In yesterday’s post, I griped about the difficulty some consumers have when trying to recycle old electronics goods. During this week’s highly-covered Consumer Electronics Show, Samsung Corp. revealed an idea that would go a long way toward cutting back e-waste. But it could also cut back sales opportunities for the supply chain.
The idea, as described by The New York Times, is upgradeable TV. Instead of buying a new TV every 6.7 years (Samsung’s estimate), consumers would buy a small box (the Evolution Kit) attached to the set and accompanying software. Every year, the content and performance of the set would be improved.
In spite of anticipated record earnings for 2012's fourth quarter, Samsung feels it doesn’t sell enough TVs. Consumers haven’t bought into some of the gimmicks manufacturers are using to sell more sets, such as 3D TV. This year at CES, manufacturers are super-sizing their sets, offering better resolution and even OLED technology, but will these spur another round of massive TV investment?
Probably not anytime soon. TVs were a huge seller during the holiday season because frankly, HDTVs are dirt cheap. Thirty two-inch sets were selling for something like $139 if you were willing to go shopping on Thanksgiving Day. They’ve gotten cheap enough that the average US consumer can have a set in every room, and I know several families that do.
So what is it going to take to replace all these sets? Something along the lines of HDTV. I remember writing about how HDTV would revolutionize the industry back in the mid-1990s -- Panasonic was showing them at CES around that time. It wasn’t until 2000 or so that consumers began buying HDTVs in volume, in part because of price and in part because of content. There wasn’t a lot of HD programming around in the mid-1990s.
I don’t think Internet TV is going to change the game, either. Sure, it will be nice to not hook up the PC to the TV for Internet programming, but it’s not such an inconvenience either. I have a 42-inch HDTV that’s six years old, and even though its resolution is nowhere near today’s standards, it’s still a pretty good set. By Samsung’s estimates, though, I’m due for an upgrade.
If upgradeable TV takes off, Samsung would own a significant portion of that market. Samsung is the largest manufacturer of LCDs in the world, the technology still used in most TVs. It’s also investing heavily in LED, which I think will replace LCD more for its energy-savings than its resolution. LED and OLED TV is gorgeous, but still pretty pricey. Energy conservation, as well as recycling, is going to be a big part of consumers’ lives going forward. So it’s safe to assume a lot of people will eventually own LED or OLED TVs.
So Samsung would supply the TV, the upgradeable box, and the software for the device. It would pretty much have a lock on the hardware. It wouldn’t sell new TVs every year, but it will sell something. It’s an interesting idea.
On the other hand, Samsung could shut out the every-six-years' opportunity for any vendor that’s currently part of its supply TV chain. Its Galaxy Note carries parts from Intel, Murata, Atmel, Skyworks, Winbond, Maxim, Silicon Image, Doestek, and Wolfson. (I haven’t seen a TV teardown analysis in a while). Presumably, upgradeable TVs will need a whole technology inside to manage the upgrades each year. Getting designed-in once might not be enough.
Do you think upgradeable TV is likely to catch on? If so, is it good news or bad for the supply chain?