TV aesthetics in terms of panel thinness and bezel width may be improving, and the technology powering the display screens and Web connectivity continues to advance. However, consumers in Asia still view price as the most important consideration when deciding which TVs to buy.
Gerard Tan, account director for digital technology at GfK Asia, said hardware features that appeal to consumers currently revolve around aesthetic design, including panel thinness and bezel width. These features help the TV device be the centerpiece in their living rooms, he said.
A January GfK Asia report corroborated Tan's observations, stating sales of flat panel TVs hit 8.3 million units in Southeast Asia in the first 11 months of 2012 which reflected a 26 percent volume growth over the same period in 2011. LCD was the most sought-after TV type across the region, making up more than 9 out of 10 sets purchased by consumers, it stated.
"The total LCD TV market across the region increased by 13 percent over last year, spurred largely by the strong demand of LED TVs which contributed to a significant chunk of the LCD TV pie," Tan said in the report.
"The developing countries [in Southeast Asia] are getting more exposed to the advantages of this newer TV technology and consumers are increasingly demanding for it."
Another industry watcher, Paul Gagnon, added there are a lot of variations in terms of preferred hardware features across the Asia region. The director of North America TV research at NPD DisplaySearch said in China, 3D and smart TVs are both quite popular as these are "aspirational" features. Consumers are also using the Web connectivity to access a much wider variety of content compared to what is available from state broadcasters, he added.
Smart TVs are similarly popular in Japan and South Korea, as are LED backlights which make for thinner TV sets and lower power consumption. For other Asian markets, many of which are emerging ones, the focus is simply on lower prices and, therefore, fewer features, Gagnon said.
Software innovation matters
Asked if the TV manufacturers' push to include social media and content recommendation engines into the device will entice consumers here, Tan said people are getting more used to accessing social networking sites and going online at the flick of the finger on mobile devices. As such, TV sets need to be relevant to the consumers, he noted.
"The social network connections and recommendation engines on TV will help consumers feel as if they are accessing social networking sites or going online on mobile devices. These are strong reasons why consumers will buy the TVs with latest software innovations," he said.
He did point out the latest 4K and OLED (organic light-emitting diode) display technologies touted by manufacturers such as Samsung, Sony and Panasonic were less likely to draw a big consumer demand.
The GfK executive said TV models with 4K and OLED displays are likely to be priced at more than twice the amount of a standard LED TV of the same size, and this would be a barrier for most people. "For innovators and early adopters, the features will appeal to them. However, for the majority of the consumers, the price will be the main factor for them in making buying decisions."
Gagnon said OLED TVs will continue to be a very expensive product until production costs can come down. He held higher hopes for 4K LCD TVs, which are being heavily featured by manufacturers now and will start shipping in greater quantities this year. For Asia, and China especially, 4K LCD TVs will be "very attractive" for high-end consumers and could drive a lot of excitement toward the second half of 2013, he added.
Price is still king
Two Singaporean consumers ZDNet Asia spoke to echoed the importance of price, but differed on the importance of software features.
James Hee, a sales executive, said price is the main consideration when he is looking to purchase a new TV set. To him, S$1,000 (US$807.50) for a "good 42-inch TV that has some smart features and Internet connectivity which allows him to surf and watch videos" is the ideal price and features combination.
Local lawyer James Teo had a different view, saying he does not see the need for a smart TV just for Internet connectivity. Rather, it's the TV's graphics and design aesthetics that matter, he said.
However, when asked if he would pay US$12,000 for a TV with cutting-edge technology, Teo balked. "US$12,000 is a ridiculous price to pay for a TV, even if it has a Siri-like voice assistant, 3D and all the top-end features such as social recommendation engines," he stated.
LG's first OLED TV, the 55-inch 55EM9700, will retail at US$10,000 when released in March this year. A Reuters report Thursday stated the Korean electronics giant has received pre-orders for over 100 units of the TV model.