Anyone could have guessed that this was going to happen, eventually, but not so soon. A lower-tier TV company has swooped in on the 4K wind with a paradigm-disrupting price for an Ultra HD TV.
The TV in question is by Seiki, The price—$1,500.
Related: Sony Introduced $4,999 Ultra HDTV
Well, maybe it’s not that disruptive after all. Anyone remember back to 2002 when Gateway and then Sampo and others starting selling 42-inch 480p plasma TVs for $3,000? At that time the major TV companies were selling their 42-inch plasma TVs for $5K and up. Gateway’s terrible TV pushed other makers to drop the prices of their better TVs, and there began the steady decline of TV prices, which has been good, in some ways, for consumers and in many ways not.
For one thing, the price race to the bottom has led to the current situation where dealers make almost no money on even high-priced TVs, are forced to compete with no-service internet sellers and then eventually go out of business. And that’s why there are less TV makers and retailers now than then. Remember Fujitsu, RCA, Philips, Pioneer (TVs)… they all made very good, innovative, TVs around that time, but price erosion and competition from inexpensive manufacturers contributed to their ends.
Of course, that’s not Seiki’s problem, and this TV isn’t necessarily going to undercut the rest of the 4K TV market (heck, there are lots of really cheap 1080p TVs out there, but Samsung still manages to sell premium TVs). In fact Seiki is a very large TV maker—possibly one of the biggest, and I’m more interested in thinking about what you get for $1,500 in a 4K TV.
This Seiki is listed on Tiger Direct as sporting a 3840 x 2160 resolution, but we know that resolution isn’t everything. There’s little additional info on the product. We don’t know if the LED’s are edge or back mounted, or connectivity beyond the basics. It has 3 HDMI inputs—which is not terrible. You get a 120Hz refresh rate, which today is 2009 technology and a 6.5 ms response time, which is also slow. There are no smart TV or online features, and video processing can be assumed to be barely basic. Local dimming, calibration controls, a smartphone app? I wouldn’t bet on it.
While it may be impressive that the company can offer 4K resolution at this price, you can bet it’s still going to look like a bargain-brand TV, no matter how many pixels it has.
We’ve seen plenty of 720p TVs in the past that looked fantastic. That’s because screen resolution is only one factor in picture quality. Image processing is one of the more critical elements of a flat panel TV, and the best processing is usually found on only the premium TVs. Processing is even more important on a 4K TV because the set has to take all the lower-resolution info you send it and convert that to Ultra HD without making a disaster out of everything.
Both the LG and Sony 4K TVs currently on the market (see my reviews here and here) offer very good image processing, plus a basket of other picture-enhancement features you won’t find on bargain TVs.
And of course there’s the question of why anyone needs 8 million pixels in a 50-inch television anyway. Ultra HD is an impressive display technology, but it is best appreciated on a really big TV, which is why the first models on the market were more than 80-inches. Ultra HD on a 50-inch TV seems kind of useless. Pretty much the only benefit you’d get from 4K resolution in a 50-inch TV is the ability to watch full-1080p resolution 3D with passive polarized glassed. But this Seiki TV doesn’t appear to be a 3D model, which is one of the reasons it’s so cheap. You’d probably be better spending half that much on an entry-level plasma from Panasonic, Samsung or LG.
So ultimately I’d just like to caution people about getting excited over cheap prices. While in some ways this is a comparatively inexpensive product, it’s also an example of spending money on the wrong feature for little to no benefit.
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Grant Clauser has been covering home electronics for more than 10 years with editorial roles in several consumer and trade magazines. He's done ISF-level damage to hundreds of reviewed products and has had training from THX, the Home Acoustics Alliance, Control4 and Sencore. His latest book is Necessary Myths
. Follow him on Twitter @geclauser.