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As Smart TV technology sees a shakeout, Indians find themselves in a buyer’s market of compelling features and price points

By Anand Parthasarathy
December 13, 2022: Around Diwali and the last quarter of the year, many television makers in their festival season campaigns in India, suggested they were somehow transitional to offer customers a new technology, and an improved experience, moving their sets from Android TV to Google TV.
In fact, both originated in the same stables. Android was Google’s operating system (OS) for phones and since 2014, the company has been offering to TV manufacturers the same Android platform for smart TVs, allowing customers to ‘find’ video content on their phones and ‘cast’ them onto their TV sets.  This worked well enough and became the de facto standard for smart TVs except for  a few big manufacturers who used their own proprietary  platforms. 
In late 2020, Google  saw the trend of  more and more app-based, web-based  and OTT (Over the Top) i.e.,  pay-by-use video  taking over and  decided to improve on its Android TV platforms. So it launched what it called Google TV which had – not Android – at the base but its other OS – Chrome.
The new smart TV standard was being pushed by Google throughout 2021-22 and it is only now that leading TV makers have made the switch: they had little choice in the matter.
Pluses with Google-TV
Google TV may look a bit new but it's just Android TV with a new icing. There are however a few pluses: While Android TV’s recommendations are based on   what your apps are offering, Google TV makes use of Google’s machine learning to anticipate your taste based on its knowledge through your use of Gmail, Playstore and the like and then makes tailored suggestions on the TV’s home screen at the tab dedicated For You tab.
Another improvement is a Live TV tab which previews upcoming live broadcasts scheduled by YouTube in your region.
No new TV is likely to be launched in 2023 with Android TV under the hood, so one might as well get used to Google TV.  In a way this points to the poverty of the international television industry to evolve a decisive platform standard of its own for smart TVs and instead take the lazy path of embracing the Google standard because it comes free. In the process they have handed over all of us billions of users, as captive customers to Google. I'll just cite an one example.  When I bought the latest smart TV set, I did not undertake anywhere that I would register all my personal details and sign up for a Google – effectively a Gmail – account. But the way Android and now Google TV works is, you can’t see any content unless you create a google password with either your phone or your Gmail.
Super Plastronics Pvt Ltd (SSPL), a 30-year-old contract TV manufacturer with plants in Noida, Una and Jammu, makes aggressively priced TV sets proudly flashing the Made-in-India label for brands like Thomson and Kodak. It announced recently that Kodak had transitioned to Google TV and the new range included a 65-inch model offering 4K (ultra-high definition) for less than Rs 60,000, an almost unheard of price in India a year ago.
Another international brand, made in India – Compaq recently came out with a 43-inch 4K LED smart TV for Rs 25,999.  
Sweet spot
For long 32-inch has been the ‘sweet spot’ of Indian TV, selling the maximum number of sets – but possibly the effects of upward mobility, aspiration and more and more broadcast spectator sport, has seen 43-inch dominating the mid-range market found Counterpoint  in its annual survey of the Indian smart TV market, released last week.
The survey has some other interesting findings which delineate the peculiar character of the Indian TV buyer:
Global brands account for the four top-selling smart tv brands: Mi, Samsung, LG, Oneplus, with market shares respectively of 11, 10, 9 and 9 percent. Two are South Korean, two are Chinese. These global brands are substantially manufactured inside India.  The bulk of the market share – 56% -- is what analysts club together under ‘others’ – a collection of a couple of dozen brands favoured by canny Indian buyers, refusing to pay extra  for big  brand names and looking  for a good deal.
Cheeky entrant
Into the Top Five for the first time enters an Indian brand VU with an interesting history.
It was founded in California in 2006 and is still led by Devita Saraf, a scion of the Saraf family, behind one of India’s pioneering infotech companies, Zenith Computers. The company has morphed from an entity making high-end entertainment electronic systems abroad for a niche audience to a more focussed operation which rolls out premium-range TV models, manufactured in India, with specs usually a jump ahead of the competition.
VU has launched what it called a GloLED 4K TV series at Diwali this year, boasting a Glo AI-driven processor which increased brightness by 60% while reducing energy consumption. It also claimed  to be the world’s first TV with ‘Advanced Cricket Mode’ – assuring 100% ball visibility but the atmospherics of a live stadium thanks to Dolby Atmos virtualization. This enhances match commentary over stadium noise. Trust an Indian company to tout a TV set for being optimized for cricket!  The 43-inch model of GloLED TV costs Rs 29,999.
VU has doubled its market share in the critical  3rd quarter of 2022 and is after Samsung, the fastest growing smart TV brand in India  --  which enabled it to get into the Counterpoint top five ranking
Overall, Indian smart TV purchases are up 38% from this time last year and Indian brands have doubled their share of the market, says Counterpoint.
Cognitive processor
At a more rarified end of the market,  Sony  has embraced Artificial Intelligence to try and think like a human being. The latest Sony Bravia XR Master series A95K smart  TV sets incorporate a Cognitive processor which analyses  lakhs of elements in every TV frame ( just as humans receive  information  from eyes and ears). It then performs cross analysis to determine what is the  focal point  in the picture that a human would tend to concentrate on. It enhances colour, clarity, focus, contrast motion and depth and quality at that point. 
The Bravia set comes preloaded with   your choice of 10 new movie release a 24-month unlimited streaming movie service…another pointer to the merging of TV and TV content that is creating a new sangam or convergence of Live TV, Web-based TV like YouTube and pay-and-view OTT content like Netflix, Amazon Prime, AltBalaji, SonyLive, Voot etc.
Sony-class of excellence is  maybe not affordable by  many. The 65-inch model of theA95K series costs Rs 3,69,990.
Indians demand premium audio quality
But at the broad end of the Indian TV market, Indian TV enthusiasts find themselves in a booming buyers’ market this year and by their collective market force have nudged hundred manufacturers to improve features like audio quality and to a lesser extent connectivity and voice control.
As a result, not just high-end   models but even mid-range television sets in India now boast premier audio features like Dolby and Digital Theatre Sound (DTS).    Dolby in turn allows users to enjoy higher volume output and surround sound. 
“Audio is now a key differentiator in defining the overall  viewing experience for Indians”, finds Gurugram (NCR)-based  analyst “TechArc in a December 9  release of  its “ Smart TV Gap Analysis”, studying the gap between  expectation and availability.
Beyond audio, Smart TVs with built-in Chromecast (a Google technology to play mobile content on TV), dual-band Wi-Fi and seamless Bluetooth connectivity are also popular demands of consumers. Voice control is another desired feature that consumers expect in their Smart TVs, regardless of screen size. 
TechArc concludes with some hard nosed advice for TV manufacturers who hope to survive in the Indian market: “Given current market demands, Original Equipment Manufacturers should equip even smaller screen size TVs with high-end features comparable to larger-screen counterparts. Going forward, there should be no or very few compromises in the display, audio, and connectivity parameters because the screen size should not limit the end user experience.”
The message is clear:  canny Indian smart TV buyers looking for paisa vasool or  money’s worth, nothing less than the best will do – at a price they  deem to be reasonable. As Gandhiji said in a vastly different context, they’re in control.
For illustrations to this piece, please see Image of the Day here
This article has appeared in Swarajyamag