Upgradeable TV: Brilliant or Crazy?

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, {complink 4750|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?

21 comments on “Upgradeable TV: Brilliant or Crazy?

  1. EBNBlogger
    January 8, 2013

    Yes, upgrade. Why throw out the baby with the bath water.

    The new technology that is coming will necessarily be upgradable, printable circuits, wireless chip interfaces.

    Here is the future: There is no circuit board, no solder, or lead. There are hermetic sealed modules, manufactured everywhere, that snap into the cabinet. The modules have two contacts for DC power. The enclosure in the cabinet is shielded against outside signals. The modules communicate with each other via a wireless link, laser or radio. This is necessary as wire is too slow for our advancing high speeds. Each module has the necessary external connectors or interfaces to connect with peripherals. The modules can also be re-programmed.

    If a module needs to be upgraded or fails, snap open the cabinet, remove it, pop in a new one, snap cabinet closed. Job done.

    Since there is no circuit board to flex or break, reliability is increased.

    Recycling is also easy, snap open the cabinet, remove the modules, put them in a bucket, Pop the metal components out of the plastic cabinet, put in a bucket, the plastic goes in another bucket.

    The modules get re-purposed, if too slow for a TV, then is goes into an appliance like a toaster, fridge, or furnace controller.

    It is not about the technology, it is what you do with it.

  2. _hm
    January 8, 2013

    Did Samsung talked about cost? I will doubt they will offer good price.

    Do Samsung offer good price for spares and accessories? No. This can be considered part of upgrade.

    How much does USB key to make TV wireless cost?

    Unless price is very low, this concept may not fly.




  3. t.alex
    January 8, 2013

    What are the stuff that can be upgraded? Is it just the software inside the box? How about the TV display quality and other hardware related?

  4. Daniel
    January 9, 2013

    Barbara, upgradable TV is a good option provided technology or updation is happening only in software side. If the updations are happening in hardware parts like monitor/screen, sound system etc, then it cannot be addressed by such evolution kits. A mere replacement is the only possibility.

  5. Ariella
    January 9, 2013

    @EBNblogger How soon do you think such a set up will become available? As for me, I'm always for making things last rather than just throwing them out when a new model comes along.

  6. EBNBlogger
    January 9, 2013

    Well, unfortunately not until it is the only option left.

    Stupid? Yes. If we would work now on what we will eventually have anyway, it will be so much less painful.

    This is not a new scenario. In the past, almost all equipment was upgradable and repairable. It was so because the cost of the equipment was so high and scarce that anything else was unthinkable.

    We will get to that type of situation again eventually when resources are scarce.

    It is just a matter of time.

    But, until then, we will continue to create a mountain of garbage out of a river of oil.

    But, maybe, just maybe, someone with adequate finances and a heart will see this post and do something about it.

    I doubt it, the likehood of someone having money and a heart are as like as frost at the equater in July.

    Negative view? Yes. As long as money trumphs morals, very negative.




  7. Barbara Jorgensen
    January 9, 2013

    I agree 100% in buying things that last, even if they are not the latest version. I wish I could afford to replace my phone, TV, fridge, computer  etc.  every time something catches my fancy…then again, even if I could afford it, I'm not sure I would. The stuff I have now is better than the stuff I had a few years ago and better yet, I already know how it works. Incremental upgrades are not engough incentive, for me, at least, to junk electronics that still work well

  8. Clairvoyant
    January 9, 2013

    I think upgradable TV is a great idea. It can be lower cost to the consumer, and reduce waste.

  9. t.alex
    January 9, 2013

    Yeh, think about handphone. Would you want to upgrade your iphone 3G to newer software or would you want to buy the latest model? 

  10. Adeniji Kayode
    January 10, 2013

    One of the benefits of upgradable TV should be lower cost because the consumer is willing to retain his choice electronic and so the manufacturer should be willing to reward them.

  11. Adeniji Kayode
    January 10, 2013

    I will not not actually say it will reduce the e-waste but “postpone it” because owners of upgradeable TV will eventually dispose it.

  12. Barbara Jorgensen
    January 10, 2013

    Another good point. Think of all the loyalty programs that could be developed by a manufacturer and even a content provider. This could really lead to a new business model. But as long as the end game is to sell as many units as possible–common to all consumer goods–there seems to be a downside for hardware suppliers/componetn makers.

  13. Cryptoman
    January 10, 2013

    İ think t.alex has hit the nail on the head. Upgrading mentioned here is exclusively a software based process. A TV has more to it other than just clever software. The prime quality factor in a TV is the screen, which is hardware. Today we are chasing LED or OLED TVs. Can anybody guarantee that tomorrow a manufacturer will not come up with a better screen hardware? This cannot be warranted at all as it is fundamentally against the technological evolution that is never ending by definition. Therefore, upgradable TV is a good marketing strategy for a company but it definitely will have a short shelf life in my opinion.

  14. prabhakar_deosthali
    January 11, 2013

    In my opinion, upgradable TV is a good idea but may not be a practical idea.  A TV is is 90% hardware and may be 10 % software , and in today's world the hardware is becoming obsolete faster than the software.  Just see how LCD technology is getting replaced by LED technology in just a couple of years.


    In this scenario, I would prefer something like TVs given free by the service providers on a fixed service contract . This is like what is done for phones today.

    At the end of the service contract the service provider will replace your TV by the latest model and a new service contract would be signed. The service provider will take care of the recycling of the old product.

    I foresee such scenario happening soon.

  15. Adeniji Kayode
    January 11, 2013



    I got your idea. Electronics will continue to change and evolve each year with certain changes in functions and features from previous year model. Now, will I be using a new or upgraded software while the hardware remain the same and for how many years will the same hardware be upgradeable with the latest software.

  16. Adeniji Kayode
    January 11, 2013

    I really buy into your idea. That will also help to control e-waste to an extent.

    No technolgy has really come to stay for ever, its keeps changing from time to time.

  17. t.alex
    January 13, 2013

    Yep, if upgradeable TV introduces some new concepts such as upgradeable hardware, that would be cool. 

  18. Anand
    January 14, 2013

    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

    @Barbara, thanks for the post. Upgradeable TV is a very interesting concept but what if the end user wants to upgrade from LCD to LED ? Is this possible to do hardware upgrade also ?

  19. Anand
    January 14, 2013

    A TV is is 90% hardware and may be 10 % software , and in today's world the hardware is becoming obsolete faster than the software.

    @prabhakar_deosthali, I totally agree with you. I think one possible solution for this problem is to modularise the hardware so that even if we want to upgrade the hardware then we can remove certain part of the hardware and replace it with new upgrded hardware.

  20. Adeniji Kayode
    January 14, 2013

    @anandvy, My concern is still on the hardware, will this be upgradeable easily just like the software? Moreover, is the upgrade going to be done by the consumer or will have to carry the tv to a workshop or something.

  21. t.alex
    January 16, 2013

    With the on-going trend of TV getting slimmer and bigger, for hardware upgrading, the only choice is upgrading the whole TV set. That is like you bring your whole set to the shop and change to a new modal (at a cost?). 

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