CES 2014: Roku TV may be the first smart TV that isn't dumb

Your move, Apple

(Peter Nowak)

(Peter Nowak)

It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that media-streaming set-top boxes are an endangered species. With the advent of “smart,” app-running, Internet-connected TVs a few years ago, the writing has been on the wall for the likes of Roku and Apple TV.

Rumours about Apple producing its own television reached fever pitch shortly after Steve Jobs’s passing, with the company founder telling his biographer that he had finally “cracked” television. Of course, it’s been a few years now and we’re still waiting.

Roku has beaten Apple to the punch by combining with a pair of lesser-known Chinese TV manufacturers – at least to North Americans – in the form of TCL and Hisense to indeed produce a pair of integrated smart TVs. After checking out a demo here at the Consumer Electronics Show, I got the sense that Roku TV may very well be the first smart television whose actual smart functions aren’t all that dumb.

The Roku media streamer is a great device – small, inexpensive and low-powered. Most importantly, its on-screen interface is elegant and simple to use, which is the exact opposite of most big-name smart TVs. Roku TV simply takes that formula and packs it into the set itself. It’s nothing fancy, just the same great functions built directly into the television.

The pressure is now on Apple to get its TV show on the road (pardon the pun). With the two companies battling it out for media-streamer supremacy, Roku has now raised the ante by going directly into hardware. The longer Apple waits, the more market share its competitor could steal.

Fortunately for Apple, Roku’s TVs aren’t due until the latter half of 2014, which gives the company plenty of time to fulfill Jobs’s promise.