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Roku TV unveiled: Television sets with Roku streaming built-in

Roku is partnering with Hisense and TCL to release six TVs this fall that have the company's superb Smart TV platform built-in -- no box required.

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LAS VEGAS -- No one outside Cupertino knows if we'll ever see an Apple Television, but we won't have to wait long to see a Roku TV.

Roku announced the Roku TV platform today at CES 2014, partnering with Chinese manufacturers Hisense and TCL to produce the first sets. Six models are slated to launch this fall -- three from each company -- in sizes from 32 to 55 inches.

A Roku TV is exactly what it sounds like: a standard HDTV that essentially has a Roku box built-in. The idea isn't all that different than the Smart TV features included by most TV manufacturers, except that it's Roku's excellent software, which means Roku TVs will have access to over 1,000 channels, cross-platform search for movies and TV shows, and a clean, simple user interface. Roku's best-in-class streaming software is one of the main reasons the company's boxes have earned CNET's Editors' Choice Award over tough competitors like the Apple TV and Google Chromecast.

Roku TV

Unlike most traditional TVs, when you turn on a Roku TV, the first thing you'll see is the Roku home screen. The interface looks nearly identical to the one found on modern Roku boxes, with the exception of icons for your other devices, such as "Cable" and "Blu-ray."

Those icons are basically fancy input labels. Once you select a device, it will switch to the corresponding input, but then you'll have to pick up its remote, as a Roku TV can't control other devices like a cable DVR. The interface should feel relatively snappy, as Roku claims Roku TV's internal processor is faster than its standard boxes, although not quite as speedy as the Roku 3's chip.

Roku TV

The Roku TV remote looks a lot like a standard Roku remote with just a few added buttons for TV control. The big addition is the red power button at the top, plus there's a volume rocker and a mute button on the side. What the initial press photos don't show is the headphone jack feature that's so popular on the Roku 3 and Roku 2. Roku said that manufacturers will have the option to implement that feature on Roku TVs, but it doesn't appear that these initial models will support the feature.

Technically, Roku TV is a "reference design platform and software stack" for manufacturers, and what's even more interesting is that Roku says it will be responsible for software updates in the future. That's potentially a big bonus for buyers, as major manufacturers tend to abandon their existing Smart TV software as soon as new models come out the next year.

The first Roku TVs are scheduled to be available from US and Canadian retailers this fall, and although not pricing hasn't been announced yet, Roku did say there will be entry-level price points. Both Hisense and TCL will be showing their Roku TVs at the show and we'll be going hands-on to get more details on each company's new sets.