Roku TV review: incredible software and incredible price separate it

Roku has partnered with Hisense to create an affordable Smart TV with buckets of streaming apps (Image: ROKU • GETTY)

Roku is undoubtedly the most complete decoding software available at the moment. It has an exhaustive list of streaming and retrieval services that neither Android TV, Apple TV, Amazon Fire TV nor Chromecast can support. Couple that with a television designed by Hisense – a master of affordable panels that brings many of the features and image quality certifications you would normally expect to get at much higher prices – and it is certainly a match made in heaven. Right?

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Well, yes. Of course, there are compromises and details, but most of them are easily overlooked once you check the receipt and realize how affordable this affordable Smart TV really is.

We always like Roku's software for its simplicity. Like the operating system that powers the iPhone, Roku is essentially a grid of application icons of identical size. And that's about it. You can customize the background and color palette used on the TV with the dizzying number of themes – from photos of puppies peering around Netflix icons to stunning explosions of colors or humorous photos of your favorite serial killer drama. If you've used a Roku Streaming Stick or NOW TV device (which is powered by the same software – albeit with some Sky restrictions), you'll know exactly what to expect when turning on Roku TV.

As you would expect, the Roku software works in a very solid way as a way to feed the entire TV experience. Although I can't hold a candle like Apple TV or Fire TV when it comes to beautiful autoplay trailers, full bleed images that fill the screen … there's something really good about a stripped-down interface that does everything in its power to get out of your way and take you back to the episode you were in.

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But aside from simplicity, the biggest benefit of owning a television powered by Roku is the immense number of applications at your fingertips. No other brand has the same variety of streaming options you can find on Roku – not its Sky Q box, Virgin Media's V6 TV box, Apple TV 4K, Fire TV Stick, YouView, PlayStation 4, Chromecast … none of them.

Review Roku Hisense Smart TV 4K UK

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There is an exhaustive list of recovery services, streaming apps and games to enjoy (Image: ROKU)

For starters, Roku has the full selection of streaming apps from Google and Amazon. While these two companies have finally pledged to bury the ax and allow YouTube on the Fire TV and Fire tablets and Prime Video to work with Chromecast … the experience for device owners is still not ideal. For example, while you can now watch YouTube videos on Fire TV, there are no 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 without a contract, Shudder, Sky Store, MTV, UKTV Play, BBC iPlayer, BBC iPlayer, ITV Hub, All 4, my5, YouTube, HayU, Sky News, Plex, RedBull TV, NBA, UFC, Rakuten TV and thousands of others. There is a lot here.

Obviously, the vast majority of them can be found in some combination on the internal menu of a new Samsung TV or on the Fire TV Stick connected to your existing Smart TV.

What makes Roku unique is the fact that every streaming service you want to watch has an integrated app, which saves switching inputs by choosing different remotes for different devices … all without complications.

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Roku TV owners will also be able to access the Roku Channel – an exclusive channel that allows them to broadcast blockbuster Hollywood movies and television boxes without paying a dime. Better yet, Roku won't even force you to sign up for an account to access the hours of entertainment available on the Roku channel.

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But all of this is available on the Roku Streaming Stick or any other device with HDMI dongle style in its line. And the TV itself?

Review Roku Hisense Smart TV 4K UK

The interface is simple. But it really works and gets out of your way as quickly as possible (Image: ROKU)

Fortunately, 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 don't realize as much as you prepare for a movie night with friends and family). And this is no different this time with the set of the Roku brand.

The 4K TV panel is crisp and colorful and will be a serious update for anyone still watching boxsets on an older 1080p HD device. This is an LED panel, which means that there is a backlight panel built from hundreds or thousands of LEDs that illuminate individual pixels. These pixels provide the individual points of color that make up the image on the screen. This technology works well, however, it means that the darkness may appear a little whitish and light, caused by bleeding light from nearby pixels illuminated by the broad backlight.

Given the price of this Smart TV, you are unlikely to get anything other than LED. Fortunately, 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.

Even better, the Roku brand set is HDR certified. This way, you can benefit from better contrast in your documentaries, movies and TV shows than on a swamp standard 4K LED TV. Sky TV recently updated its Q boxes to benefit from this image update and streaming services like Netflix and Disney + already support the format, so there will be no shortage of content to enjoy.

Review Roku Hisense Smart TV 4K UK

From £ 245, this is an affordable Smart TV. Unfortunately, this means that the design is not as refined as it could be (Image: ROKU)

Being a defined budget, there are some elements of Smart TV that could be used with a little refinement. On the one hand, design is nothing to write about. Anyone who expects the elegant look seen at Samsung's best will be disappointed.

This is a plastic set, which doesn't look great from any angle other than directly in front of it. Wall mounting will do you a favor, but if your lounge means that the Smart TV will be displayed from a few different angles, you can increase your budget and get something with a little more design flair.

The speakers are very good. But if you want to hear the boom of explosions, you need to invest in a sound bar. It also saves you from constantly having to adjust the volume to hear the characters whispering for a moment and then dive into the remote control to decrease the volume again when a car chase occurs, a few moments later. Roku has a speech mode designed to take voices forward while lowering background noise, but it is not as good as a dedicated sound bar under the TV.

And for the absurdly affordable price of this smart TV, there must be some leftovers to offer a sound bar.

Review of Roku Smart TV: Final Verdict

Hisense continues to impress with its affordable 4K TV design, focusing on what really matters – the crisp screen, HDR support to prepare Smart TV for the future in the years to come and the thin panels to minimize the footprint of this panel.

But the star of the show is really Roku software. He doesn't have the brilliance of some of his rivals, but boy, does he deliver where it matters. Fast, reliable and with almost all the streaming and retrieval services you might want to watch – the Roku software really offers here. Along with a cool remote design, you'll need to remember that it's an affordable 4K TV.

And from £ 245 for a 43 inch panel and up to £ 449 for a 65 inch expander, this is really affordable.

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