The content wars on streaming platforms have been outmoded by the other big war in the world of entertainment — the one being fought on the luxury television front. Samsung just launched QLED 8K, the next-generation in luxury television – 65 inches at its smallest and a massive 98 inches at the tops. And it will cost you as much as a Jaguar XE. A full-sized Samsung at 98-inch is priced at Rs 59,99,900 (Rs 60 lakh to be precise) and it will only be made-to-order.
Samsung's QLED 8K.
A more modest 75-inch will cost Indians a cool Rs 10,99,900. What is it that makes Samsung QLED 8k such big luxury purchase, besides the price? Raju Pullan, Senior Vice President, Consumer Electronics, Samsung India, says
, “We have been at the forefront of innovations and introduced the world’s first QLED TV. The QLED 8K offers a stunning visual experience with an 8K resolution. Sitting at the cusp of luxury and innovation, it caters to consumers who are passionate about technology and would love to own a luxury product. The 8K AI upscaling is the prime highlight, which enables sub 8K content to be upscaled to 8K resolution and provide premium picture quality.” The technology that powers 8k
The QLED 8K houses an 8K Quantum Processor and “Samsung’s proprietary upscaling technology,” says Pullan. At 33 million pixels, the resolution makes for an immersive TV-watching experience. The 8K AI upscaling technology ensures that you enjoy just about any movie or TV show on any channel in 8K resolution, regardless of the native resolution or method of transmission. The picture has an exceptionally true-to-life quality — the blacks are darker; the whites are crispier; there are finer details and vivid colours. The QLED 8K has far-field voice capability, using which you can interact with the TV set from across the room.
Samsung has also added a few aspirational features to QLED8K. The ambient mode, for instance, turns them into works of art — it enables users to apply an interactive background to the virtually bezel-less TV frame, blending it into the home interiors with perfect ease, particularly because no unseemly wires are dangling from the TV given its one connect box. Watch a beautifully shot movie or a documentary on QLED 8K, and the experience would be much like watching a moving work of art.
Other competitors are snipping at Samsung’s heels, though no one comes anywhere close to either the technology or the price of QLED 8K at the moment. South Korean major LG has shifted its focus to the organic light-emitting diode (OLED) TVs, intending to target technologically advanced consumers with deep pockets. Last month it launched a range of OLED TVs priced between Rs 209,990 and Rs 10,99,990 in India.
LG's wallpaper TV.
LG rollable TV unit.
LG AI ThinQ TVs, according to Younchul Park, Director – Home Entertainment, LG Electronics India, is powered by the second generation Alpha 9 intelligent processor and features support for Dolby Vision/Atmos, HDR 10 Pro, Apple AirPlay 2 and HomeKit. You can use Alexa Routines on the supported TVs; control compatible smart home devices using the television, just as you would do with other Alexa-enabled devices; play music or listen to audiobooks, and even use over 20,000 Alexa Skills that are available on the Alexa Skill Store. The TVs under the OLED range are powered by LG's Alpha 9 Gen 2 processor. According to LG, this tech allows the processor to optimise images by recognising source quality and implementing an algorithm to display the images. The AI capabilities in the Alpha 9 Gen 2 processor is also said to fine-tune the audio according to the content type, ensuring that the movies and TV dialogues sound crystal clear.
VU's 100-inch TV.
Making a bid for the luxury television market is the
desi brand, VU with its 100-inch TV, priced at Rs 20 lakh. The focus here stays on the size rather than any out-of-box tech support: it has 4K resolution, supports HDR, has a built-in soundbar with JBL speakers and woofer built-in with Dolby Audio, besides a 16GB inbuilt storage for apps, games and media. According to Vu, it has as a hub to voice control compatible smart home devices and there’s also built-in Chromecast for media streaming. Technology as a differentiator
Ultimately, it is the technology that has proved to be a major differentiator. According to Ken Mathews, TechSchi research, who has tracked the growing role that technology plays in the Indian television market as part of the firm’s Asia-Pacific study, “Growing technological advancement market has resulted in increased R&D spending, with major market players such LG, Samsung and Sony introducing new technologies such as curved panel display, OLEDs and 3D televisions in the Indian market. Moreover, we are witnessing a major consumer preference, even within Tier-II and Tier-III cities, which is where the big growth will come from, in the premium-to-luxury end.”
