NEW YORK – Chinese TV manufacturer Seiki, a company of TongFang Global, set the Ultra High- Definition TV market on its ear last week by unveiling a Seiki-branded 50-inch 4K TV set at a threshold- setting $1,500 suggested retail ($1,299 street retail).
The model, based on a cutting-edge high-resolution screen, undercut even many competitive FullHD 1080 sets in the same size class, and may force the industry to dramatically move up its pricing timetables for the new technology segment.
Seiki executives told TWICE they were able to get to such a low price point so quickly by manufacturing their own sets and maintaining a close working relationship with China-based 4K LCD panel maker, Chi Mei, to acquire the open cell, to which Tong- Fang supplies LED backlighting, plastic-injected bezels and other circuitry.
Seiki said it closely monitored U.S. consumer buying trends to generate the right value in its products. This led to a decision to strip out any unnecessary bells and whistles – like smart-TV functionality or 3D capability – which have contributed to the high price tags on competitors’ sets.
Seiki called its target audience “smart savvy buyers,” which it defined as consumers who do their research, know what they want to buy, and are “fundamentalists” about the products they select. That means they aren’t interested in specs that aren’t important to them or functionality that is over complicated and non-essential.
To offer added reassurance, Seiki implemented “an industry-first one-year, no-nonsense, replacement warranty” using U.S.-based technical support teams.
For the past three years, the TongFang has marketed consumer electronics lines in the U.S. under the Element and Seiki (pronounced Say-KEE) brands. Seiki currently offer a range of Full HD LCD TV models, in the 19-80- inch screen sizes, sound bars and Bluetooth electronics. Key retail partners include: Amazon, Walmart, Sears, QVC, Tiger Direct and others.
In addition to manufacturing sets for its own Seiki TongFang produces sets for another brand it controls – Element – as well as for OEM customers including Westinghouse Digital, among others.
Frank Kendzora, TongFang Global/Seiki executive VP and a 20-year veteran of Pioneer Electronics, explained, “Within the last several months we’ve set up our branded sales force and everything to support the brand 100 percent from the U.S.”
With U.S. operations based in Diamond Bar, Calif., Seiki handles retail customers both directly and through distribution partners, including Expert Warehouse, HES, Almo, New Age and Stampede.
“Sears and Kmart aren’t onboard with this product [the 4K Ultra HD TV] yet, but we have Amazon, QVC, Tiger- Direct, hhgregg, Star Power and a lot of independent HES dealers,” said Kendzora.
Through his experience at Pioneer, Kendzora said he expects the adoption of 4K to follow a pattern similar to that seen with the launch of high definition.
“We all know everything is content driven,” said Kendzora. “Back before anyone knew what HD was, people in the market for TVs opted for SD, feeling they didn’t need it. There wasn’t any content yet, and a year or so later the Super Bowl and top television programs started coming out in HD, and people wished they had future-proofed their original purchases. We expect that to carryover here.”
Meanwhile, Kendzora explained sales trends have shown a general apathy among many consumers toward integrating features like smart-TV and 3D functionality into the set.
He said Seiki allows purchasers to add smart-TV functionality themselves after the sale by linking their smartphones and tablets to the set’s MHL-compliant HDMI input or via a wireless Miracast connection.
Users can call up the streaming services on their phones and literally flick the images to the TV screen with a swipe of their finger across the handheld screen for playback on the TV. Users also have the option of adding smart functionality by hooking up inexpensive Blu-ray Disc players, game consoles and streaming set-top devices, like Roku’s Streaming Stick.
Meanwhile, at $1,500, the Seiki SE50UY04 Ultra HD set beats Westinghouse Digital’s previously announced low price point for a 50-inch Ultra HD model by $1,000. That product has yet to ship.
It’s also a far cry from the $18,000 and $25,000 price tags on LG’s and Sony’s 84-inch Ultra HD sets, respectively.
Seiki said the set is slated to ship to retailers in late April, and will be followed in a few months by a 65-inch 4K model and a 55-inch version after that. Pricing and exact timing on those models is still to be determined.