Lenovo Launches Smart TVs for China, Bringing Apps and Games

Lenovo on Tuesday launched its K-series of smart TVs in China, marking the PC vendor's entry into another hot devices market with a product that boasts Google's Android 4.0 OS, along with access to free on-demand videos and 1,000 apps.

Lenovo's "IdeaTV" product first debuted earlier this year at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, and has been in development for the past five years. The K-series TVs come in two models each at 55-inch and 42-inch screen sizes with 1080p viewing, and uses a Qualcomm 1.5 GHz dual-core processor chip.

Lenovo's product launch in China comes as the smart TV market is still trying to define itself in the midst of growing competition, according to analysts. Other companies including Samsung and LG have already launched various models of their own smart TVs, while Apple is rumored to be preparing to enter the market.

A lot of vendors are still trying to "crack the code" on what a smart TV should offer, said Bob O'Donnell, an analyst with research firm IDC. "Do people want to have some simple additions or do they want full-blown applications? There are still a lot of questions before we can find the right answer," he said.

Users have clearly indicated that they want on-demand content available on their smart TVs, O'Donnell added. "People want other sources of content. Services likes Hulu, Amazon and Netflix have become important."

On Tuesday, Lenovo officials provided their own definition of a smart TV, stating that its K-series was designed to primarily offer on-demand video, while also offering a rich number of apps.

The K-series provides on-demand video by connecting to a library hosted from a company joint venture in China called iSmartv. Through the library, users can stream HD quality movies and TV shows to the device, along with content also made for 3D viewing. More than 300,000 hours of content is available on the library.

The K-series also features access to more than 1,000 apps, 40 of which are pre-loaded on the TV. Apps shown on Tuesday at the Lenovo event included programs to browse the Internet, access cooking recipes, and post on a popular Chinese social networking site.

Lenovo's smart TVs also come with a number of gaming features. The TV remote can act as controller to play motion-sensing games similar to Nintendo's Wii console. Users can also put aside the remote, and play using game controllers provided by the TV. One of the games included was an exclusive Plants vs. Zombie game featuring a two-player mode.

To use the TV, Lenovo has built-in touch, voice, and traditional keys on its remote which doubles up as a point-and-click air mouse. The TV can switch, with a swipe of the finger on the remote, between traditional TV programs, the on-demand video library, and smart TV apps.

Lenovo plans to eventually release smart TVs for markets outside China, but has set no date on when the products will ship in those markets, said company spokesman Ray Gorman. Prices for the K-series in China range from 14,999 yuan (US$2,378) at the high-end down to 6,499 yuan.

Lenovo's smart TV is the latest element of the company's strategy to expand in the market for new Internet devices including tablets and smartphones. On Monday, the company broke ground on new facilities in China meant for the development and production of the devices.

In China, the company expects smart TV shipments to reach 8 million for this year, stepping up to 25 million by 2015 in China alone. By then global shipments of the TV are expected to reach 162 million units.

IDC analyst Antonio Wang said Lenovo will have to focus on content for its smart TV products to succeed. As the top PC vendor in China, the company already benefits from an extensive sales channel in the country.

"In China, Lenovo has a big opportunity," he said. "They have a strong sales channel that can reach smaller cities and rural areas, and they have a well-known international brand."

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