SAN FRANCISCO—OnePlus thinks it can change the way smart TVs work. So it’s making one.
The company’s new smart 4K LED TV, coming next year, is the first product of its kind from the growing smartphone maker. We sat down with OnePlus founder and CEO Pete Lau for an exclusive interview, where he went into depth about what he wants to change on the TV scene.
“I’ve been thinking for more than a year about entering the smart home industry,” Lau said in Chinese through a translator. (All quotes in this story will be from the translator.) “It’s not only to make a TV; we want to explore what OnePlus can do in the smart home industry.”
Lau is best known now as the head of a cell phone company, but he has a home electronics and video background. Before OnePlus, he ran the DVD player division at Oppo. Oppo’s DVD players were widely considered to be gorgeous, high-performing, expensive pieces of kit; we rated one of them 4.5 stars in 2012. Now, he’s staffing up a new division to start developing his TV.
Talk Back to the TV
The goal is to use the TV as a “clean, efficient, and smart” hub for your smart home, he said. That means combining a smart TV platform that focuses on entertainment with something more like a smart speaker or smart display, which answers questions and controls other devices. It’s the TV not as a target, but as a source.
OnePlus won’t share its OS partner yet, but it’s a big, mainstream provider. OnePlus is not rolling out its own platform; its TVs will fit into existing ecosystems.
“The TV doesn’t have to be a TV that plays films or TV shows or series. It can be a home automation hub to control your home’s climate and entertainment system, or the window for you to communicate with the world,” he said.
The vision he described involved a TV with far-field microphones that could answer questions from anywhere in the house and works more as a virtual assistant than as an entertainment center.
“In my mobile phone, I have my calendar agenda. When I get up in the morning, the agenda will pop up in the TV with the local time, weather, temperature, my hotel information, and recommendations for how to dress,” he said.
It’ll also connect well to smartphones, according to internal OnePlus documents.
“Something that seems as simple as displaying the photos from your mobile phone to a television is still difficult to achieve,” Lau said in a press release.
The TV will also get updates, Lau said. That’s definitely one way the smart TV industry could change. Samsung, for instance, drops support and updates for many of its smart TVs after two years, leaving apps orphaned and often failing. Working with a mainstream platform, rather than creating a proprietary platform, will help, Lau said.
“That’s our opportunity: we must make sure we can have the updates, and make people feel we are keeping updated,” Lau said.
This Is Just the Beginning
This doesn’t mean the TV’s features are entirely set. Like it’s doing with its smartphones, OnePlus will take suggestions from its community on what features to include, something I don’t believe any other TV manufacturer is doing.
OnePlus doesn’t make LCDs, so it will purchase the panels from a third party, but the company will develop its own image processing chipsets and algorithms, Lau said. “We have to achieve the best, so we positioned Sony’s image quality as our benchmark,” Lau said.
So why not a set-top box? Lau reminded me of the “HDMI 1” problem. Basically, that people are much more likely to use the default interface on their TVs. “We want a seamless user experience,” he said. “People don’t want two things. The mission for us is to combine the two things.”
Pricing, of course, is still up in the air. The OnePlus TV will be “premium,” but Lau said OnePlus is willing to take a haircut on its profit margin to start building a user base.
Lau rebuffed questions about hard delivery dates for the new TV, as well as where it will be first released. Although, as he pointed out, smart TV markets in India and China are growing fast and he was talking to me in the US.
We’ll find out more about the new TV early next year, Lau said.