TCL introduced Tuesday an expansion of its lines of smart TVs based on the Android TV operating system by introducing to North America extensions to its 5- and 6-series TV lines running the Google TV interface.

In what could be somewhat confusing, the new models have been added to existing TCL 5- and 6-series 4K UHD TVs based on the competing Roku TV OS.

In both new additions to the series, TCL is using the Google TV over-riding user interface that sits atop the Android TV 11 OS platform, bringing a refined and powerful content search experience that recommends programs and movies to users based on their preferences from across multiple streaming service platforms.

The company said the smart software options available in the Google TV products will “allow consumers to enjoy more of the content they want. TCL TVs featuring Google TV will continue TCL’s winning formula of high-performance display technologies like QLED wide color and mini-LED backlighting in an accessible package for mainstream TV shoppers, paired with innovative smart platforms like the personalized experience of Google TV.”

Chris Larson, TCL North America senior VP, explained that the 5- and 6-Series additions mark the company’s move to further bifurcate TCL’s selection in the U.S. by smart OS platforms, expanding models employing the Google/Android TV platform while at the same time maintaining TCL’s global leadership in building and selling TVs based on the Roku TV platform.

Larson said TCL believes a time is rapidly approaching where there will be a consolidation of smart TV OSes, as happened in the mobile phone and PC categories.

“We believe that because we are the strongest partner of the two leading OS candidates, we are in a very good position for the future,” Larson said, adding that many people outside of North America don’t realize that TCL is the world’s leading supplier of Android TVs as well as Roku TVs.

“Our relationship with Roku remains strong and as we expand Roku TVs into other international markets it will get stronger,” Larson said. “But [internationally] we actually make and sell more Android TVs than we do Roku TVs.”

“As we saw [the Android TV] platform really improve into a compelling solution, we brought Android TV into the North American market for the first time last year, and the response has been very positive. We are not planning to transition from a Roku to an Android TV environment, however. We are planning to add Android TV to our stable because when we spoke to our younger demographic we found that today’s young adults grew up watching what they want when they want and how they want, without the limitations that some of the older generations encounter. We needed to find a solution for that. They expect more out of a big-screen device and expect it to do all of the things and more as their little screen devices.”

TCL televisions with Google TV are said to present a content-first interface built around consumers and what they love to watch.

This includes what TCL calls a powerful browse-and-discover system offering suggestions for favorites with recommendations based on previous watch histories, saved content and what’s trending.

TCL’s newest models will also integrate hands-free voice control with far-field mics for Google Assistant built into the television set for the first time. The 5- and 6-Series TCL Google TVs can use Google Assistant to search through 700,000+ movies as well as TV shows, answer questions, and manage smart home devices, TCL said.

TCL will supply an optional camera accessory for free video calling through the Google Duo app.

In addition, both Google TV series will support free video calling with the Google Duo app supporting up to 32 different people when an optional camera is attached to the TV. TCL will sell a camera (with a privacy lens shutter) as an accessory for $79, or users can add various third party webcams.

As for enhanced picture performance, models from both series continue to support HDR10, HLG and Dolby Vision high dynamic range, and this year both Google TV series add support for the HDR10+ profile, TCL said. Like Dolby Vision, HDR10+ supports dynamic metadata for frame-by-frame contrast and color grading to present more natural looking imagery.

Other features in both lines include deep color saturation from QLED quantum dot color enhancement film filters offering high color volume reproduction. The latest offerings will also include features such as a “For You” tab where users will find new content based on their interests gathered from across their streaming services. Also offered is “The Watchlist” that enables clicking on content and saving it to watch later.

The sets also include a Live TV integrated channel grid guide that makes visible recommendations for streaming content alongside live program listings from over-the-air broadcasts and other sources.

Users will be able to quickly find TV shows and movies by title, genre, and actors, by pressing the dedicated Google Assistant button on the remote and speaking their search command and desired criteria. Alternatively the far-field mic built into this year’s TCL Google TVs will enable users to simple say “OK Google” to trigger a command without lifting a finger. TCL said it gives privacy concerned viewers the option to defeat these far-field mics by switching them off in the television settings.

When not watching TV, ambient mode in the TVs will allow users to connect to Google Photos so they can showcase their favorite images on the big screen. Users will also be able to call up the Google TV app on Android devices to view personalized recommendations, watch content, or add titles to a Watchlist right from a mobile phone.

A TCL 65S546 4K UHD Google TV with QLED color enhancement

The new TCL 5-Series with Google TV includes four screen size models: 50 inch (50S546) starting at a $599 suggested retail price, 55 inch (55S546) starting at $649, 65 inch (65S546) starting at $899 and 75 inch (75S546) starting at $1,299. All are on presale now.

These models are designed to offer “premium picture performance” and sleek attractive designs, the company said. This year’s 5-Series 55-inch and larger models also offer the option to mount the stand feet in either a wide or narrow configuration to accommodate a wide range of placement surface sizes.

Among the 5-Series Google TV features is a FullView edge-to-edge glass design. Additionally, image quality is enhanced with “QLED” Quantum Dot color enhancement technology achieving a large percentage of the DCI-P3 wide color gamut “without the limitations of lower color volume or shorter life found in other color technologies,” the company said.

The 5 Series models are based on LED backlighting with Contrast Control Zone (the company’s name for full array local dimming) technology with up to 60 LED dimming zones. This is said to produce deeper black and higher brightness than conventional direct LED or edge lit LED displays. In addition to Dolby Vision HDR10, HLG and HDR10+, the series also supports the Dolby Atmos 3D surround sound technology that expands the sound stage from the TV’s built-in speakers.

