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Las Vegas - Roku Inc. is launching a line of TVs that play video from services like Netflix without requiring a set-top box. While similar to smart TVs, the company's Internet streaming platform offers some 1,200 apps and more comprehensive niche content choices.
The Saratoga, Calif.-based streaming set-top box pioneer is partnering with two of the biggest Chinese TV makers in the world, TCL Corp. and Hisense International Co. Ltd. on six models. It plans to showcase them on the sidelines of the annual International CES gadget show in Las Vegas, which started Monday.
The Roku TV also will provide users a way to access feeds from regular live TV providers and to connect to other devices such as Blu-ray disc players.
Roku launched its first streaming video player in May 2008, when the box only played content from Netflix. Since then, the company has sold nearly 8 million units and claims that its device is more widely used than Apple's Apple TV set-top box. Apps available on Roku's devices include everything from Amazon Instant Video to Karaoke Party on Demand.
Anthony Wood, the founder and CEO of Roku, said the TVs will be priced affordably. He expects the sets to be sold in the U.S. at large retailers such as Walmart, Target and Best Buy starting in late 2014.
Wood says he would like the Roku platform to replace those offered by a variety of TV manufacturers. Many TV makers' platforms lack key apps from content providers like ESPN, Fox and the NBA.
In other developments at the gadget show:
• Korean electronics maker LG has jumped into the wearable fitness market.
The company is making earbuds that will measure your heart rate from inside your ears. The earbuds connect to a small medallion that syncs to a smartphone via Bluetooth wireless technology.
LG Corp. is also making a wristband that goes further than the Nike FuelBand SE unveiled in November. LG's version sports an organic light-emitting diode display that allows the user to control music, accept incoming calls and be alerted to text messages. Nike Inc.'s FuelBand has a dot matrix display that has more limited readout capabilities related only to fitness.
• AT&T Inc., the country's second-largest wireless carrier, is setting up a "1-800" service for wireless data. Websites that pay for the service will be toll-free for AT&T's wireless customers, meaning the traffic won't count against a surfer's monthly allotment of data.
It's the first major cellphone company to create a comprehensive service for sponsored wireless access in the U.S. The service is likely to face considerable opposition from public-interest groups that fear it could discourage consumers from exploring new sites that can't afford to pay carriers for traffic.
• Japanese electronics maker Sharp is bridging the gap between expensive 4K TVs and HD versions with an in-between solution that's also priced in the middle.
Its new Quattron+ technology doubles the vertical resolution of a high-definition set by chopping the existing pixels in half. Meanwhile, it uses a mathematical formula to double the horizontal resolution for everything but certain parts of an image.
According to Sharp, that gives its Quattron+ televisions 16 million subpixels, versus 8 million for its Quattron line and 6 million for HD. It's a middle ground before stepping up to a 4K TV, also known as "ultra HD," which has 24 million subpixels.
Quattron+ TVs can receive 4K signals. A 70-inch model is expected to retail for about $3,200.