TCL Transitions From Manufacture to Entertainment

Li Dongsheng, TCL’s CEO, greeted the assembled journalists at the company’s press conference. The room was quiet when we arrived as most of the press was queueing for its lunch – although TCL had kindly laid out a spread as well.

TCL is now selling almost 30 million TVs annually. The company has 75,000 employees worldwide; 23 R&D centres; 21 manufacturing sites; and is selling its products in 80 countries around the globe. Although the source of the research wasn’t provided, Dongsheng said that TCL is now the 6th-largest smartphone maker, 5th-largest LCD panel manufacturer (through subsidiary CSOT) and 4th-largest LCD TV vendor in the world. The brand is worth more than $10.5 billion.

A new G8.5 line will be introduced this year, manufacturing both LCD (70%) and OLED (30%) displays, followed by a new G6 line in 2016 that will be dedicated to OLED.

TCL is changing the way that it operates, to be more customer-facing. The old focus was distributors, chip/IC design and manufacturing, whereas the company is now moving to retail, content and services, bolstered by the introduction of new game, eLearning and film (through a partnership with Imax) services. These are part of the move from traditional TV maker to global entertainment technology company (many Chinese makers are trying to enter new markets. TCL, through its partnerships, looks to me as though it stands a good chance of being successful – TA).

So what does TCL’s near-future concept TV look like? For starters, it has a lot of sensors! Standing in front of the unit will cause it to recognise you and switch to your preferred programme(s), while leaving will switch the TV off.

This year, TCL is introducing ‘TV+’, although it wasn’t really clear what differentiates TVs with the feature from a normal smart set! They will have gaming, shopping and OTT services, voice control and will use the GoLive platform. Online content is being provided through Alibaba and Tencent, and the TVs (all octa-core) are already available in China.

Last year, TCL was one of two companies (Hisense was the other) to show Roku TVs – with Roku’s smart technology fully integrated. This year, said Chas Smith of Roku, the offering will be enhanced with UltraHD units. Three new series of TCL-Roku TVs (12 models) will be launched this year, starting in the spring.

TCL H9700 LCD TVThe Next Big Thing?

Dongsheng returned to ask what people expect to be the next big TV technology. A few years ago, people thought that it was OLED – but this technology is being held back by price. TCL’s focus is affordable innovation, and the company feels that quantum dots are “the future”.

Today’s LCD TVs can cover about 72% of the NTSC colour gamut, while OLEDs can reach 100%. According to Dongsheng, TCL’s quantum dot LCD TVs, using components from QD Vision, can cover 110%. The H9700 (Display Monitor Vol 21 No 50 – TCL Moves Into Quantum Dot Space) is the first such TV, launched in China in December and now available in North America. TCL and QD Vision were showing a prototype of this set at IFA 2014 (Display Monitor Vol 21 No 35). While Dongsheng claimed that the H9700 is the only QD-LCD TV on the market, Sony has been selling them (under the Triluminos brand) since 2013, and many other companies launched similar TVs at CES.

The rest of the press conference was dedicated to the H9700. The colours did look fantastic, but from my seat (about 45° from the centre of the TV) the blacks looked grey. The Harmon Kardon speakers mounted on the front of the TV, however, sounded incredible, even towards the rear of the large room.

The Rise of Premium

At IFA, TCL was showing a prototype curved 110″ TV, which also made an appearance at CES. It was a bit of a show-stopper (and aisle-crowder) of course, but as we’d seen it before, and it’s not a finished product, we moved on quickly.

TCL quantum dot TV

At the rear of the stand, a demonstration area was dedicated to new TV technologies: high frame rate (120Hz), Dolby Vision, ‘hybrid backlight adjust’ (flicker-free), quantum dots and quantum dots with local dimming. These technologies will be featured on TCL’s 2015 high-end TVs (aside from Dolby Vision – it’s anyone’s guess when that will arrive).

Two UltraHD models, the H9600 (curved, 65″) and M90 (55″) were on show, but there was no-one around who could talk about them. Likewise with TCL’s HD TVs, the D2700 (32″), E5800, H8800 (curved) and H6800. The H9700 was also being shown, as was one of last year’s TCL-Roku TVs, the FS4610R.

The Roku representatives on the stand said that TCL would be launching 12 new Roku TVs in the first half of the year, in three series, alongside an UltraHD model. They will range in size from 32″ to 55″. The unnamed UltraHD TV will feature HDMI (x2), component, composite and USB ports, with availability limited to North America.

Aside from the H9700 and Roku TVs, we were told by TCL representatives that none of these models would be launched outside Asia (but take this with a pinch of salt; stand representatives are notoriously unreliable for this kind of information).

Alcatel Continues Flagship Lineup

Alcatel Onetouch is TCL’s mobile division. The company has launched yet another new Hero device, this one a 6″ phablet called the Hero 2C; it is, however, simply a lower-specified version of the Hero 2 that we saw at IFA (Display Monitor Vol 21 No 35). While the Hero 2 featured a 2GHz octa-core processor, the 2C uses a 1.2GHz quad-core device. It will be launched globally in March.

More interesting was Alcatel’s first smartwatch, the Alcatel Onetouch Watch. Like the G Watch R and Moto 360, the Onetouch Watch has a circular face. However, the display is simply a traditional 1.2″ rectangular screen (240 x 204) set into the face, although it does use an IPS panel. The Watch requires a link to an Android phone or iPhone to make the most of its features; it is not a standalone device. IP67 certification protects the Watch, which also uses a proprietary operating system that looks very similar to Android Wear; however, Alcatel said that it only uses about half the power of Google’s OS, or less.

While the Watch was billed as being sold at ‘a fraction of the cost of competitors’, we couldn’t find anyone who actually knew the price!

TCL Alcatel Hero 2C

A 9.6″ tablet called the Pop 10 was shown nearby, with a full-size keyboard accessory. The keyboard had keys with a good travel distance, which we applaud. The tablet is said to be the thinnest and lightest model in its size class, at 7.5mm thick and weighing 380g. The display had 1280 x 800 resolution, an IPS panel and 10-point touch, while the tablet featured 1GB of RAM and 16GB of storage.

Finally was an interesting smartphone called the Pixi 3. The USP of this model is the choice of operating system; Alcatel’s partners can choose to supply the phones with Android, Windows Phone or the Firefox OS. Additionally multiple sizes are available, with the 4″, 4.5″ and 5″ featuring 4G connectivity and the 3.5″ offering 3G.

Each Pixi 3 phone features a quad-core 1GHz processor aside from the 3.5″, which has a dual-core processor. They have two touch points, 8MP rear/5MP front cameras and 512MB of RAM (1GB optional on 4.5″ and 5″ models), with 4GB of memory (8GB optional on 4.5″ and 5″). Each phone can also support two SIM cards. They have 800 x 480 (3.5″, 4″) or 854 x 480 (4.5″, 5″) resolution.