The story here is of how India as the hub for R&D innovations in the television segment. Again, Samsung has proved to be an early starter. In July, Samsung Venture Investment Corporation announced an investment of $8.5 million in Indian startups to gain access to exciting new technologies. As part of its first round, SVIC has backed systems application maker Indus OS, speech analytics and voice assistant startup Gnani.ai, Internet of Things firm Silvan Innovation Labs, and a fourth firm in the AI and computer vision space that remains unnamed.
Gnani.ai has developed products based on voice recognition technology in languages such as Hindi, Kannada, Telugu, Tamil and Gujarati, and also for those who speak in English, but with an Indian accent. Although Gnani.ai is currently focused on building AI-powered local language support for products that serve banks, financial institutions and farmers, the investment in its automatic speech recognition engine could potentially power Samsung’s multi-platform voice assistant Bixby in regional language services in future. Bixby is one of the leading tech innovations in QLED 8K. IoT startup Silvan Innovation Lab works on solutions for home automation products and will help Samsung innovate technology that can be used to sync home automation with the generation next of television sets.
“We are looking to back startups in broadly two categories – core technologies such as AI, IoT and VR, and services such as content,” says Aloknath De, CTO of Samsung R&D facility at Bengaluru. The Korean giant has earmarked 100 more early and growth-stage ventures in the country. “The investment is strategic in nature, and will make at least 100 such investments, of a ticket size between $1 million to $5 million.” Samsung’s maiden investment in India is a win-win for both, the company and the startups. It will help the latter scale their solutions and ventures while offering Samsung access to the best of emerging tech solutions.
Pullan contends that with Samsung’s ‘Make for India’ philosophy, we are capable of introducing innovative products, customised features with cutting-edge technology which are made for India and made in India. “With two manufacturing units, five R&D centres (including Harman) and one design centre in India, we are exploring the untapped needs of consumers.”
The lust for bigger screens
If a 32-inch screen was big news a few years ago, today that is an average size. Market tracker GfK Global estimates that the Indian television market will surpass $10 billion by 2020; the big shift, it claims, is happening on the upper end of the market.
Samsung's The Wall TV unit.
Mathew calls it the “premiumisation in the consumer durables sector, with premium category products growing faster than the overall industry growth rate”. Migration to larger screens is a trend the world over and India is just following the trend. Right now, the penetration of television in the Indian market stands at 66 percent
(as per IBEF). “Of total Samsung TV sales today, 40 inches and above segment contribute 55 percent to sales as compared to 44 percent and 47 percent in 2017 and 2018 respectively,” says Pullan. “The Ultra High Definition (UHD) segment comprises 30 percent of the TV market, a stark shift from just 10 percent in 2017 and 18 percent in 2018. As far as the 75-inch television go, we are at 53 percent (March-end) and our target is to acquire 70 percent market share by this Diwali. And for QLED, we have 47 percent (March-end) market share, but foresee a target of 55 percent by Diwali.” LG did not get back to us with any market-penetration data for its OLED TVs.
The big growth market, as Mathew suggests, are cities such as Hubli, Thane, Coimbatore, Vijayawada, Vizag, Tirupati, Ranchi, Madurai, Bhubaneshwar, Asansol, Raipur, Varanasi, Karnal… cities where the growth of OLED and Samsung’s QLED shows quite an uptick.
The luxury television battle will get more exciting over the next year. Samsung will bring to country The Wall — a micro-LED, 4K TV in mind-numbingly large 146 and 219 inches. LG has showcased its 77-inch, ultra-thin (0.2 inch) 4K TV called Wallpaper series and a first-of-its-kind 65-inch “rollable” TV - when turned off, the screen rolls up and completely disappears, leaving behind a piece of furniture. Sony and LG are also expected to launch their 8K series in India soon, which will start at 65 inches, too.
Deepali Nandwani is a journalist who keeps a close watch on the world of luxury. Deepali Nandwani's columns