Roku and Hisense Make A Smart TV That’s Intelligent Too

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By John R. Quain, Editor-At-Large
What is it? –  Roku has managed to do what no other company seems capable of–make a smart TV dumb. But that’s a good thing. It means no more infinitely regressing menus, cascading option screens or inscrutable settings. Roku had boiled it down to the essentials and then baked it into this 40-inch Hisense H4 Series HD TV. Easy? Gracie Allen could operate this TV.

Roku is deservedly the leader in set top boxes that are used to stream online programs, “channels,” and services like Netflix. Its devices are simple to install and set up and offer more entertainment choices than any competing model (far more than the Apple TV, for example). Roku has nearly 2,000 channels–from sailing to pet channels, HBO Go to SlingTV–and yet it does an excellent job presenting it all in a simple-to-follow format. Having these features built into a TV means you don’t have to bother with an extra box and cables.

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Is it Boomer friendly? – The Hisense Roku TV is, simply put, smart TV for the rest of us. The channels and programs are indicated in big, bold icons on the screen. One can quickly flip through free and subscription channels or search for specific actors or shows. Roku has even simplified the usually abstruse settings for the TV picture itself and integrated them into its attractive interface.

One prime example of how Roku has simplified the television experience is its search function. When you look for Clint Eastwood it will scan across all of the main sources or channels, turning up Million Dollar Baby for $2.99 from Amazon, Vudu, and Blockbuster. But it will also list options up top that cost less (or nothing at all) so that you don’t end up paying for something you may already get as part of, say, your Netflix subscription. The one downside: it cannot search your local broadcast TV guide–although some cable “apps” such as Time Warner Cable are included in the search.

Rounding out the rest of the television’s features, there are ample connections with 3 HDMI inputs, analog RCA inputs and USB. It has built-in Wi-Fi for making the Internet connection.

Even the included remote is simplicity itself. That’s because it’s a slightly modified version of the standard Roku remote. There aren’t scores of identically sized keys with miniscule or inscrutable inscriptions. There’s just the four-way directional pad for moving through menus, home and back buttons along the top, and volume up and down buttons. Other than dedicated keys for Netflix, Rdio, Vudu, and Amazon, that’s it. No letter or number keys. Everything is done quickly and easily on screen.

Frustration factor? – This is not a set for demanding videophiles. The LCD set’s picture, as one might expect, cannot match that of a high-end TV costing 10 times more–but it will not disappoint the average viewer. The H4’s colors are generally accurate, if a little skewed to the red, oversaturated side of the spectrum. The one weakness was in the area of contrast ratio, meaning how wide a range it has from the brightest to the darkest picture elements. The Hisense set lacks a little detail in shadowy scenes and in order to see, for example, all the stars in a scene from a science fiction epic, one has to boost the brightness (this is an edge-lit LED set). However, I don’t think most viewers will be distracted by these slight flaws.

If there is another shortcoming of the H4 it is one that it shares with nearly every other TV on the market: poor audio quality. This Hisense set is neither better nor worse in this regard than any other, with a narrowly focused sound that lacks lower bass response. Most TVs can benefit from the addition of a modestly price sound bar.

Is it worth the money? – At $350, it’s hard to argue against the Hisense H4, especially if one considers that a separate Roku 3 box costs $100. Here you get a very capable HD TV and the Roku features together in a single package. It would make an excellent second set for the den or guest room. If you want a larger set with the same features, consider the 55-inch TCL 55FS4610R Roku TV for about $650.

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Gary is an award-winning journalist who has been covering technology since IBM introduced its first personal computer in 1981. Beginning at NBC News, then at ABC News, Ziff Davis, CNN, and Fox Business Network. Kaye has a history of “firsts”. He was the first to bring a network television crew to the Comdex Computer Show, the first technology producer on ABC’s World News Tonight with Peter Jennings, the first to produce live coverage of the Solar Power International Conference, and the creator of the Fox Business Network signature series, “Three Days In The Valley”. Along the way he created the History Channel Multimedia Classroom. He has been a contributor to both AARP’s website and to AARP radio, as well as to a handful of other print and web-based publications where he specializes in issues involving boomers/seniors and technology. He has been a featured speaker and moderator at industry events such as the Silvers Summit and Lifelong Tech Conferences at CES, the M-Enabling Health Summit, and the What’s Next Baby Boomer Business Summit. His column, “Technology Through Our Eyes” appears in half a dozen newspapers and websites across the country.

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