Roku is bringing its TV operating system outside of North America for the first time, the company announced at IFA today. Hisense UK will release its first TVs powered by Roku in the fourth quarter of this year. Previously, Roku’s television operating system has only been available in North America where it’s been featured in TVs from TCL, Sharp, and Hisense’s US arm.
We’ve always liked Roku’s TV operating system, so it’s great to see it launch outside of North America. When we reviewed last year’s TCL 6-Series television, for example, we found that Roku’s software was simple and easy to use. It also, crucially, has pretty much every streaming app you could ask for. That’s more than what could have been said for Amazon’s competing Fire TV platform in the past, which lacked native YouTube support until recently, thanks to Amazon’s spat with Google.
Roku TVs also benefit from lengthy ongoing support. The company says that it maintains tight control over its update process, meaning it can push updates to older TVs even if their manufacturers have stopped supporting them.
One of Roku’s key competitors, Amazon, also used IFA this year to announce the international expansion of its Fire TV Editions, which are televisions using Amazon’s Fire TV platform as a built-in operating system. Previously exclusive to North America, Amazon has now partnered with manufacturers to release the TVs in Europe. Both companies have sold their standalone streaming hardware outside of North America for a number of years now.
The launch is likely to intensify the competition between Roku and Amazon. Market research suggests that Roku is currently ahead in North America, but Roku and Amazon’s international expansions could change things on a worldwide basis.
The international launch of Roku TV shows the increasing emphasis the company is placing on its software compared to its hardware. Last year, the company’s CEO described Roku as an ad business rather than a hardware business, and this international launch of Roku TV has the potential to increase the reach of its platform.
Roku isn’t giving up on selling hardware anytime soon, however, even as more smart TVs come with Roku software built in. A spokesperson told The Verge that hardware is still an area of growth for Roku, and it’s not uncommon for people to buy the company’s hardware even when they already own a smart TV with built-in streaming apps.
Going forward, Roku expects most TV manufacturers to make the same decision as Hisense and license a third-party operating system rather than relying on their own in-house software. However, given the huge worldwide install base of Tizen and webOS, it seems unlikely that Samsung and LG will be looking to license a third-party operating system anytime soon.
Correction: This article originally stated that this is the first time Roku’s TVs will be available outside of the US. In fact, this is the first time they’ll be available outside of North America. This article has been updated to reflect this.