LG spent some time talking to analysts in Seoul this week, mostly re-iterating its CES TV lineup, but also talking about the progress generally of OLED, its chosen screen technology. Essentially it now has its small screen act together and is bringing a new plastic OLED plant online in Q3 for iPhone X sized screens, which will at least allow it to bid for such supply – in recent years Samsung has been dominant here.
LG said a bit more about the voice facility on its TV lineup, where it has native Natural Language Processing (NLP) onboard, which can interrogate anything in an EPG and match it, but when it draws a blank there, it can also work with Google Voice Assistant, through a fairly tight integration which means it can use the speech to text facility in is voice remotes to control other devices in the home. There is a facility to transfer speech commands to Alexa too through an API, in case you happen to be an Alexa household.
Native NLP is offered in 11 languages – English, French, German, Spanish, Italian, Brazilian Portuguese, Polish, Korean, Russian, and Turkish, which we think are the Google Assistant languages anyway. Alexa has far less.
The TVs on show demonstrated the flexibility of OLED from 55 inches (just $2,780) all the way up to 77 inch devices ($24,000) at the top end of the market and LG said it would ship 2.5 million OLED TVs this year, and that during 2017 it shipped just 1.6 million. LG insists on talking about its Alpha 9 processor and described it as an AI chip – primarily for its ability to understand some speech. It uses the brand ThinQ for its AI services.
There was a time when LG dominated in OLED for smart phones, pre-touch screen, but when it took the decision to base its TVs on OLED it lost its way in smaller OLED screens, which use a different manufacturing approach and now Samsung is dominant, partly because it has the Apple contract and partly because it uses its own screens in its phones – that’s 80% of the market right there.
In the end smart TVs were among the first to adopt voice control, and so we shouldn’t feel that it is pointless, but because it has no integration with the metadata platform of any underlying TV service, it is at a significant disadvantage over one that sits in the cloud with full access to enriched metadata – not just the EPG data. So the world will end up with homes that have a voice remote for their smart TV, which no-one will use, another for Google Assistant TV remote which works with the set top, and has tight metadata linkage, and the rest of the home will run off Amazon’s Alexa or some other system. And the device which will be least used will be the smart TV remote. But then again companies like LG seeded the market, so they are not going to give up.
The idea behind LG’s ThinQ is to work as smart home hubs to speak to other smart home products such air conditioners, smart lights, smart speakers and even the washing machine via Wi-Fi or Bluetooth, despite the fact that most in-home automation networks have been built around ZigBee and Z-Wave.
The new LG TVs are all 4k ready, and most are full UHD including Dolby Vision HDR10 (HDR) ready and HLG (hybrid log-gamma) and run at 120 frames a second.
The suggestion is that LG is spending more on small OLED screens, and this implies it must have some of the Apple business going forwards – even though it has not done Samsung much good, given the under ordering from that direction.
LG has just produced its least spectacular results in some time, and the capex on small scale OLED was taken by the market as good news.
Samsung also held a TV event this week, in the US focusing on its quantum dot light-emitting diode (QLED) which most commentators talk about as being backlit. This is not the case, as original Quantum dot systems were backlit, but the diode version is an advanced adaptation which is probably about as good as OLED in quality, with just as good contrasts all the way back to black.
Samsung which also featured UHD, Premium UHD and Ultra-Large Screen TVs including support for HDR, Dolby Atmos, voice control and something it calls ambient mode, where it can either offer information like traffic reports or the weather continuously or look like a huge picture screen with a favorite image in it or even mimic the pattern on the wall behind it. The Samsung range also features its intelligent assistant Bixby.