High Design Emerges as TV's Next Big Thing: 'It's Literally a Piece of Art'

Television Sets Are Getting Bigger, So They Need to Look Better

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Samsung's Serif was created to 'make the design stronger than the technology itself.'
Samsung's Serif was created to 'make the design stronger than the technology itself.' Credit: Samsung

After years of pushing gimmicks like 3-D and curved screens, consumer electronics marketers may be turning to a hot new feature to move TV sets: high design.

It's perhaps the inevitable result of the ongoing march toward larger TVs. After a long reign by 32-inch sets, TVs sold today have an average screen size of 42 inches, up from 37 inches four years ago, according to NPD Group. But as displays get bigger, so does the space they consume in someone's home, which has inadvertently led to a design renaissance among major electronics manufacturers.

"TVs are going to need to look better if they're going to take up so much space," said Stephen Baker, VP of industry analysis at NPD Group. "What we are seeing in the TV market is clearly a bigger and bigger focus on bigger and bigger screens. It's now become more about how a TV is going to fit into someone's home."

Major brands like LG are also banking on design to help sell its high-end, high-priced Signature OLED display. The OLED panel, which retails for about $7,000 and is widely regarded as having the best picture available in the market, appeared earlier this year in LG's first Super Bowl spot, created by Ridley Scott and his son Jake. Its "picture on glass" display measures 2.57 millimeters wide, about as thick as four credit cards stacked together, making it the thinnest display on the market.

Besides the set's technological achievement, LG says its sophisticated design also renders the TV as wall decor. "It's literally a piece of art. It's almost as if it is a sculpture," said David VanderWaal, VP of marketing for LG USA. "What you are going to see is TV is going to play a role in interior design and not just be something to watch content on."

Samsung recently began selling in overseas markets its Serif TV, a high-end display that Paris-based designers Ronan and Erwan Bouroullec created and promoted. The set, named for the small lines at the ends of letters in serif type, has a thick frame and a woven fabric panel on the back to hide unsightly connections. Asked whether and when the set will go on sale in the U.S., a spokesman did not reply by deadline.

"One of the challenges was to make the design stronger than the technology itself," Mr. Bouroullec said in an announcement. "The key value is that Serif sits naturally into any environment, in any place."

Among set-makers' earlier tactics, the curved displays, which marketers argue provide more immersive viewing, have seen some success but are far from mainstream. Among sets with screens 50 inches and larger, a cohort that encompasses 95% of curved-screen models, curved TVs represented just 6% of sales in February, up from 3% a year earlier, NPD said.

As for 3-D, six years after it got major hype at the 2010 Consumer Electronics Show, some major marketers are shoveling dirt on the feature. Only 6% of sets sold in 2015 offered 3-D viewing, down from 18% in 2011, according to NPD. Samsung and Philips have dropped 3-D altogether from their 2016 lineups.

Going forward, the rise of web-enabled TVs will also mean features pitched as benefits to advertisers as much as consumers (if not much more so). Unless owners of Vizio smart TVs opt out, the company's Inscape system will track what they watch on the set itself, as well as on other devices using the same internet connection.

"We're able to see a much more accurate view of what consumers are actually watching," said Matt McRae, chief technology officer at Vizio. "There is a lot of growth and potential in this area, with the goal of delivering more personalized content for consumers and helping advertisers more efficiently reach consumers who may be more likely to engage or respond."

"The data is anonymous and aggregated," he added. "Its scale, accuracy and ability to produce real-time results is unprecedented."

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