In a move that could signal a shift in dominant streaming platforms, Chinese electronics company TCL has begun shipping 4K/Ultra HD-capable smart TVs based on the Android TV operating system to the U.S., adding to the sub-$200 MSRP HD Android TV sets that were introduced over the summer.
In September, TCL quietly introduced its 4-Series model sets, powered by Google’s streaming video operating system, in 50-, 55- and 75-inch configurations, priced at $349, $399 and $799 respectively, and available exclusively at Best Buy. A 43-inch 4K/UHD Android TV, priced at $199, has been introduced to Target shoppers, according to TCL’s website.
TCL is currently the second-biggest shipper of smart TVs to the U.S., controlling 14% of the market vs. 32% for leader Samsung, according to Statista figures released in September.
TCL has risen to that position based on popular, low-priced TVs powered by the Roku operating system. In June, the manufacturer began also shipping sets based on Android TV.
Until recently, those TCL Android TV sets were 3-Series iterations with HD resolution and fewer features (the more expensive 4K/UHD sets have three HDMI ports, for example). TCL’s 3-Series Android TV-powered HD options include a 32-inch, 720p set priced at only $130, and a 40-inch 1080p model priced at $200.
TCL hasn’t published any sales data on its Android TV product line. But Best Buy reviews of the more established 3-Series sets have been as enthusiastic as the positively received Roku models.
Google has had some success proliferating its Android TV OS into the homes of pay TV operator subscribers. And it has become a popular licensed OS for streaming device makers including Nvidia, TiVo and Dish Network’s AirTV.
But Google has ambitious goals of one day having its OS overtake Roku and Amazon Fire TV for dominance of connected TV homes, both in the U.S. and abroad.
Google is in the process of trying to rebrand Android TV. It’s now marketing a new Chromecast dongle based on the OS, and it calls the device’s operating software “Google TV.”
Over the next few years, as it refreshes the software powering everything from third-party dongles to smart TVs, it will also change the name of the OS from Android TV to Google TV.
But smart TV is front and center of Google’s strategy. Just as TCL used Roku’s popular operating environment to fuel its rise in the U.S., Roku has used the fast uptake of TCL smart TVs to get to a point at which it now touts 43 million active users.
Google is hoping TCL can do the same thing for its OS.
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