user who values simplicity and broad app support over extensive customization or non-streaming features. It provides an effective way to access top streaming services that improves through regular software updates. But users who want more smart home management features or web browsing may find it limiting.
How Do Roku TVs Compare to Other Budget Smart TV Brands?
Roku TVs face stiff competition in the budget smart TV space from brands like Amazon Fire TV, Vizio, Hisense, TCL and others. How do Roku models stack up?
Vs. Amazon Fire TV – Amazon’s smart TVs feel more akin to Roku as an inexpensive way to get streaming apps on a new TV. But Fire TV OS is more limited overall, and some may not like the heavier Amazon focus. Roku OS is more mature and robust.
Vs. Vizio – Vizio has transitioned to Inscape TV, their proprietary smart TV platform. It lacks some major apps and feels unpolished. Roku still compares favorably for broader app support and usability.
Vs. LG webOS – LG webOS smart TVs are highly praised for their intuitive interface and smart home integrations. It’s smoother and more refined than Roku OS, albeit on pricier LG TV models.
Vs. Google TV – Google’s smart TV platform showcases some advanced AI features plus excellent Google Assistant support. But app support falls slightly behind Roku along with trickier navigation.
Vs. Hisense VIDAA – Hisense is improving VIDAA U which comes on their cheaper models. But it still feels basic compared to Roku, with fewer apps and frustrating quirks. TCL/Hisense Roku TVs are preferable.
Vs. Samsung Tizen – Samsung packs great smart features into Tizen, like ambient modes and smart home control. But their sets are pricier while offering a similar streaming app experience as Roku TVs.
Among major budget smart TV platforms, Roku emerges as a top choice (along with Amazon Fire TV) based on intuitive design, broad app support and frequent improvements. It beats proprietary systems from brands like Vizio and Hisense. Roku TVs are highly competitive as value-priced smart TVs.
What Are the Best Roku TV Models and Brands in 2023?
With quality varying significantly across different Roku TV manufacturers, which brands consistently produce the top rated and best performing models? Here are our picks for the most recommended options this year:
1. TCL 6-Series Roku TVs
TCL enjoys an excellent reputation for value with their Roku smart TVs. For 2023, the TCL 6-Series boasts QLED color, mini-LED backlighting, and up to a massive 98″ size for under $5,000. It’s the best performing TCL yet at a reasonable price.
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2. Hisense U8H Roku TVs
Hisense hits premium territory with their U8H lineup. Mini-LED backlighting and quantum dot color help it compete with more expensive brands. The picture pops thanks to up to 1280 local dimming zones and peak brightness nearing 2000 nits.
3. Hisense A6H Roku TVs
The Hisense A6H series provides probably the best bang for the buck. Models like the 55″ A6H cost under $500 yet still deliver 4K, Dolby Vision HDR, and solid performance. It’s a great budget-friendly option.
4. Sharp Aquos Roku TVs
After a hiatus in the US, Sharp is back with new Aquos Roku TVs. These beautifully minimalist sets start with a 43″ model featuring Japanese engineering and advanced RGB backlighting for deep blacks.
5. TCL 4-Series Roku TVs
TCL’s entry level 4-Series come highly rated as basic affordable smart TVs. You still get Roku software, voice remote, and decent HD or 4K picture quality starting around just $200 for the 43″ size.
While Roku TVs span a wide range, focusing on their mid-tier options provides the best value and performance. TCL and Hisense in particular are making some of the most recommended Roku smart TVs across any price point that compete with premium brands.
Roku TV pros and cons summary:
- Inexpensive price points
- Straightforward Roku smart TV software
- Extensive streaming app support
- Options for HD to premium 4K models
- Voice remote control included
- Solid performance from mid-range models
- Leading budget brands like TCL and Hisense
- Mediocre picture quality on entry-level sets
- Lacks advanced HDMI 2.1 gaming features
- Mid-range models have best value/performance ratio
- No web browser or extensive smart home features
- Built-in ads are annoying to some users
Conclusion – Roku TVs Can Be a Great Budget Smart TV Option
Roku TVs clearly excel as an easy and affordable path to adding streaming apps and smart functionality to any room. The operating system consistently provides a simple gateway to all the top services. And improved hardware even enables higher performance models that can fully replace an older dumb TV.
But buyers shouldn’t expect premium performance across the board from these budget-priced sets. Avoid the cheapest models and look to mid-range options for the best experience without breaking the bank. TCL and Hisense have emerged as leaders marrying the Roku platform with good quality displays.
For secondary rooms or basic needs, Roku TVs are hard to beat. Even pickier home theater fans will find solid 4K, HDR and audio options that rival pricier brands. Overall the many benefits outweigh the limitations as long as you have realistic expectations. Roku TVs deliver great smart TV value worth considering for your next purchase.