Sony Bravia Android TV- Mobile apps go big. Really Big.
For the longest time, TV's were pretty simple. Just turn it on and change the channel. Japan was really the first country to make TV's complicated. Companies like Panasonic were very early in releasing TV's for thge Japan market that had Ethernet connectors and was able to get streaming content and services on the Internet. In a country where people already accepted a very complicated TV remote and control system, consumers were also ready to put up with complexity of getting content from the Internet.
The mobile Internet changed everything.
All of sudden, companies like Google and Samsung were the new giants and mobile operating systems had huge adoption scale like never before. Although TV's still continued to innovate by going to higher resolution like 4K, there is almost no content to drive people to buy more TV's. Most of the content people consume nowadays is not from BluRay or cable TV but rather the Internet. To address this trend, most major TV brands decided to make TV's a rather large screen version of your mobile phone. Instead of trying to see your movies on a tiny phone screen, you could enjoy watching online movies and games on your large TV screen sitting on your living room couch.
With all this new content from YouTube, NetFlix, Amazon, etc., who wouldn't want to be able to enjoy them on your large screen TV instead of your PC or mobile phone. To support these Internet based content sources, different TV brands started adopting operating systems and browsers. Companies like Sony, Sharp, and Philips decided to go Android. Samsung went with Tizen. Panasonic is using Firefox OS. LG is using webOS (originally used by Palm). It's starting to look like one big SmackDown.
In tech-savvy places like Bangalore, electronic stores like Croma are openly advertising Android and Tizen operating systems to help sell their Sony and Samsung TV's.
Croma Store Bangalore India
Sony Store Bangalore India
Ironically in other tech hubs like Japan and US, other TV makers downplay these operating system as a key feature. You have to look a lot harder to see if Android or Tizen are supported.
Yamada Denki Labi Nagoya
BestBuy Dublin California
So with all this hype, just how good are these new TV's with web friendly operating systems? Most everyone is familiar with Android so let's see how easy it is to use Android on your TV. As it turns out, while using Android on your phone is a breeze, getting Android up and running on your TV really tests your patience.
I purchased a Sony Bravia 4K Ultra HD Smart LED TV with Android at one of the Sony Centers in Bangalore, India. Sony has several of these centers all over the city.
In this Sony store, Android TV's were very heavily promoted.
I chose the KD-55X8500C which not only supported Android but also 4K resolutions. The purchase inside the Sony Store did involve some price haggling, but service was great. The Sony sales people was so helpful that they personally hand carried the TV from the store to our lab location. Now that's what I call awesome same minute delivery.
The Sony Bravia 4K TV also comes with the typical TV accessories including a touch based remote control that allows you to use your finger to more naturally interact with the screen.
Although it took a minute to deliver the TV, it took another several hours to be able to get it up and running. The setup process is overly lengthly and complicated and tries the patience of tech savvy individuals. For the average consumer that is used to just plugging the TV into their cable set-top box or Blu-ray player and immediately enjoying content, the sheer number of setup steps involved is daunting.
The Sony 55X8500C TV uses a special remote which allows you to more easily navigate the Android TV which is important since you can't exactly swipe your screen with your fingers.
The Sony 55X8500C TV had problems connecting to a 5Ghz WiFi router despite a strong signal and minimal interference. After switching to a 2.4Ghz WiFi router, the TV was able to connect to the Internet .
Once you are connected to the Internet, you need to sign into Google just like you would your Android phone.
If the above Setup completed screen was really the end of the setup process, while long the setup was not too different from any other modern TV a typical user is used to buying. The problem really starts when the Android system asks you to upgrade your TV.
The first time the update process started, there was a networking error despite the Internet working for other sites.
Despite multiple attempts, the download process kept on hanging-up and eventually I had to quit the process.
Once back in the main screen, the upgrade process was able to start again but the large number of Android updates took a long time to download and install.
Finally the upgrade finished and after a reboot, I could finally use the TV. The main screen is organized into content, TV inputs, and applications. TV inputs are an easier way to see what is physically connected to your TV especially given the large number of types of ways to connect your TV nowadays.
The big difference in using an Android TV is that everything works through applications which you need to find, download, and install from Google Play. Even for Android users, this may take some getting used although being able to take advantage of the large selection of Android apps can be compelling. For example, when trying to download an app, it's a bit disconcerting when you see a very PC-like error message like the one below on your TV- it's not clear using your TV remote control what to do next.
Fortunately, just by going back to the home screen and trying again, I didn't run into this problem again and could directly download apps from the Google Play Store just like I would on my Android phone.
There are now more and more games that can be played on an Android TV and other than streaming content, this promises to be another useful feature.
The first time user experience with Sony's Bravia 4K Ultra HD Smart LED TV with Android could use a lot of improvement. Using the 55X8500C should be a lean back experience but the entire setup process can be frustrating and scare away the average user from using Android in a TV, which would be a shame given how much Android has to offer.