Originally, this month’s column was going to focus on a merger between two hugely successful companies in the TV business. Last year, multihyphenate, multinational Chinese conglomerate LeEco — or “China’s Netflix,” as it’s been called by some — set out to purchase the highly successful American television manufacturer Vizio for $2 billion. Like many in the industry (e.g. Sharp, Toshiba, and Sony), Vizio had been struggling a bit, falling second in North American market share between Samsung at #1 and LG at #3 in 2015. And while LeEco does quite well in Asia, breaking into the American market and achieving anything more than a negligible market share is a challenge, so the deal made sense for both parties.
I was all set to tell you about what that merger meant for you and those relatively high quality, inexpensive (in some cases) Vizio purchases, and what LeEco was going to bring to the market. Unfortunately, the deal fell through right before I set out to pen this month’s column. So, what happens now?
LeEco was one of China’s earliest online video challengers to that country’s traditional broadcast TV market. It sold high quality smart TVs to consumers almost at cost, sometimes at a loss, in exchange for locking them into long-term contracts for its online video services. It’s a tactic that has worked well for other companies, like Amazon, who offers at-cost or at-a-loss hardware because it pushes goods and services sales — Fire Tablet and Alexa, we’re looking at you. Vizio’s footprint in the American market would’ve given LeEco great access to the American consumer, but it now faces a tougher road. LeEco’s GM of Product Marketing, Kenny Mathers, said, “Due to regulatory headwinds, we will not be proceeding with the VIZIO acquisition as originally planned. Alternatively, LeEco and VIZIO agreed to engage in a collaborative partnership, incorporating LeEco’s content within VIZIO’s platform.” What does that mean in consumer speak? Software and content.
“As a result of the new agreement, LeEco and VIZIO will partner on the distribution of the Le app and content on VIZIO connected devices, such as VIZIO smart televisions and displays,” said Mathers. Remember that “China’s Netflix” comment? LeEco hopes to gain American mindshare by putting themselves in front of you through their content portal. You’ll see their app and services on some VIZIO smart TVs via LeEco’s ecosystem user interface, or EUI, in the future.
That isn’t all that’s on offer, though. Currently you can pick up a LeEco TV through Amazon, Fry’s, and the Home Shopping Network, and Mathers told me that you’ll see them expanding in the very near future. If you’d like to get a look at a set before buying, you can head into select Best Buy stores, with availability expanding to additional locations over the course of the next few months. Fry’s will also begin selling their Super4 X65 ecotv in stores and online in the coming weeks. Seeing as how the Chinese vendor is basically being left to their own devices to make this happen, how do their own devices look? If you haven’t had the chance to check out a LeEco set yet, keep reading; I requested a review unit of that Super4 X65 to see for myself what they have in store.
Just under the uMAX85, their 75-inch behemoth, is the 65-inch Super4 X65 smart TV. The Super4 is an edge-lit LED with HDR10 support and Harmon Kardon sound. It has the usual cast of ports, but where many units on the market may come with four HDMI ports, the X65 has three. In addition to those, you also get two USB 3.0, one USB 2.0, one 3.5MM audio port, an RF input, A/V (composite) inputs, a VGA input, an SPDIF (optical) output, and an ethernet port.
The Super4 is a good looking, almost bezel-less TV with a matte silver strip along the edges. It sits atop two silver legs at either end of the display and is quite thin. All of the previously mentioned ports are located near the bottom rear of the unit except for one of the USB 3.0 ports, which is found at the top on the rear of the TV. If this is going to be your main living room TV, one thing you may want to consider is a video switcher, because the X65 only has three HDMI ports, and if you have your cable box, a streaming device (like Roku or Apple TV), and a game console or two plugged in, those HDMI ports are all going to be occupied.
There are no hardware buttons on the smart TV, so it’s all about the remote. The Super4’s remote is a simple affair, made primarily for interacting with the TV through menu selections in its Android TV interface. There’s a dedicated Netflix button at the top of the remote, while the center prominently features a directional pad for navigating the interface. There’s also a dedicated microphone button (and a mic) for accessing content via voice search as well. Along with those, you get standard controls and the Android back, home, and menu buttons. There’s also a dedicated Le button below all the others, which presents some interesting content choices, but we’ll get to that in a bit.
Picture quality on the Super4 X65 is superb, but not without one flaw. Since it’s an edge-lit LED, you’re going to have some potential clouding or blurring around the edges, and the contrast ratios, aka the black levels, aren’t going to be as deep as some other sets. That said, the upside to this set more than compensates for that. Even without the HDR10 feature active, the Super4 X65 has some of the best color reproduction on a 4K UHD display that I’ve seen at this price point. Colors are rich but not oversaturated, vibrant without looking artificial, and the whole affair is quite bright, adding to the brilliant color reproduction.
HDR10 is something to take into serious consideration when looking at a TV like the X65. Out of the technologies currently available, HDR (High Dynamic Range) and the Quantum Dots tech found on some of LeEco’s competitors are the two most compelling. LeEco’s TV supports HDR10, one of two HDR technologies alongside Dolby’s Dolby Vision, and right now, the majority of content available is going to support HDR10, though more is becoming available for Dolby Vision.
Keep in mind that having an HDR-compatible TV is only half of the battle; you’ll also need content actually produced in HDR. For example, watching Daredevil Season 2 on Netflix in my living room is a much different affair than when I watched it on the X65 in HDR. Normally, the ninja lose detail and are difficult to see in darker shots. With HDR, the dark scenes still have plenty of detail in the shadows, and the red highlights of the Hand ninja really pop, even as they disappear into the shadows.
Speaking of streaming content, that dedicated Le button at the bottom of the remote gives you access to approximately 23 channels of LeEco Pass content, most of which offer a 7-day free trial and will cost you under $5 a month to subscribe to. Being that LeEco is an Asian company, there are some content partnerships you may not see as frequently from stateside vendors. For example, one of my favorite martial arts competitions, the K1, is sometimes hard to find, but LeEco has a Warriors & Gangsters channel with quite a bit of fight sport content on it — not just the fights, either, but also interviews and more.
Looking through Amazon’s reviews of the X65, there have been some issues with the 5 gHz wifi connections and other bugs, but they are all software issues which can be fixed with firmware updates from LeEco. It should be noted that they’ve already put out a firmware update, which I installed at the time of this writing, so it remains to be seen if it will resolve some of the intermittent wifi issues I’ve experienced myself. None of them is what I would consider a deal breaker, though.
If you’ve been in the market for a large 4K TV, this is definitely one that should top your short list. There are TVs with stronger pictures in the 65-inch range, but they will cost you upwards of a thousand dollars or more. That said, nothing beats going into a brick and mortar and comparing your options, so find a Best Buy that has the X65 and look at it side-by-side with some of the other options. If possible, look at the same content on both and pay special attention to color reproduction, as I think this unit really has some of the best color available on the market at this price. To sweeten the pot, right now LeEco is giving you three months free access to DirecTV NOW when you purchase.
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