The Ikea TV: Gadgets Are Furniture

It’s a TV with drawers! A piece of furniture with a screen! It’s the logical conclusion of the despecialization of electronics manufacturing! Whatever the case, it’s an Ikea TV.

Ikea, possibly the world’s biggest purchaser of fake TVs, has decided to get into the real TV business. This is the UPPLEVA (pronounced oop-lee-ev-ahh in Sweden and phonetically everywhere else). It’s arriving on Europe this year, and in the US in 2013. It’s a run-of-the-mill smart TV with a built-in Blu-ray player and some speakers and it’ll start at about a thousand bucks. A few things:

-In the last few years, TVs have pretty much become furniture. There are better models and worse models, and picture quality does vary, but once you pass a certain point — say, $750 for a 42-inch TV — the most important differentiating factor between TV sets is how they look in your living room, not their contrast ratios or refresh rates. I don’t know if Ikea is being clever here or if this is just some kind of demented inevitability as the company becomes an all-consuming retail megapower, but it makes an awful lot of sense. It’s also kind of a retro idea — before CRTs got sharp-edged and ugly, early TVs were styled like furniture — and a counterpoint to the new bezel-free, almost invisible sets that are en vogue right now.

-Ikea isn’t actually getting in to the TV business here. The TV part of the UPPLEVA is manufactured (and probably designed) by a Chinese company called TCL. I’ve seen TCL TVs at CES and they’re on the market in the US under the RCA brand, and let’s just say they’re not premium products. They’re fine! Most people won’t know the difference between this and a Vizio or even a Samsung. And Ikea could have done worse in finding a cheap hardware partner. TCL is currently the sixth largest TV manufacturer in the world, behind five brands you’ve heard of. And Samsung, the largest and arguably the best, actually subcontracted some screen manufacturing to TCL a few years ago. So this thing might not look awful!

-The software is going to be horrendous. The limited time I’ve spent with TCL’s smart TV software wasn’t encouraging, and to be honest, all smart TV software is pretty bad compared to what you get from a good set-top box. You’re still going to want to hook up an Xbox or an Apple TV or something.

-It’s only got one remote. How many does your setup have?

So what’s next, an Ikea laptop? An Ikea tablet? Why the hell not? (I’m serious: An Ikea rep could probably arrange both of these things in one a three-day visit to Shenzhen.)

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