CES 19 TV Review: LG, Samsung and TCL Position TV as Central Smart Home Hub, Key To Smart Home Adoption
Thinner. Bigger. 8K UHD resolution. LG, Samsung and TCL all presented new television models with these improved specifications at their CES 2019 press conferences. But in addition to listing these new impressive specs, the three companies also conveyed a new message: the television as the new central smart home hub. Each company had a different way of positioning its smart television as the center of the connected home but the intent was clear: LG, TCL and Samsung all want to have their flagship smart televisions used as giant, multimodal smart speakers to further increase smart home adoption by consumers.
LG Cares About Loyalty to LG, Not Voice Assistants
LG announced at its press conference on Monday that all 2019 smart televisions will now also include Amazon Alexa and Apple AirPlay compatibility, in addition to Google Assistant. During the presentation, the company stressed that consumers should be able to choose their voice assistant based on their preference and not have to worry about losing content or functionality. LG’s ultimate goal is to have consumers create a connected smart home through LG products. It is telling that one of the first products to play nice with Google, Amazon and Apple is its new line of smart televisions. In choosing this tactic, the LG television stays neutral in the ongoing voice wars and can become the central hub for users to play their favorite programs, music and to control their smart home devices regardless of which voice assistant they prefer.
This was also made evident by the re-introduction of LG’s rollable Signature OLED TV R which enables consumers to hide the 65” screen in the TV’s speaker base when not in use. However, even rolled down partially or all the way, the smart control and voice assistant functions can still be accessed as the speaker base functions essentially a large smart speaker even without the screen revealed. It can also become a thin smart speaker with display in the middle position which only reveals a sliver of the big screen to display the menu applications.
Having a rollable television could have been enough of an “it” factor for consumers to purchase the OLED TV R, which will likely be one of the pricier televisions for its size when it comes to market this year. But the fact that LG enabled it to have not one, but two different ways to interact with the device without a screen shows the value LG is placing on voice control and to have the TV act as the central smart home hub for its products.
Samsung: Bixby Everything Including Entertainment
Samsung may not be delivering a rollable TV this year, but it is improving the overall intelligence of its smart TVs with Bixby 2.0. The company announced at its CES press conference that all 2019 Samsung Smart TVs will be fully integrated with Bixby, including new entertainment and screen display features. The Bixby entertainment assistant demoed was impressive. Samsung claims the assistant will learn consumer’s preferences based on their subscription services, favorite content and TV viewing habits. For instance, Bixby was asked “Hi Bixby, show me something similar to what I watched yesterday.” Then the voice assistant presented four options, even ranking the choices 1st, 2nd, 3rd and 4th based on compatibility. Samsung clearly sees an opportunity to position Bixby as a smart entertainment assistant to fuel adoption.
It also seems Samsung sees the value in having a screen to increase the adoption of Bixby as well. Samsung executives conceded during the press conference that there is increased value in having a screen to display voice search results. They asked Bixby to show the weather in Las Vegas for the week, which came up as a full display on the smart television instantly. They acknowledged that for some information, like listing the weather for a full week, voice can be a bit repetitive. Sometimes, a screen is necessary. Samsung is going all in on Bixby and one of its biggest improvements from last year is the entertainment voice control options. Clearly, Samsung sees the smart television and the multi-modal experience it can provide when paired with voice as a way to increase Bixby and smart home adoption among consumers.
TCL: The Smart TV Should Know the Consumer Best
Chris Larson, SVP North America, explained that as the number of TVs per household have declined over the years, it is essential that the main television in the household be more than just an entertainment display – it should also know the consumer’s preferences. At the company’s CES press conference on Monday, TCL demonstrated its new smart TV AI capabilities, similar to that of Samsung’s Bixby. When asked, “Hey TCL let’s watch the baseball game,” the TCL assistant will know the consumer’s favorite team, that they like to watch baseball games with the lights dimmed and know what channel to turn to.
In addition to improving its AI, TCL also took another step this week towards making the TV the main smart home hub for the consumer. The company announced that three of its 2019 Roku Smart TV models will have the option to be equipped with far-field microphones for enhanced voice control in the US market. The primary voice assistant in Roku Smart TVs is the Roku Entertainment Assistant which also works with any Google Assistant capable device. This could be just the beginning of TCL essentially turning its smart TVs into large smart home hubs that can control other TCL smart home products.
Same Initiative, Different Tactics
Each company had a different strategy to give consumers more voice control with their new line of smart TVs. But the end goal is the same: increase consumer adoption of voice control on one of the devices they use most. If more consumers select their brand of smart TV and use voice control, it could be implied that the consumer will be loyal to that brand for their entire smart home ecosystem. And for LG, Samsung and TCL, this is about more than just winning smart TV market share. It’s about winning the smart home market share.