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Good Times Are Here For Smart TV

The Diwali season just got done and India’s television makers are laughing their way to the bank. Reports say this season, overall TV sales went up by 15 per cent, and the spike in sales was so forceful that TV makers such as Sony exhausted their stocks for some models, while the likes of LG posted a three-fold rise in TV sales.

In fact, until a few years ago, a smart TV was not something a typical middle-class household could afford in India. Those who could were using LCD Plasma TVs and they were quite happy with the results, so much so that few thought of buying a smart TV with apps and all that jazz. There were several other issues too, mainly about affordability, availability and access.

Not many Smart TVs were available in the market, to start with. Yes, there were near-smart, HD-ready LED TVs available online and offline, but the costs were on the higher side and India’s on-a-budget families were reluctant to shift and whoever wanted to were not able to find them in the retail market. Even by end-2014, a Sony Smart TV would cost anywhere between Rs 1.74 lakh and Rs 7.04 lakh. Equally important was the issue of access to quality content. Most television channels were providing HD content, but at a premium and the quality of the programmes were really poor.

Picking up pace

Much changed with the arrival of affordable Smart HD TVs from Xiaomi in 2017. In one fell swoop, Mi disrupted the market like never before, introducing smart TVs at affordable price tags and forcing the Indian middle class to have a re-look at their living room boxes. Even though a few ‘affordable’ smart TVs from popular brands were available in the Indian market well before Xiaomi arrived on the scene, their presence was not really felt. In fact, these brands also benefited from the wave created by Mi, which sold several thousand units of its smart HD televisions in the very first weeks of their launch in India.

And so it started. Ever since, TV prices reportedly fell over 40 percent, triggering a spree of buying. Just in the first six months of 2018, Xiaomi sold over 5 lakh units of Mi TVs in India. Sale of TVs online also got a fillip, thanks to Xiaomi’s aggressive push for online sales. TV sales via e-tailers now account for nearly 14 percent of the total TV market, in comparison with a minuscule 3 percent just two years ago. This year, Indian consumers have so far bought nearly a crore TV sets and the market now has some 70 television brands, from just over 30 in 2015. India’s television market now stands at around Rs 22,000 core and experts expect it to grow 10-15 percent in the coming years. Industry watchers expect India to be the third largest TV market in the world in just two years.

Growing pangs

For sure, low-cost smart TVs are powering most of the growth and the segment has seen a mushrooming of brands, so much so that consumers are now spoilt for choice. Apart from the ‘affordable’ versions of TVs from popular brands such as Samsung, LG, Sony, Panasonic, Blaupunkt, TCL, etc, a series of new TVs have come up from companies such as Skyworth, Cloudwalker, Vu, Noble Skiodo, Micromax and more.

Among the players negotiating the lower end of the spectrum, Noble Skiodo (part of Veira Group) offers its 43-inch Full HD LED TV at Rs 14,999. It has a display resolution of 1920 x 1080 and boasts of dual 20 W drivers. This month, Micromax, which was a leading smartphone player in the country and later lost steam owing to competition from Chinese brands, launched its first ever Google-Certified Android television. The 49-inch and 55-inch televisions offer High-Dynamic Range (HDR) display and 4K Ultra HD support at Rs 51,990 and Rs 61,990. Micromax has also launched TVs under sub-brand YU, with prices starting from Rs 18,499.

VU’s 32-inch HD Ready smart LED TVs are now available for about Rs 15,000 or less on online sellers. Nacson’s 32-inch HD-Ready LED TVs are available for price tags as low as Rs 9118 on Paytm. Another interesting player, Skyworth, launched its M20 SMART LED TV Series in India in an exclusive partnership with Amazon. The TVs are fitted with DTS sound and HD panels, and are available from Rs 13,000 onward. We have reviewed some of these models and will be reviewing more. So watch this space.

Unfinished business

That said most low-cost smart TVs suffer from a few common misgivings, starting with, most importantly, poor design of user interface. Most of them look very average and belong to the past. Even the savviest user would find it difficult to navigate the home screens and find what they need. Though almost all the TVs offer good technology, support HD streaming, and play most forms of media (including HEVC MP4), it often becomes a nightmare for users to install popular apps such as Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, Mubi, Hooq or even YouTube.

This is one of the reasons behind users of near-smart TVs powered by third-party streaming hardware such as Chromecast, Apple TV or Amazon Fire Stick not shifting their loyalty to low-cost, newer and smarter TVs. This hiccough is not so visible on high-end TVs, both running on Android or custom-built operating systems. For instance, Panasonic’s FX600 UHD TV, which we tested, offers a clutter-free and easy-to-navigate UI and so do high-end variants of Samsung and Sony TVs.

Another worry is the breakable body of low-end TVs. A lot of innovations need to go into this. Even the Mi TVs suffer from this malice. If you have children at home, you must be prepared to fix damages as these fragile TVs can break, especially at the seams and the centre of the display screen, even if they are hit by a small toy.

Still, there are no disputes to the fact that low-end smart TVs are here to stay, cornering more markets and geographies in the country, especially in rural areas and small towns where now ‘casting’ and streaming video is getting popular thanks to the data war started by Reliance Jio, which now offers high-speed LTE at affordable rates, enabling people to stream and watch video on big screens. With the arrival of Netflix and Prime Video and their interest in creating exclusive Indian content (Sacred Games and Lust Stories on Netflix and InsidEdge, Mirzapur, etc on Prime ), along with the way players such as Jio TV and Airtel are promoting video streaming and original content, demand for smart TVs is going to pick up in India and low-cost TVs will continue to be in demand and price-conscious Indians will test the waters before making the big leap into wholesome, big-screen entertainment.— The Hindu Business Line

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