Buying a TV used to be simple – or at least a lot simpler. But with smart TVs and Roku TVs – and even Android TVs, Google TVs and Fire TVs – things are a lot more complicated. So let’s simplify things by focusing on the difference between Roku TV vs. smart TV.
What is the difference between a Roku TV and smart TV?
What is a smart TV?
Picture your smartphone 10 times bigger, turned sideways and hanging on your wall. That’s basically what a smart TV is – although it doesn’t make phone calls. It’s a television with an OS (operating system) like your phone or tablet.
In addition to the live-TV channel guide and other standard TV functions, a smart TV connects to the internet and runs apps for everything from streaming services to games to VPNs and more.
What is a Roku TV?
According to Roku’s branding, “Roku TV is more than a smart TV – it’s a better TV”. But that’s like saying “a Tesla is more than a car”.
A Roku TV is a smart TV. But it’s made with technology by streaming device manufacturer Roku. Therefore, all Roku TVs are smart TVs, but all smart TVs are not Roku TVs.
Roku, Inc. sells its technology to TV manufacturers, so you can find Roku TVs made by Hisense, Hitachi, Sharp, TCL and more.
How much is a Roku TV vs a smart TV?
The price of a TV is based on its size, features and manufacturer more than the OS. A 50” TV is more expensive than a 32” TV, 8K and 4K are more expensive than HD, and some brands cost more than others. LG, Sharp and Sony cost more than Hisense, TCL and Vizio.
However, Roku TVs are usually less expensive than smart TVs running their own OS, and sometimes cheaper than Android TVs or Google TVs.
Let’s look at a trio of 720p TVs.
This TCL 32” 720p Roku TV and TCL 32” HD LED Android TV both cost $230. But this 32” LG LCD HD TV running its own webOS-based system is $400.
And a few 4K TVs:
A Westinghouse 50" 4K Roku TV is $300, a Hisense 50” 4K Android TV is $325, and a Samsung 50” 4K TV with its own OS is $648.
Is a Roku TV better for 4K, 8K or HDR10?
Just like there are different OSes, there are plenty of features and brands to choose from – and those are what really impact the price of a TV.
What are 1080p, 4K and 8K?
You’ll see these number on every TV for sale and they refer to screen resolution. As seen in the example above, 720p TVs still available for the budget-minded, and they’re typically advertised as being HD. However, most TVs are now 1080p or higher.
The numbers are the amount of pixels horizontally and vertically across the screen:
- 1080p or Full High Definition (FHD): 1920 x 1,080
- 4K or Ultra High Definition (UHD): 3840 x 2160
- 8K or Full Ultra High Definition (FUHD): 7680 x 4320
What are HDR, HDR10 and Dolby Vision?
HDR stands for high-dynamic range and refers to a TV screen’s brightness, contract and color accuracy. But (of course) there are different types of HDR – such as HDR10, HDR10+ and Dolby Vision.
If you’re reminded of format wars like Blu-ray vs HD DVD or VHS vs Beta, you’re not alone. While many TVs support both HDR10 and Dolby Vision, and Dolby Vision can play HDR10, you won’t find sets with Dolby Vision and HDR10+.
But a TV with Dolby Vision and HDR10+ would be nice, seeing as Netflix and Disney+ put out a lot of Dolby Vision content, while Amazon Prime Video tends to favor HDR10+.
Do Roku TVs have better screen resolution and HDR?
From HD to 4K to 5K to 8K, Roku TVs come in a range of resolutions. They also come with HDR10 and/or Dolby Vision.
But it’s the TV manufacturer – not the OS – that has the greatest impact on the quality of the TV. However, all Roku TVs come with Roku’s video upscaling technology that boosts the picture quality of everything you watch.
Does a Roku TV work better with a VPN?
Bypassing sports blackouts and watching your streaming services overseas are just 2 of the great ways to use a VPN. And a VPN is really easy to use — if it’s got a native app for your device.
