With the fall “selling season” still a few months down the road, competition is already heating up in the UHD/4K display arena with today’s introduction of the first 50-inch Ultra HD TV priced under $1,000. Scheduled for availability in August, TCL will join Seiki in the low-cost end of the UHD market, setting a new line in the sand as the first such model to be released at $999; the MSRP for the Seiki model still shows on their web site as $1,299.
While some may dismiss Seiki as an upstart, TCL is a Chinese powerhouse that builds products for a number of brands and is now working hard to establish their own presence as a top tier brand in the US. Indeed, their commitment to the market was confirmed earlier in the year when they bought the naming rights to what is now the “TCL Chinese Theater” on Hollywood Boulevard, just down the street from the Dolby Theater where the Academy Awards are handed out each year. Further evidence of their intentions was a large booth at CES at the front of the main exhibit area featuring the 110-inch 4K set that was placed in the most recent Iron Man movie.
At this time we haven’t seen the set yet and thus cannot comment on the picture quality, but from the available specs for the Model 7E5040 it is clear that TCL wants to come out of the gate fighting. It has four HDMI inputs, compared to three on the Seiki and one is MHL enabled for direct connection and charging with compatible smartphones and tablets as well as with the Roku Streaming Stick. Scaling to 4K is provided for conventional HD and SD inputs, but again the final judgment will come when we have a chance to view it in person. 120Hz refresh is in place as is a USB input , Energy Star 6.0 compliance and SRS TruSurround. While the HDMI inputs are typical of higher end sets, there is no listing of a VGA input to accompany the one-each component and composite inputs. The LED edge-lit set has a two-year warranty and a 5 million to one contrast ratio is quoted.
It is easy for some to dismiss TCL as “just another Chinese brand,” but it wasn’t all that long ago when Samsung and LG were tarred with the low-end brush by many. One need only look at the leadership positions of those companies to know that they have grown into potent competitors across the board and market leaders in more than a few categories once dominated by Japanese or U.S. brands. As a major partner in China Star Optoelectronics Technology, TCL can be said to produce their own LCD panels rather than being an assembler of sourced components.
Again, the picture quality will tell the tale, but this $999 shot across the bow of both the major brands as well as other China-based competitors clearly sends the message that TCL intends to become a brand to be reckoned with and has the capability to make a market impact.
The $999 UHD set, along with 40- and 46-inch HD models at $399 and $499 along with a 55-inch Smart TV with Netflix, YouTube and Yahoo Apps for $799 also announced today is likely to be just the start of more interesting products to come from TCL.
Sherman Oaks, CA-based editorial contributor Michael Heiss is a respected technology consultant and CEDIA Fellow.