Both the 5 and 6 series Google TVs include TCL’s AiPQ Engine processing with machine learning algorithms to optimize color, contrast and clarity for an enhanced 4K HDR experience. The AiPQ Engine uses three core picture quality algorithms – Smart HDR for vibrant color, Smart 4K Upscaling for sharp clarity and Smart Contrast for dramatic depth.

The 5-Series Google TV models also offer advanced video gaming experiences using new features including Auto Game Mode and Variable Refresh Rate (VRR) up to 60Hz.

The step-up 2021 TCL 6-Series Google TVs offer even more powerful performance, the company said. The series includes three 4K Ultra HD model screen sizes including: 55 inch (55R646) starting at $999, 65 inch (65R646) starting at $1,299 and 75 inch (75R646) starting at $1,799.

These 6-Series Google TV models include TCL’s second-generation mini-LED backlights with thousands of micro-meter class LEDs spread across 240 Contrast Control Zones to produce vividly bright and deep, dark areas of the image. This brings out enhanced image depth and dimension. TCL’s Contrast Control Zone technology optimizes the image across individual zones to yield lifelike transitions between light and dark areas in the same scene.

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Like the 5-Series, the new 6-Series 4K UHD Google TV additions support quantum dot wide color enhancement and the HDR10, HLG and new HDR10+ profiles. This series also goes a step further by adding the Dolby Vision IQ profile offering automatic adjustment for ambient room lighting conditions through the TV’s light sensor.

The sleek television design of the 6-Series features brushed metal cosmetics and continues the selectable narrow or wide base stand feet positions to flexibly fit different sized tables and credenzas.

This series is further optimized for advanced video gaming by featuring THX Certified Game Mode. TCL said it partnered with THX for the series “to define a new standard in big-screen gaming performance.”

THX Certified Game Mode enables an ultra-low-latency gaming display combined with Variable Refresh Rate and other Auto Game Mode features for a smoother, optimized gaming experience. Connected to an next-gen gaming console like a Xbox Series X, the television will automatically adjust its refresh rate on the fly to the incoming signal. The TVs will support up to 4K/120 Hz VRR, said Aaron Dew, TCL North America director of product development.

Dew continued that although Dolby Vision Gaming is not yet publicly released (outside of Xbox public beta testing), TCL “will support it” when it becomes available to the general public.

As for TCL’s television business during the pandemic and the outlook for the future, Larson said the last two years have told a tale of two worlds with the first half of 2020 generating a rush to purchase home office and remote learning technologies and a rush to keep shuttered kids entertained. This resulted in strong sales of mostly small TVs being sold to start.

But by June of 2020 the industry hit an all-time low in average selling price, at under $300 for the average television, which Larson attributed mostly to a function of size mix.

“We sold everyhing we could get under 43-inches. That all changed in June of 2020 when people started to feel that they had their situation under control and wanted to make their experience inside their four walls more enjoyable. That’s when we saw a rush to big-screen TVs with bigger and better performance,” Larson said.

“A lot of those behaviors became quite sticky,” he continued. “We think most of those trends are here to stay.”

TCL benefited especially well since it has a strong appeal to young adults, he said. The company sold its 300 millionth smart TV world wide in February, with 30 million deployed to that point in the U.S. and Canada.

Larson said TCL is now a top five market share brand in 19 different countries.

In 2020, the company sold 40 million units globally, including 25 million under the TCL brand and about 8 million of those in North America.

“We’re making great progress in the TV business,” Larson declared.

TCL’s panel manufacturing unit China Star Optoelectronics Technologies (CSoT), is now operating seven panel fabs in Mainland China, and five of those specialize in televisions — three are Gen 8.5 fabs specializing in 55-inch and smaller display panels. The company also just completed its second Gen. 11 fab, which Larson hailed as being among the most advanced in the world. The Gen 11 fabs specialize in big screen TV display panels measuring 65-inches and above.

Furthermore, Larson said CSoT has announced two more fabs that will be coming online in the next couple of years, “and we will disclose the display technologies that will be coming out of those fabs as we get closer to their openings.”

“We are in the TV business and we intend to grow in the TV business,” Larson said. “Our aspiration is to be the No. 1 brand in television, both here in North America and globally.”

As for possible impediments to accomplishing those goals, Larson said that global IC chip shortages continue to affect most companies, and TCL has been impacted in getting driver ICs used in panels.

Panel capacity is already at the level of TV demand, Larson explained, “but it is further reduced by the availability of these driver ICs. We, ourselves, have about 42,000 panels that have already been built, but we just don’t have the driver ICs bonded to them. We we got those they will go right into the TVs. We expect it to all settle out by the end of August. There will still be some panel constraints, however, causing supply problems in the weeks ahead. But some of the down-stream issues have been solved.”

As for set assembly issues during the pandemic, TCL operates two factories in Tijuana and Juarez, Mexico, to bring products closer to North American customers. But Larson said because component parts all start in China, there continues to be some supply issues related to shipping, including interstate trucking delays that will likely interfere with product availability for the balance of the year.

Lack of supply this year has hampered TCL’s ability to get televisions to some of its bigger customers including Costco, he acknowledged, but TCL expects to have its presence restored in customer stores soon.

In the near future, TCL said it still plans to introduce this year its first televisions based on its breakthrough OD Zero (for Zero distance between the TV backlight and the screen) technology. Stay tuned.

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By Greg Tarr

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