Television has come a long way since it was introduced to the masses in the 1930s. Originating with the humble black and white 15-inch screens encased in heavy wooden cabinets and producing grainy images, some of today’s TVs boast 85-inch screens, ultra slimness and images that compete with reality.
In 1936, only 200 televisions sets were in use worldwide and a set was considered an extravagant purchase. A TV set in America cost $500, when the average annual household income was $1,300. Today, it is estimated that 1.4 billion households around the world have at least one TV, according to a report published by Nielsen, making it one of the basic consumer electronics.
Though most models are no longer considered extravagant, TV manufacturers still compete to offer their clients sets that provide the best viewing experiences and are laden with extras at a significantly higher price tag, making some TV models a lavish purchase once again.
The latest television technology available in Lebanon is “4K”, or “ultra high definition”. Agop Kassabian, managing director at Unilec, the exclusive distributors of Toshiba TVs in Lebanon, explains these designations refer to the number of pixels on the TV panel. Instead of the 1,920 by 1,080 pixels displayed by high definition (HD) panels, 4K panels provide four times that: 3,840 by 2,160 pixels. The higher the number of pixels, the higher the resolution, which means a wider palette of colors and a much more realistic and clear picture, says Kassabian.
The 85-inch Samsung S9 Smart TV is the biggest screen offering on the market to date, and it sells for $45,000. It is considered this season’s pinnacle of luxury, consumer electronics offerings from Samsung, according to Yasmina Cherfane, marketing manager at Cherfane Tawil and Company (CTC), the distributors of Samsung Electronics in Lebanon. Hanging within a solid silver frame, the screen provides the picture smoothness associated with 4K TVs, and watching it, one feels close to a cinema experience, given its size.
Aside from the features found in smart TVs — such as internet connectivity and ability to store content — the S9 also has the technology which allows for motion control — flipping channels with a wave of your hand — and voice control — through a smart touch remote you talk into. These are made possible by its quad-core processor, as opposed to the dual processors found in conventional TVs.
Sony has also recently launched its 4K televisions in Lebanon, the biggest being an 84-inch model priced at $30,000. Roger Haswani, business manager at Fattal Holding, which distributes Sony products in Lebanon, says the 84-inch is usually bought by hotels for conference rooms or lobbies, or by wealthy film fanatics who have the space in their villas. Sony’s other sizes are the 65-inch, for $10,000 — now considered a standard size globally but still large in Lebanon where the rooms tend to be smaller — and the 55-inch, $6,000. This more affordable price tag gives hope that 4K technology will be available for the masses, soon.
LG’s 84-inch 4K TV has been available in Lebanon for eight months. Its price tag is $20,000 — still not petty cash. A spokesperson at LG’s showroom in Dora says they have sold 15 models since its release, a number he believes is “quite satisfactory”.
Regza, Toshiba’s brand of high-end TVs, will be releasing its 58-inch and 84-inch 4K models with a processor that will help produce even clearer images. Kassabian explains that much of today’s broadcasts are in the older, lower resolution HD format, so 4K screens are not displaying at their maximum clarity. Regza 4K TVs, which Kassabian says will be launched near the end of 2013, will come with a Cinema 4K Advanced Processor system, a processor that can convert full HD content into 4K content. Though no prices have been communicated yet for those models, Kassabian estimates they will be in the “several thousands of dollars”.
Luxury televisions are performing better than one would expect in Lebanon, and Cherfane says that CTC is already replenishing its stock of S9 Samsung TVs, which were sold to technology fans and social trendsetters with a budget.
As for the looming economic downturn, Haswani is not worried about the market for luxury consumer electronics in Lebanon. He explains that while sales of their mass consumer level electronics declined in recent years, sales of their high-end products did not. “Luxury is recession proof because those who have the money to spend on luxury will not care if the economy is disrupted: they will still buy,” Haswani says.