Transplanting Google's mobile and tablet operating system from its ancestral home on a touchscreen slate onto a non-touch big-screen display is never a seamless process, but it certainly has potential. Hisense's Vision TV is an affordable mid-range LED running on Android 4.2 Jelly Bean and, despite a few annoyances that slightly detract from the overall experience, it's the best Google-on-your-TV experience I've seen so far.
Apologies for the bright central flash in these photos, guys — I'm sure you know it's bloody hard to take photos of a giant shiny screen. The TV is much less 'washed out' than these images suggest. Read on for the full details. - Cam
What Is It?
- TV Type: Edge-Lit LED
- TV Size: 40- to 65-inch
- HDMI Ports: 4
- USB Ports: 2
- Smart TV: Yes, Android 4.2
- Warranty: 3 Years
The Vision TV is Hisense's model number K390PA/D, available in a $1999 65-inch, $1299 55-inch, $999 50-inch, or $699 40-inch (non-3D) variant — I tested the 50-inch model. All Vision TVs are LED edge-lit, with an array of white LEDs around the screen's outer edge shining in through a series of reflective channels, evenly lighting the entire panel despite the bezel itself being quite thin.
The TV itself is not especially thin — it's certainly not as chunky as my Pioneer plasma, but at 62mm thick it's not the slimmest model on the market. Its bezel is beautifully slim though, and it's barely thicker at the base than on its piano black sides and its bright brushed metal top. The two tone effect isn't gaudy, primarily because it's restrained.
Hisense's stand for the Vision TV isn't a stand as much as it is two individual feet, each of which attaches to the TV independently with two of the four supplied Phillips screws. The feet are obviously inspired by another major TV brand's previous-year models — which brand I can't remember precisely at the moment, though — and they're both sturdy and unobtrusive while remaining attractive. The stand pushes the Vision TV's depth measurement out to 360mm, so you don't need an especially deep entertainment unit.
If you want to wall mount the Vision TV, its VESA dimensions are 400x400mm, but the mounting points are recessed into the plastic rear chassis of the TV by around an inch, so you'll need a mount that accomodates this, especially long mounting bolts or some other variety of spacer. The Vision TV has a physical on/off power switch hidden under the lower front bezel — just off to the right of the lower Hisense logo — and the IR receiver is further right of it.
Across its left-hand side and base, the Vision TV has a bevy of digital and analog A/V inputs and outputs — four HDMI, antenna, component and composite video and audio, optical digital audio, wired Ethernet networking, and three USB ports that can host a USB flash drive or external hard drive. Even if you don't want to use the hands-on Android-ness of its operating system, the Vision TV is a pretty versatile television.
What Is It Good At?
The setup procedure for Hisense's Vision TV is simple, and free of any real annoyance. Attaching the two feet is the work of a couple of minutes, then plug in power and the antenna cable and you're ready to go. (You don't really have to plug in an antenna, but since it's a TV it's probably a good idea.) Running through the initial out-of-box setup procedure involves entering a Wi-Fi password or connecting to your network over wired Ethernet — this is a TV that you really want to have Internet access for — and entering your Google account details. It's very similar to setting up a new Android phone or tablet, so if you've done that recently you'll be an old hand here.
For watching free-to-air digital TV, the Hisense Vision TV does a pretty good job. Its internal tuner provides a detailed picture and is quick to operate, changing channels smoothly and without fuss and displaying the EPG accurately. More impressive is the Vision TV's 1080p playback of Blu-ray and high-def gaming content, where the 50-inch screen's native resolution shows plenty of detail and a surprisingly good amount of highlight and shadow detail for a mid-tier edge-lit LED. The TV's video adjustments are limited, but you can switch on and off dynamic backlighting that works quite well to extend contrast in especially bright or dark scenes.
In Skyfall and Casino Royale on Blu-ray, the Vision TV presented excellent detail without being too perturbed by fast motion (thanks to a surprisingly good 100Hz mode). In Samsara generally good colour vibrancy is offset by a default white balance that is marginally too cool (although this can be tweaked) and excessive edge sharpening that looks good once backed off somewhat. In Frozen the Vision TV displayed good gradation and handled high contrast scenes well. I tested a few minutes of the Vision TV's passive 3D, and it's not bad for a screen of its size and price, but there are superior options out there.
Being Android the Hisense Vision TV runs discrete apps like YouTube and SBS On Demand and Photos and Chrome. If you have an Android smartphone the experience is immediately familiar, and it's a good experience overall. It's not perfect — more on that later — but for a tech-savvy user it's a definite step forward from even the best of the rest Smart TV platforms available today from LG and Samsung and other competitors. If you are especially tech-savvy, you can load XBMC directly to the TV for a great media-streaming device straight out of the box — this is a unique experience and one that is very fun to put together.
What Is It Not Good At?
Hisense's bundled Air Wand Bluetooth remote control is 80 per cent good and 20 per cent bad. Wave the remote around and accelerometers inside move around an on-screen mouse pointer — you don't need to point the remote at the TV, but simultaneously the pointer will move if you accidentally nudge the remote sitting next to you. The on-screen control also follows a nonlinear rate of acceleration, so a quick twist of the wrist will throw the pointer across the screen where a slow twist will not — this makes fine movement sometimes frustrating. An infrared Wiimote-style controller would probably have been a superior technology to use, although you would then have to battle line-of-sight issues.
As with almost every slim-line LED television on the market, the Hisense Vision TV's two 8-Watt speakers, in stereo, are OK rather than good or great. They provide a passably detailed and passably musical sound at moderate volume with clear treble and some semblance of mid-range and bass response, but start to distort and break up at higher volumes. As usual, if you're intending on listening to music or properly enjoying movies with the Vision TV or any other LED, an external sound system is preferable.
The Vision TV's satin-coated screen is not exactly matte, but it's a lot less glossy than some of its competitors, and so will suit a reasonably bright daylit room without compromising on overall contrast. A reasonable although unspectacular maximum brightness level means it should be passable for everyday use and not just night-time viewing, but mediocre viewing angles mean there's significant colour shift and loss of brightness as you move off-axis — this is probably the Vision TV's weakest point visually.
Being a TV running Android, the Vision TV has access to the Google Play Store. This is, on the surface, great. You can download and run hundreds of apps, although they have to be certified to run on the Google TV platform and, at the moment, that restricts your choice significantly — I found myself looking through the list of apps downloaded to my LG G3 and seeing "not compatible" repeated constantly. All Google's own apps like Maps and YouTube and Hangouts are certified, of course, but in Australia other devs are slow to catch on. You can side-load apps if you download the APKs via Chrome or if you import them from a USB flash drive, but this isn't something we can recommend every user do.
Should You Buy It?
The Vision TV from Hisense is a very interesting product. It does the basic TV thing extremely well — it looks good when it's displaying both free-to-air TV and higher-def content over HDMI — but it also has the proposition of being a TV married directly to Google's Android platform and the Google Play Store. That marriage isn't made in heaven just yet, but for first-party Google services it's overall an excellent experience and for the gadget-hacker the Vision TV presents a huge amount of potential.
All of this is made more enticing when you realise that the Vision TV is actually surprisingly cheap at its various price points. $999 for a 50-inch TV running Android and bundled with a pretty-good-but-not-great wireless pointer control is, in my books, a good deal. It doesn't seem that you can find it too much cheaper than RRP, but if you can it's almost worth picking up to experiment with and see what all-in-one Frankenstein device you can create. From my initial experience, I'll be playing around with the Vision TV for months to come to see what I can make it do.