Roku debuts premium smart TVs, existing models to be sold at additional retailers

Streaming hardware maker Roku has announced a new line of premium smart television sets that will formally debut at the Consumer Electronics Show this month.

The sets are part of a new line called Roku Pro Series TV and will debut about one year after Roku announced its intention to develop, build and sell its own TV sets.

On paper, the specs of the Roku Pro Series TV look impressive: The smart TVs will be available in three screen sizes — 55 inches, 65 inches and 75 inches — with mini-LED powered screens, artificial intelligence software that automatically adjusts the picture based on whatever content is playing, and a new rechargeable Roku Voice Remote Pro that was specifically designed for the TVs.

Roku also engineered the TV to lay flat against the wall and has opted for side-installed speakers rather than downward-firing speakers, which it promises will deliver a "wide, cinematic experience."

All that premium will cost less than $1,500 at the store, Roku said, suggesting the company is targeting budget-conscious consumers who want a high-quality experience without spending thousands of dollars to get it. (By comparison, a 75-inch Samsung mini-LED TV, which it calls “QLED,” costs $2,000 when it isn’t on sale.)

That strategy is very much in line with Roku's long-held belief that streaming hardware should not come at a cost. Historically, Roku has focused on its budget line-up of streaming pucks and sticks, which typically cost under $50 and can sometimes be found for as little as $18.

Until last year, most Roku TVs were built by third party companies like TCL and Hisense, who incorporated the streaming platform into their low-cost TV sets through a licensing agreement called the Roku TV Partner Program.

That changed when Roku announced its intention to build its own TVs, a move that left some within the industry scratching their heads, wondering why Roku would want to compete against their own TV partners. But Roku indicated developing its own hardware and software will help it better understand both sides of that streaming equation, in a way that will benefit the company and its partners.

"Our goal is to continue to create an even better TV experience for everyone," Mustafa Ozgen, the president of devices at Roku, said in a statement last year. "These Roku-branded TVs will not only complement the current lineup of partner-branded Roku TV models, but also allow us to enable future smart TV innovations."

With the announcement of Roku Pro Series TV, executives reaffirmed their commitment to building hardware and software that leaves customers satisfied, while helping the company learn about design and hardware integrations that benefit all Roku partners.

"Roku Pro Series’ picture and audio quality, polished design, unique features, and ease-of-use bring the market leadership and innovation that Roku is known for to a TV made for streaming," Chris Larson, the vice president of retail strategy at Roku, said on Wednesday. "As we hit 10 years of the Roku TV program, we believe this new line of TVs will set a new standard for an elevated streaming experience."

Roku said the new TV models will be available later this spring. Additionally, the company said it will reveal plans to expand the retail availability of its other Roku TV models, called Roku Select and Roku Plus; those TVs have been available exclusively at Best Buy since they launched last year.

Roku's continued push into building its own smart TV sets have another added benefit for the company — it gives them an avenue to learn about how customers interact with advertising in a way that is entirely controlled by Roku, without a third-party manufacturer serving as a middleman.

In an interview with StreamTV Insider last year, Roku's Vice President of Marketing Dan Robbins characterized the development of Roku-branded smart TVs as an exciting time for marketers "because it’s really an extension of the broader shift from traditional TV into streaming TV."

"It’s going to be yet another opportunity for them to use an ad platform built for TV streaming to reach an audience that isn’t on traditional television, to go beyond a traditional spot, and to bring all of the data and measurement of the digital world onto the largest screen in the home," Robbins said.