When Chinese smartphone maker Xiaomi entered the Indian market, few thought the brand would go from zero to No.1 in a matter of four years, leaving biggies such as Samsung, LG and Micromax in the dust.
So total has been the disruption that even today, Samsung has still not been able to come up with a strategy to compete with the Chinese low-cost device maker.
And at 2 PM, the pain will increase for Samsung and other TV makers such as Sony and LG.
At 2 PM today, Xiaomi will enter the second biggest market in consumer electronics — televisions — having more or less conquered the biggest — mobile phones. At that hour, it will kick off the first sale of its MiTV televisions in India.
And by the looks of it, it could do a repeat of the mobile phone market in TV, despite some key limitations imposed on its TVs.
The MiTV 4 is everything you want in a high-end television (except support for apps), at a price that is about half of what major brands in India charge.
Today, high-end consumers look for four major features in their TVs — a size of at least 55 inches, 4K resolution, great picture quality and smart TV features with support for third-party apps like Youtube and Netflix.
The first two are in the box — the MiTV 4 comes with a 55-inch, 4K panel.
The third — picture quality — is where most low-cost providers cut corners. Panels come in all kinds of qualities. There’s the A-grade panel, the B-grade panel and so on, and these have significant price differentials.
As a result, it is possible for a manufacturer to offer two 55-inch models that look exactly the same on paper, but still have a difference of Rs 40,000 or more due to the quality of the panel used in them.
So, what do we know about the panel used in the MiTV 4? Sadly, not much. While Xiaomi is usually very forthcoming with the exact, minute technical details of all their components, there’s very little information on the kind of panel used in the MiTV 4.
In other words, the jury is still out on this one, and if you want to be sure, your only option is to wait for consumer reviews to pour in from the first wave of users.
.. THE APPS
Finally, there’s also the question of app support — the key benefit of having smart TVs.
Typically, smart TV’s come with the Android operating system, which means that you can install any of the apps that are available on Google’s Play Store on your TV just like you do on a smartphone.
In fact, there are many apps, such as Youtube, that have a different version on the Play Store itself that is designed for use on a large TV screen.
In such cases, the TV remote works as the ‘mouse’ or pointer.
In case of MiTV, we are again in ambiguous territory, but it looks like Xiaomi decides which app goes in and which app stays out.
In other words, you cannot install just any app that you want out of the Play Store on the MiTV. You can only install the apps that Xiaomi has commercial agreements with.
These apps are Hotstar, Voot, Sony Liv, Sun Nxt, Zee5, Hungama Play, ALT Balaji, Viu, TVF Play and Flickstree.
In other words, you are not getting a full smart TV, but a semi-smart TV, in which only a few apps decided by the manufacturer can be installed. This is different from Xiaomi’s smartphones, where you can install all apps whether or not they have a deal with the company or not.
Xiaomi does not allow all apps on to its TV because it requires the appmakers to enter into certain business agreements with it. While TV makers like Samsung and LG make their profit from the sale of the device, Xiaomi makes its profit through such agreements.
This ‘walled garden’ approach on TV could be a deal-breaker for some as it omits some of the biggest names in the app world.
However, if the TV ticks all the other boxes — including picture quality — the problem of app support can be resolved by using devices like Amazon Fire TV 4k or Google Chromecast Ultra (the versions with 4K support). These devices come with support for major apps like Netflix, Amazon Prime and Youtube.
It should be noted that neither Chromecast Ultra nor Amazon Fire TV 4K are actually available in India as of now via official channels. If you buy the versions that are currently available, you will again be watching content at full-HD resolution only.
You can, however, get over the problem if you have a laptop or desktop which has an HDMI or DisplayPort output with 4K support.
Secondly, both the Fire TV 4K and Chromecast Ultra should both land up in India sometime this year.
Until then, you can either watch 4k content from Xiaomi-approved apps, connect the TV to your laptop or desktop or be happy watching content at full HD only. You can also try buying the Chromecast Ultra or Fire TV 4K from outside India as well.
You can also look at alternatives like TCL L55P2US, which costs Rs 9,000 more. However, there is some confusion about which all apps are supported on that model as well.