The Lenovo SmartTV K91 55 certainly isn't the best TV at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas this year. It isn't the most headline-grabbing TV either. But it could ultimately prove to be one of the most important, simply because of what it represents.
The thing is, Lenovo is ostensibly a PC rather than an AV brand. Yet the increasing convergence between the PC and TV worlds has reached the point where up and coming Lenovo feels able to bridge the PC to AV gap.
This matters because if Lenovo feels ready to enter the AV market, you can bet other PC brands are thinking about it too. It's already strongly rumoured, of course, that Apple will launching its debut TV this year. But it's hard not to see Lenovo's move into TV as just the start of a flood of 'crossover' Smart TVs from the more value-focussed likes of Acer, Asus, Dell, HP, and Compaq.
PC brands have, of course, tried to break the TV market before, with distinctly underwhelming results. But those earlier efforts didn't have the extra 'pull' of something as essentially PC-centric as Smart TV functionality. So should the established TV brands be quaking in their boots?
The Lenovo SmartTV K91 certainly looks the part. Its huge 55in screen immediately establishes its TV rather than PC monitor credentials, and its glossy black livery and slender, stylish rear fits perfectly into the current TV aesthetic landscape.
The set is also full HD, and uses that technology-du-jour edge LED lighting, and even delivers passive 3D playback (indicating that the panel has been sourced from LG).
Perhaps the single most intriguing thing about it, though, is its use of the Android Ice Cream Sandwich 4.0 operating system - a fact which marks the single biggest difference between the TV and PC brands' approaches to Smart TV.
The TV brands have (so far, at least) each developed their own proprietary Smart TV engines, on the grounds that traditional TV interfaces just can't work well with operating systems designed for other types of device like Smartphones and tablet PCs. But based on this Lenovo set, the PC brands appear to be taking the view that the widespread familiarity with Android is a good rather than problematic starting point for people getting to grips with Smart TV technology. Plus there's already a wide range of Android apps available.
In fact, the K91 55 comes preloaded with a claimed 100 applications, including a decent quality game from Gameloft. It also sports a 5M camera, and supports facial recognition software for a degree of personalisation of the Smart TV experience. Plus it's driven by a Qualcomm dual core 5G processor (funny how we're now talking about PC specs in TV previews now!) and a 200Hz picture engine.
In some ways we were quietly impressed by the K91 55 during our hands on. The interface offered for accessing all of its content was slicker and more imaginative than expected, and there's a fairly intelligent search utility for helping you track down all your content both on and offline. It was nice to see, too, that the remote control features a 'finger slider' section at its centre to provide 'swipe' interaction with the onscreen menus.
We also had a play with a fully functioning wireless (Bluetooth) joystick for playing games on the K91 55in, and in some ways the picture quality from the big screen was fairly decent. Certainly it was very bright and colourful, as well as being sharp, at least when showing full HD material. There was less motion blur than might have been expected as well, helping it sell its online gaming credentials.
The K91 55 we saw did, though, suffer with some pretty extensive backlight inconsistency, with some parts of dark images looking considerably and distractingly brighter than others. We were also quite distractingly aware of the passive 3D filter lying across the top of the screen - as we have been with all 55in passive 3D TVs.
Overall, our first impressions of the K91 55 are probably pretty much as expected. Namely that while it does some interesting things, especially with its use of Ice Cream Sandwich, it still feels a bit amateurish for a mainstream TV consumer, while its TV/PC balance seems too weighted towards the PC world for us to imagine it fitting comfortably into a normal living room.