As smartphone makers enter TV space, it could be the start of something big

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Updated: October 01, 2019 7:11 AM

As smartphone makers enter TV space, it could be the start of something big.

As internet speeds improve with access to fibre, streaming services are able to offers streaming in very high quality, with 4K, Dolby Vision, Dolby Atmos.

What I am going to say might sound a bit radical, but I do think smart televisions are nothing but smartphones with extra large displays. Maybe some smartphone companies too think the same. This could explain why a lot of these are now queuing up to launch a smart television. The latest in this space is OnePlus, a bit late if you consider Xiaomi launched a smart TV over a year ago, and Motorola has just announced its intentions to.

There is a distinction between a smart TV brand using its branding on a television—Micromax did a few years ago—to a smartphone company launching its take of a smart TV. Xiaomi and now OnePlus are doing essentially this, because they are thinking of everything from OS to content. This is an interesting development because a big smartphone brand also has everything you need to launch a smart TV, from connections with display and processor makers to a functional OS. But what really gives these companies a bit of an edge over traditional TV brands is their understanding of the new-age user and her content consumption patterns.

During a recent meeting, Pete Lau, the clear-headed founder of OnePlus, told me he thinks in 10-20 years “a lot of traditional TV manufacturers will probably disappear.” He knows it is a bold statement, but he has his reasons for this aggressive take. “We have a vision for the future and a good picture of what is going to happen in the next 10 years in terms of the home internet. It is with this vision in mind that we have decided to make a television.” He has also rethought how a smartphone user—the OnePlus smartphone user to be precise—consumes the television and there are some synergies for users who have both the devices from his brand.

The growing popularity of streaming services in India is a huge opportunity for smart TV makers, including the traditional ones. As internet speeds improve with access to fibre, streaming services are able to offers streaming in very high quality, with 4K, Dolby Vision, Dolby Atmos. This is happening when streaming services are becoming more affordable for Indian users; for instance, Apple TV+ will launch in India at just Rs 99 a month. This means a lot of users who are on relatively newer TVs might hasten the upgrade cycles so that they can enjoy the best quality experience. This is important for the TV industry, which has been flat at best for a few years.
Pankaj Kedia, MD for emerging markets at Dolby, says users want to get the “cinematic experience” right inside their living room and hence need all the best television features. The larger screen, he believes, changes the experience from “an ordinary experience to pretty extraordinary.”

As 4K TVs become more affordable across brands, you will also see a lot of play in the premium segment. Sunil Nayyar, MD of Sony India, recently told me he is clear the Japanese brand will play on premium in India. Explaining why Sony products will be at least 20% above benchmark competition price point, he said: “But we are doing well … we tell the customer we deliver quality for it. So we deliver better picture, better sound, better durability, better after-sales service.”

Even content creators and streaming platforms acknowledge that premium users want the best experience inside their living room—this is the equivalent to the Blu-ray users in the time everyone was playing DVD. To cater to them, Netflix and Amazon Prime both offer titles with 4K, Dolby Vision, HDR10 and Dolby Atmos. This is the best of audio and video experience possible in the living room now. Some services like Sun NXT even have playlists that are available with Dolby Audio, and even YouTube touts its 4K content.

The spike in consumption on smart devices means platforms and content creators now have so much insight into what people are watching, for how long and where they are dropping off. Kedia agrees a lot of this insight is taken into consideration when a new show is approved. It’s a no-brainer why HBO has started working on a Game of Thrones prequel.

This could well be the start of a revolution of sorts in the television space, one where hardware and content try to chase each other, across screen sizes and user demographics. It should be a win-win for consumers.

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