Unfortunately, the Roku OS does not support VPNs. That means you can’t install a VPN on your Roku TV or your Roku streaming device.
On the other hand, VPNs like ExpressVPN, NordVPN and Pure VPN have apps for Android TV and Fire TV.
But all is not lost.
All of the top VPNs can be installed on your router, it’s just not as simple as installing a native app with the click of a button. However, installing a VPN on your router has one huge benefit. It only counts as 1 device against your simultaneous connections limit, so it means you can actually connect unlimited devices.
And with ExpressVPN, you can set up device groups to connect to multiple VPN servers through your router.
Our pick for the best Roku TV: TCL 65” Class 6-Series 4K
Why the TCL 65” Class 6-Series 4K Roku TV?
It’s full name is the TCL 65” Class 6-Series 4K UHD Dolby Vision HDR QLED Roku Smart TV — or model number 65R617 for short.
With 4.4/5 stars from nearly 5,000 ratings (and 72% of those giving 5 stars), this 4K Roku TV is one of the best-reviewed 4K TVs for under a thousand bucks. It supports Dolby Vision (and HDR10), and its Easy Voice Control technology works with Siri, Alexa and Hey Google.
The blacks are true black and, with a few tweaks in the settings, the mid-tones more than deliver for an LED TV. Even the built-in speakers get the job done on their own – but this Polk Audio soundbar and sub combo would certainly enhance the home theater experience.
Top 3 features of the TCL 65” Class 6-Series 4K Roku TV
User interface: Leave your frustrations at the door. The Roku UI is clean, simple and responsive.
Colors: A trio of technologies – Dolby Vision HDR, wide color gamut (WCG), and TCL’s NBP Photon Technology (Nano Band Phosphor) – combine for a crisp, clear display and vibrant color palette. The screen is brighter, with deeper reds, greens and blues and richer secondary colors like magentas, cyans and yellows.
Connectivity: With high-speed 802.11ac wireless and Ethernet networking, you should have no issues streaming 4K content from the likes of Netflix, Amazon Prime Video or HBO Max. And with 3 HDMI 2.0a ports, you can plug in a Fire TV Stick, a Chromecast dongle and your gaming console of choice.
Our takeaway: Roku TV is the most user-friendly smart TV around
Roku consistently ranks among consumers as having the best user interface of any smart TV OS. The easy-to-use UI doesn’t suffer from lag like some smart TVs and it’s been recognized for having better accessibility features. Older smart TVs, or those with an in-house OS, risk being sluggish, so you might end up needing a streaming device – making the TV’s smart features obsolete.
Roku Inc. partners with some of the world’s leading TV manufacturers, meaning you’ve got a wide range of options when it comes to price and features. Some brands with Roku TVs are:
- USA: Magnavox, RCA, Westinghouse, Element, Insignia
- China: Haier, Hisense, TCL
- Japan: Hitachi, JVC, Sanyo, Sharp
Roku’s app store has over 31,000 free apps and almost 2,000 paid apps available for download. Every Roku device comes with The Roku Channel on it, which has hundreds of channels, movies, and shows for free. Plus, you can subscribe to premium streaming services like HBO Max, Showtime and STARZ through Roku, so all your entertainment billing is in one place.
Douglas Wright • Author
Douglas Wright is a freelance writer based in Japan. A former web designer and technical writer, he left beautiful Vancouver for bustling Tokyo, where he spent a decade recruiting for software and high-tech firms. No longer commuting through the world’s busiest train station, he writes fiction and a wide range of formats for clients around the world. When he gets AFK, he’s either outdoors with his two boys, streaming a show with his wife, or reading a book over a French-pressed, hand-ground coffee.
Desiree Wu • Editor
Desiree is a full-time Honours Business Administration student at Ivey Business School at Western University. She also works as the Editorial Intern at Flixed. Desiree is based in London, Ontario.