In what may, in a couple years, be remembered as a telltale remark of overconfidence, Samsung’s AV product manager said today in an interview “TVs are ultimately about picture quality. Ultimately. How smart they are…great, but let’s face it that’s a secondary consideration.” Pride goeth before a fall, Samsung!
It’s true in a way. But only in the dumbest possible way. Yes, TVs are about picture quality. Because that’s all Samsung and Sony and Sharp have been willing to improve for the last half a century. As soon as someone comes along and changes what TVs are “ultimately about,” it’s going to be a bloodbath. Will it be Apple? I don’t know. But it sure as hell doesn’t look like it’s going to be Samsung.
To be fair, the AV product manager (his name is Chris Moseley) isn’t paid to have a lateral point of view. But his orders do come from on high, and if they say they want twice the contrast ratio of the competition and that’s what they’re selling on, well by god that’s what the AV product manager will arrange. And that’s what on high has been ordering since the TV was invented: make it look better. That’s starting to change a bit now, as we saw at CES, but it’s going to take a while to turn this ship around. The experimental stuff they’re showing off is going to be years behind anything put out by a big, UX-heavy company like Apple or a smaller, more agile one like Boxee.
Not that there’s anything wrong with a good picture. But LCD-based TVs, which will probably remain the standard for at least five or ten more years, are kind of peaking right now. You can buy a TV for under five hundred bucks that’s 90% as good as the five-thousand-dollar one. And furthermore, it’s already ten times better than what you could get for the same price a few years ago.
And add to this the fact that many people don’t understand, recognize, or even care about the difference between 720p and 1080p, to say nothing of 4K or HDR or local dimming or what have you. Moseley teases Apple, saying “they don’t have 10,000 people in R&D in the vision category.” And what have those 10,000 researchers, and their counterparts at Sharp and Toshiba and the rest, done for them lately? TV sales are down, nobody cares about 3D, and everybody wonders why it’s so hard to get content for their big screen.
People are curious about Roku and Boxee Box. Netflix Streaming has reinvented home movies. And the big TV companies are, contrary to Mosely’s suggestion, realizing that the way you interact with the content is becoming as important as the content itself.
And it’s here that Apple (and Google, and Netflix, and Hulu) have a leg up on Samsung. Sure, Samsung has 10,000 researchers putting together slightly better TVs every year. But TVs aren’t ultimately about picture quality, they’re about what that great picture quality is showing. The other guys have been working on that piece for years.
Picture quality is going to take a much-needed break while more important things take its place among the yearly updates and spec points. And as long as Samsung is of the opinion that how things look is the only metric worth considering, they’re going to be paying someone else for those new features.