contributed by Jim Morrison, Product Manager
Last year at CES 2012, we studied the Smart TVs that had been announced on the show floor to make a shopping list of all of the sets we wanted to further analyze back at the lab. As the TVs were released for sale (and not just concept systems that we had seen on the floor), we purchased them. It is the electronic systems and silicon we are after, but as technophiles, we took some time to form an opinion on their picture quality and test their operating systems to get a feel for how intuitive they were. During the dismantling process, we paid attention to materials used, quality of workmanship, and what hardware was used to power these Smart TVs. Our results were somewhat surprising. The TVs that we expected to score high did not, and the TVs that we expected to score low did well. Below is a partial sample of some of this analysis in image form only. These samples are from a Hisense LED42K520DX3D Smart TV. (As an aside: if teardowns of competitive TVs matter to your business, please drop us a line.)
This year at CES 2013, we are conducting the preliminary analysis on the show floor by getting demonstrations of similar models across many manufacturers, querying the manufacture about what OS is being used, what hardware they are employing, and what apps can be run and/or added to the system. All with a goal to make a shopping list for 2013. To digress for a moment, it is really quite difficult to assess picture quality under these conditions, so my comments will be limited to a subjective cursory view.
The Toshiba L7300 Series
Toshiba is running a proprietary OS based upon Linux, and they would not comment on whose processor they were using. We’ll figure that out as soon as we get one in house. My guess is that it is probably a 45 nm cell-based processor similar to what we have seen in the PlayStation Slim.
This TV has a very nice picture quality, but limits the consumer to what apps they can run on the set. Toshiba provides the TV with a set of apps that have been developed by or for Toshiba. One must wait for new apps to be supplied by Toshiba through software updates that are pushed to the system.
Sharp AQUOS 8 Series LED Smart TV
Similar to Toshiba, the 8 Series TV is running a proprietary OS based upon Linux and using a dual core MediaTek processor. MediaTek appears to have done a good job penetrating this market, and our analysis last year saw a few TVs running with MediaTek processors. This Sharp 8 Series TV has a very good picture quality as well.
TCL UltraSurface 8200 Smart TV
The TCL UltraSurface 8200 was a very impressive TV. It featured a capacitive touch screen (??), Windows 8 running on an Intel Core i5 32 nm microprocessor, and was capable of wireless connectivity to an iOS, Android, or Win 8 smartphone or tablet.
TCL was one of the companies that surprised us in 2012 with good picture quality for the price, state of art semiconductors, and high quality materials and workmanship. The image below is the main motherboard of the TCL Smart TV analyzed last year
Haier H-600 Series Smart TV
The Haier H-600 features a custom OS called Twonky and was running on a Qualcomm Snapdragon. Representatives from Haier could not comment on what version Snapdragon processor was being used in this TV. Haier representatives also commented that they employed application processors from MStar, MediaTek, and Qualcomm for different TV models.
This Twonky operating system was a bit like the Toshiba in that it limits the consumer to load apps that are only available on the app store. Unless Twonky and Haier develop an app, the consumer cannot load on their own.
Hisense U-LED XT780 Smart TV
Hisense had one of the most impressive TVs we analyzed last year; and considering price, it fared well even when compared to the Samsung 8000 Smart TV we analyzed . That is a tall order in that the Samsung TV featured a 32 nm DTV SoC and a 65 nm GPU sporting eDRAM. The Hisense features a Marvel Armada 1500 dual core DTV SoC and runs Google Android OS.
Hisense shipped US$ 2B in 2012 outside of China, and expects to have at least a 5% market share in the USA in 2013. Again, the attention to detail, picture quality, quality of materials, and silicon employed make this and other models very attractive. I think that Hisense has a strong chance at stealing market share away from current incumbents Samsung, LG, and Vizio to name a few.
Speaking with Chris Porter, Manager of Hisense R&D Group outside of Atlanta Georgia, he tells me that Hisense uses the right microprocessor for the right model. “We employ application processors from Marvell, MediaTek, and Mstar, allowing us to match the proper processor for the horsepower required.”
Panasonic WT60 LED Smart TV with IPS
The Panasonic WT60 is Panasonic’s flagship LED with IPS Smart TV. It runs a Linux-based platform on a 45 nm UniPhier 1.4 GHz dual core ARM Cortex-A9 DTV SoC. The (TV on the show floor) picture quality was as good as anything I have seen in the last two days. The control was easy and intuitive, and it had a very thin bezel on the order of a centimeter wide. For their lower priced TVs, Panasonic does employ DTV SoCs from MediaTek. By employing the Linux-based system, Panasonic has also forced users to apps developed by or for Panasonic and only get pushed to the consumer during software upgrades. Assuming of course that the consumer accepts the pushed software upgrade.
I tried to get in to talk to Samsung and Sony, but the right people to speak to are nearly impossible to get a hold of. I will return to see if I can get more detailed information from them. From what I can see just from looking at Smart TVs from these manufacturers, the picture quality is comparable to the others I saw and the interfaces are either a custom OS or Google Android. We do know that Samsung and Sony employ their own design DTV SoCs. The Samsung processor will most likely be from the SDP series DTV SoCs and Sony will be using their CXD processors. In the case of Sony, they could have made radical changes to employ off-the-shelf DTV SoCs from the likes of MStar and MediaTek to help in cost reduction, but I somehow feel that the giant vertical Japanese manufacturer is going to continue to use their own ASICs to help recover their initial investments to design and fabricate these SoCs.
The take away from this day and a half spent looking at the new Smart TVs is this: beware the red dragon. I see levels of quality in their sets that rival or surpass the traditional brands. The choices for operating systems and silicon make good product management sense while still delivering a great consumer experience. I for one will definitely be considering a Hisense or TCL Smart TV when I replace the older set in our basement family room – something I would not have said even two years ago. I think my Smart TV experiences at this year’s CES brings a whole new meaning to the term “Made in China”.