This week, we took a closer look at Sharp’s new 70-inch 4K TV. For us, the big thing here was the inclusion of Android TV as a baked in option. We’ve had the TV for a few weeks now and it has proved to be an interesting experience. Especially when coming from standalone devices. Since Android TV launched, the platform, in standalone form, has been constantly evolving. Arrivals like the SHIELD and Forge TV bring new angles to the platform and show firstly, how it is expanding and secondly, how diverse it can be. Built-in Android TV, on the surface seems to be the ideal solution, doing away with additional boxes, cables and the likes. However, maybe it is a little too earlier for built-in Android TV. As the indications so far, is that the system is far more limited than you might expect.
Firstly, from what we have seen, the experience is too close to stock Android. While this is what a lot of people might prefer for their smartphone, we are not talking about carrier or manufacturer bloatware. We are talking about features on an entertainment system. Imagine a PS4 that does not come with all Sony’s add-on services or an Xbox without Microsoft’s. It would just be a limited experience and this is exactly what built-in Android TV currently seems to be. A standalone product forces manufacturers to differentiate themselves from each other while the built-in options are sold as an extra feature, not the end purpose and this impacts on how much time and investment they spend on making the experience as good as they can. For instance, on the stock version of Android TV, the Bluetooth is limited, does not allow for connection of Bluetooth headphones or speakers. Therefore, so does stock built-in Android TV.
Then there is the issue of updates. In truth, how much of a priority will updating Android be for a TV manufacturer on a TV? We all know how painfully complex it is to update an Android device that has been skinned by a manufacturer and while ‘close to stock’ normally means faster updates (as there is little to re-code or repackage), it would be a safe bet that the likes of NVIDIA and Razer will be looking to upgrade their purpose-built Android TV devices quicker than Sharp or Sony might for a TV running Android TV. The difference is the importance of the product. To NVIDIA and Razer, on the SHIELD and Forge TV, Android TV, as the OS is everything. To Sharp, Sony and presumably the incoming options from TCL and Hisense, they are merely an add-on.
Which brings us to the next point. Integration. From what we have seen over the last couple of weeks, Android TV is simply not integrated enough when built-in. Again, on a standalone device, Android TV is the sole base system. It couldn’t be more integrated. For TV’s though, they seem to be coming as a purely additional features. Ones which reside somewhere within the system, not the actual system. This means from the end user perspective, Android TV built-in acts essentially in the same way as an attached standalone product, but without all the additional features.
When VHS/TV and DVD/TV combo units were first released, there was this unwritten rule that you should always opt for separate units. Separation allows for better quality individual aspects and is also easier to fix when something goes wrong (which they always inevitably do). DVD player breaks or the laser stops reading discs, with the combos, it just became dead weight. It was often cheaper (and easier) to just plug a separate DVD or VHS player into your TV than getting the TV combo fixed. This was a sentiment which was again echoed when the first built-in digital tuner TV’s started to come though. Buy a TV with a digital tuner built-in and once the software corrodes and stops responding, it is no longer useful. Much easier to buy a dedicated tuner and jack in to the TV. Separation is plug and play and by the same token, is unplug and replace. Built-in options never have been the choice of ‘those in the know’ and unfortunately, it is now starting to seem this might be the case for built-in Android TV too. Although, it is convenient, if you are after the best (or even a decent version) of what the platform can do, standalone, like an old VHS player, is currently the way to go.