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Why Is Ikea Making a TV?

If it’s not going to be any good?
June 21, 2012

At first, I was intrigued. After all, how can anyone who watches this adorable video not want to run out and buy an Ikea TV as soon as possible? And then immediately stream the entire works of Ingmar Bergman on it, to hear more of that lovely Swedish lilt?

Such elegance! Such simplicity! Such charm! Quintessential Ikea.

Then came GigaOm’s preview of the device’s specs, which seemed promising. The Uppleva TV would feature about 20 apps, an Opera-powered browser, and integrated Blu-ray player, a wireless subwoofer, and more. China’s TLC would be handling the actual TV part, while Ikea would be handling the rest. It was enough to make us jealous that the European market would be getting the TV well in advance of the American one.

Alas, there’s just one hitch. The TV’s no good, says the Swedish magazine M3. (Hat tip to Sam Biddle of Gizmodo, who either had an inspiring Swedish professor in college or is very adept at parsing the offerings of Google Translate.) M3 says the TV has lousy black levels and colors, a noisy image, and that its so-called “smart features” aren’t very smart at all: “paraplegic-slow, godawful interface, and broken features,” in Mr. Biddle’s interpretation of the original Swedish. Indeed, the M3 editor puts it pretty starkly in his own words: “The TV is not affordable and to be honest really bad when you can get a better 42-inch for the same amount.” He gave the device a 5 out of 10.

And yet, despite all this, there is undoubtedly a sizable market for the convenience and elegance of what Ikea is offering here. I wouldn’t be surprised to see the Uppleva sell well, at least at first, and with users who prize convenience over hardware specs, of which there are undoubtedly many. (They probably read design blogs, not tech blogs.)

I wonder, though, if even the Ikea’s main selling point is something of a chimera. No one likes the clutter of wires, but there’s a reason so many of us allow that clutter to exist. We plug things into our TV–consoles, custom sound systems, and the like–and unplug them, sometimes with regularity. In my childhood home, we had a piece of furniture custom built for the TV and its associated gadgetry (“the Tower of Power,” my friends mockingly called it). All that supposed simplicity was for naught: any time I wanted to plug in a new console, it was a production of, in fact, agonizing complexity.

Want what Ikea’s offering? Willing to put in a tiny bit of work, and perhaps save hundreds of dollars, and future aggravation? You might just do best to buy a simpler piece of furniture (from Ikea, even, if you like), a better TV, and invest in those little strips of Velcro to bundle your wires. For the time being, at least, hardware and furniture are meant to be sold separately.

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Illustration by Rose WongIllustration by Rose Wong

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