The Television business is brutal. I’m sure I’m not alone in breathless at the rate at which prices of new, big-screen TVs have deflated in recent years. I remember purchasing my first flatscreen TV – a 32″ Philips Ambilight model – just a few years ago. It cost over £2000. Now, TVs much larger – with better screens and greater features – retail for hundreds.
This is, of course, excellent news for us consumers. The televisions we dreamed about as kids are now easily accessible to us and, as new technology emerges, it’s less painful to replace your TV for a newer model. (How long did your parents keep hold of a TV on average? I bet it was a long-term investment, right?) But as prices drop, so too do manufacturer’s margins and the result is a bloodbath, from a business perspective.
With intense pressure to provide consumers with more reasons to upgrade their TVs, while reducing their cost base, manufacturers are increasingly seeking content and technology partnerships to support their business models. Of course, TV manufacturers have been sharing resources for some time – particularly when it comes to high-cost/high-risk panel production – so hardware partnerships are nothing new. But the new trend is in software partnerships.
Sure, multi-category giants like Samsung and LG have sufficient range breadth to prop up their margins while developing their own software – or acquiring it, in the case of LG and WebOS. But other large corporations are trying out software collaborations – Sony is clubbing together with Google to integrate Android TV on selected 2015 BRAVIA TVs. Today’s review subject, the 43″ Sharp Roku TV (LC-43LB371U) is another example. Sharp is one of a variety of TV brands (including Haier, TCL and Insignia) that are shipping with integrated Roku streaming software onboard.
But let’s be clear – like Google’s collaboration with Sony, Roku’s TV partnership isn’t about simply adding a Roku streaming app to a long list of added-value features. On these new Roku-ready TV sets, the Roku software controls all aspects of TV operation – the out of box setup experience and TV settings as well as streaming channels. Even the remote control is based on the familiar Roku hardware.
Roku was kind enough to ship the new 43″ Sharp Roku TV over to me for review. Priced at $379.99 here in Canada, it’s a brilliant example of the price deflation I mentioned earlier – a 43″ TV for that price boggles the mind. It’s one of two models available from the mainstream TV brand (a $499 50″ LC-50LB371U model is also available).While the TV proudly displays the Sharp brand, note that courtesy of a licensing deal made in 2014, these TVs are actually manufactured by Best Buy “to Sharp’s exacting standards”. As a result, both sets are available exclusively from Best Buy in North America.
Let’s quickly run down the specs. This 43″ Sharp Roku TV, like its big brother, is classed as a high-definition model offering resolutions up to 1080p. There’s no 3D mode available on this LED panel, which may disappoint movie fans. From a personal perspective – and indeed, that of my kids who struggle to be comfortable with 3D glasses – that’s no problem. Three HDMI inputs, plus Digital Optical, Composite, RF and a single USB port is a reasonable selection on a budget TV, but the omission of Ethernet is more of an issue for those that prefer wired connections around the home. That’s right, this TV has integrated Wi-Fi which you’ll have to rely on for your streaming connection. Contrast ratio is quoted at 120000: 1, which is very healthy indeed and a 178 degree viewing angle is wide enough to allow comfortable viewing from around the room.
Visually, the Sharp Roku TV isn’t the slimmest LCD screen you’ll find on the shelves of Best Buy – but that’s expected given the budget price. That said, a maximum width of 3.1″ (8 cm) isn’t exactly fat – so unless you want an extremely sleek TV, the Sharp Roku TV is more than acceptable. The screen bezel is less than half an inch, so looking straight on, the TV has very modern proportions. You’d never guess this was a $379 TV.
Setting up the Sharp Roku TV
Setting up took less than 20 minutes. The TV’s stand comprises two legs that screw into the TV’s base courtesy of twin screws on each side. With the stand fitted, the TV weighs around 8.5 kg (19 pounds) – it’s easy enough to lift but you may want a friend to help move it around as screens of this size can be cumbersome.
Anyone that has set up a Roku device will know that the company prides itself on an easy configuration experience. That extends to the new TV range – it’s a breeze to get up and running. The out of box experience is big, friendly and easy to complete – a good thing as I’m assuming that this budget TV will be many consumers’ first taste of a smart TV. Remote control button presses are met with a satisfying “clunk”, so you always feel in touch with what’s happening. During installation, you’ll notice that the onboard Wi-Fi is dual band (I’m assuming 802.11n) so if you have a fast router, you can take advantage of the faster speeds available at 5 GHz.
Like many devices nowadays, during installation you’ll be invited to go online and activate your TV. The web-based configuration section can be completed on a normal computer or a mobile device such as a tablet or smartphone. The TV syncs neatly with existing Roku accounts or you can quickly create a new account to get started.
If you’re using an existing Roku account, your channels will be automatically downloaded to the TV so they’re ready as soon as setup is complete. As this is more than a Roku streaming player, however, there’s more to be done. Following account configuration, you can set up the devices connected to the TV, ensuring that the TV knows what devices are plugged into each of the five available inputs. Helpfully, those devices are subsequently listed on-screen as sources. Rather than the generic “HDMI3” you see on many TVs, the Roku TV software will label the source as “Xbox” (or whatever).