Last week, Roku announced it would throw its hat into the virtual assistant melee. But don’t expect the Roku Entertainment Assistant to tell you the weather or buy your groceries.
Instead of developing its own wireless speaker to compete with Google Home or Amazon Echo, as previously rumored, Roku made its assistant portable to third-party devices through Roku Connect, a wireless audio platform that will connect to TVs, soundbars, and other third-party hardware with Roku software.
The first partnership is with TCL, which most recently coordinated with Roku on its P-Series line, one of TechRdar’s favorite TVs of 2017. At CES 2018, TCL announced (opens in new tab) the TCL Roku Smart Soundbar, which uses the Roku OS in Connect to pair with other AV devices and respond to voice commands.
Through Roku’s interface, Smart Soundbar users can toggle music playlists or search through entertainment content on any television. But TCL’s press release implies that you’ll get the most out of it if it's paired with a TCL Roku TV: sync the two, and you can “launch video content or stream audio even when the TV is turned off”.
There’s no word yet on audio specs, price or release date. We’ll try to find out more as the week goes on, as well as if Roku has planned partnerships with any other TV makers.
Roku also plays a major part in TCL’s newest line of televisions: the 6-Series and 5-Series, also announced today. If you want to take full advantage of Roku’s hands-free tech through the Smart Soundbar, you may want to check out its latest 4K HDR TV offerings.
The 2018 flagship, the 6-Series, comes in either 55- or 65-inches and supports Dolby Vision. To properly support this premium video quality, the 6-Series uses “Contrast Control Zone” tech — which is supposed to split a 65-inch screen into 120 “zones” and balance the light/dark contrast in each area. The screens also sport a wide color gamut thanks to an “iPQ engine” meant to improve color fidelity to the original films.
The 5-Series has a lot of the same tech as the 6 — Dolby, the iPQ engine, 802.11ac wireless, three HDMI 2.0a ports, and a Roku TV voice remote — and ranges from 43- to 65-inch models.
Where the 6-Series may win outright is in style, not substance: it features a striking brush metal finish around the edge. TCL usually goes for budget quality, but it's evidently trying to make a fashion statement with this model.
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