Amidst all the rumors about Apple coming out with its own TV set—regardless of how credible those prognostications turn out to be—Bang & Olufsen offshoot B&O Play is actually releasing a TV later this month with the clean European design and integrated features you might expect to see from Cupertino.
What’s interesting is how Apple-like the product is in many regards. The BeoPlay V1 is an HDTV that comes in two colors (white and black) but includes five colored fabric sleeves (dark grey, green, red, silver, and yellow) you can swap out behind the front grill, is available in only two sizes (32 inches and 40 inches), and commands a premium price ($3249 and $3999, respectively). B&O Play even touts the name of the designer (Anders Hermansen).
I attended a demo at the Bang & Olufsen store in San Francisco’s Union Square, and was impressed with a lot of what the company did with this TV. It features a 120Hz edge-type LED-based LCD panel supporting 1080p video. It comes with built-in metal stand that angles the TV slightly back when placed on a table for better viewing. There are also several (optional) additional stands and mounting options: a side-hinged wall mount, a floor stand, and a ceiling bracket with a pulley system for adjusting it (of course, none of the pictures show where the power cord goes—that would clash with the clean, industrial design). Both the table stand and wall mount that I saw looked sturdy, functional, and easy on the eyes. I would expect a 'place anywhere' approach from Apple as well.
Meant as an all-in-one HDTV, the V1 has a pair of 2-inch tweeters and a 4-inch bass speaker along the bottom, with the ability to expand to 5.1 channels without a separate AV receiver (it has Dolby Digital 5.1 and DTS 2.0 decoding built in). You can also optimize the sound per source—a certain setting you like when playing a game on your PS3 or listening to music, say. Video and music playback sounded pretty impressive for the built-in speakers in an HDTV, and it fits in with the target customer who wants clean design with a minimum of wires (and is willing to pay for it). For many people these days, a 2.1-channel soundbar-type audio system is ideal—much better than standard built-in speakers but without the hassle of wires, speaker placement, and additional AV hardware. Having good sound out of the box will be essential for Apple as well.
There are similar options for picture modes, as well as automatic picture control, adaptive film judder compensation, and an adaptive contrast algorithm that adjusts contrast based on your surroundings.
And speaking of sources, the V1 is designed to play whatever you throw at it. DLNA support lets you access a NAS drive (you can even use a DLNA app on your smartphone to push content directly to the TV), a USB port lets you connect a hard drive with content directly, and five HDMI ports let you connect everything else. In a nod to Apple, there’s a little cubby in the back of the TV designed to hold an Apple TV (or other similarly sized set-top box, although the company specifically mentioned the Apple TV on multiple occasions). Stash away the Apple TV, and then control it with the included Beo4 remote control. B&O Play includes an IR blaster to control hidden components such as the Apple TV, and uses its own database of IR codes to feed its remote. Going with a company-maintained IR code database strikes me as very Apple, although it's more likely that you'd use an iOS device over Wi-Fi to control a Jonathan Ive-designed product.
Not quite Apple
So what’s not ‘Apple’ about the V1? Despite protestations to the contrary, I didn’t find the user interface as “intuitive and simple” as B&O Play would have me believe—or what I’d expect from Apple. Figuring out which source was which felt laborious and somewhat convoluted, even for the person demoing it. (Although the wipe effect when turning the TV off was rather cool.)
Also, for content you’re pretty much left to your own devices. I didn’t hear a word about built-in support for Netflix, Amazon, YouTube, or other video sources. Which means you must get your content from ‘traditional’ sources—DVD/Blu-ray, cable/satellite, DLNA/NAS/USB. If you want extras, you’ll need an Apple TV or Roku-type device (or use the streaming capabilities built into a TiVo, say). True, NAS and USB playback aren’t something I’m expecting to see from Apple if and when the company releases its own TVs, but Apple already has a pretty good video playback and streaming platform with the Apple TV.