I have said it before. And I’ll say it again. Not all smart TVs are the same. The recent trend of pretty much every brand you may have heard of trying to sell you a TV has led to some frankly atrocious user experiences. The themes you’ll probably notice include everyone calling their TV the best in class, claim it runs Android (when it probably runs a very shoddy fork), say its 4K and tout the audio capabilities. You get enticed by the supremely cheap price tag and bring one home. What emerges from the box is a very shabby experience. Poor picture quality, half-baked HDR capabilities, smart TV features that are sluggish to say the least and needless to say, really bad sound. This is where the genuinely good TVs have a very good chance to make their mark amidst all the riffraff. That neatly leads us to the OnePlus TV U Series, the 55-inch variant to be precise. The OnePlus TV 55U1 is priced at Rs 49,999 and that to be honest is a steal deal. At this time, if you have a budget of less than Rs 50,000 for a 55-inch TV, this is by far and away the best splurge you can do.
The 2020 line-up of OnePlus TVs adds three new TVs to the range that will continue to offer last year’s and still brilliant 55 Q1 and the 55 Q1 Pro. The additions are the 55U1 that we are reviewing here as well as the more affordable 32Y1 and the 43Y1, priced at Rs 12,999 and Rs 22,999 respectively. The price of the 55U1 pits it against similar screen size 4K TVs from Xiaomi, TCL, VU and Nokia, to name a few.
Design: Good looks don’t have to break your bank account
There is a lot about the OnePlus TV U Series that is carried from the frankly gorgeous OnePlus TV Q1 Series from late last year. At the same time, there is a lot that’s new as well. Visually, the mix has worked out well. We must address the really thin bezels around the screen, something that OnePlus had done well on the 2019 TVs too—this time around, it’s nearly invisible at the top and the sides, while the bezel beneath the screen is quite slim while at it. It is there for a purpose, we must grant that and move on. The bezels are slimmer than last year’s more expensive TVs, which is a testament to the hard work OnePlus has continued to put in. Look at the OnePlus TV U Series from side-on, and the panel itself is slimmer than most smartphones—it is just 6.9mm thick, and most phones are around 7.5mm to 8mm mark, give or take a few. Mind you, this is an aluminum chassis which makes this very robust too.
We usually don’t look behind the TV, unless you are really excited about the ports on offer or periodically cleaning the dust, but OnePlus has given the back a nice carbon fiber texture finish mixed with the pattern on the module that also holds the audio hardware. Ports, as always, can be hidden away with a nice removable cover. And there are a lot of ports too while at it. There are 3 HDMI ports including one that supports the audio return channel (ARC) feature. There is one USB 3.0 port, one USB 2.0 port and audio out, to name a few.
The one thing that has changed significantly is the table-top stand design, if that is how you’ll install it at your place. Gone is the OnePlus TV Q1 Series’ very beautiful table stand which I really liked before I got the TV wall mounted instead due to paucity of space. That center-aligned and more rounded design has been replaced by the dual stand attachments that sit beneath either end of the display panel. To be honest, this is what most affordable TVs do already, giving the impression they all rolled off the same conveyer belt at a manufacturing facility somewhere. In a way, the OnePlus TV U Series is following a standard trend, and that’s a bit disappointing. With all the attention to the visual details everywhere else, this just sticks out like a sore thumb. But that’s just me. Perhaps my observations stem from the fact that a lot of users may subsequently struggle to find tables as wide as the TV itself.
Picture: The OnePlus TV U Series costs just this much? Really?
Let me just start off by saying this. The OnePlus TV U Series, the 55-inch variant in particular which I’m reviewing here, is not building on the more affordable variants to offer a larger screen size with it packaged as value for money. In which case, there would have been compromises. Instead, the OnePlus TV U Series is building from technology and experience as the standpoint, and the price is a part of the jigsaw that gets added later. Basically, it is the product team, which is leading the experience, and not the accountants dictating the mandatory compromises. Simply put, the OnePlus TV U Series is offering the sort of experience that wouldn’t feel out of place on a more expensive TV. That is a great starting point.
This particular TV, for instance, is a 55-inch 4K TV. This is what the company calls the Cinematic Display. Let me just run you through the features that matter. First up, this reproduces 93% DCI-P3 colour gamut. You would probably point out that 93% as a number is less than 100% of the Rec 709 standard that a lot of budget TVs claim to be able to reproduce. But remember, the DCI P3’s range is much wider than Rec 709 and that means the OnePlus TV U Series will still reproducer more colours, and finer colours. Then there is the Gamma Engine, the very competent picture processor that delivers the sort of optimizations that make the 55-inch OnePlus TV U Series look like a very premium TV. I cannot emphasize on this point enough, but the OnePlus TV U Series is miles ahead of most of the typical affordable TV rivals which tend to struggle with skin tones, backlight which is too bright or too dark, colour temperature and also balancing sharpness with noise elimination. Honestly, I’ve experienced far too many compromises on the new generation of the affordable 4K TVs to perhaps understand where the OnePlus TV U Series is truly superior.
Having experienced the OnePlus TV 55 Q1 Pro from last year in detail, I do see a lot of the similarities with the OnePlus TV U Series, and that is a definite positive—even though the panel technologies in use are very different. While a lot of affordable 4K TVs have panels that struggle with handling motion and either resort to image ghosting or you’ll see visible stutters, the OnePlus TV U Series has no such problems—irrespective of how much you dial up the fast motion settings. That is the truest with movies and some sports events.
Normally on a 55-inch 4K panel, lower resolution content would look really bad as it scales up to the much higher pixel count. This is where OnePlus’ fine job with the super resolution algorithm has worked wonders, because the image is processed to not only to improve its resolution better, but it is done very accurately. For the few times when you may come across a 360p or 576i content on YouTube, the OnePlus TV U Series will step up handle it properly for you. In case you didn’t notice it first, you will see there is now an AI Picture mode as well, which constantly analyses the visuals on the screen to adjust brightness, backlight, sharpness and colour. It works well, but personally, I prefer to keep it strictly at manual controls over the picture settings. That being said, the AI mode does do a fantastic job with skin tones too.
As expected, the OnePlus TV U Series really shows its strengths with 4K HDR content and this will play well with HDR10 and Dolby Vision. The depth, detailing and crispness remains unmatched at this price range. You will absolutely love the experience of 4K content across Netflix and Amazon Prime Video apps.
Sound: You will hear it, yes you will
There has often been the complaint, and it is not just me, that most TVs offer only an acceptable audio experience. And that includes the premium TVs which you splurge on with great expectations. Physics does play a role in that, in terms of the space available for the speakers to sit in, the size of the speakers themselves and the direction in which the audio is firing. OnePlus showed with last year’s Q1 series that physics can be overcome with some ingenuity and relentless tweaking to get the sort of sound that you’d otherwise get from a soundbar. To be honest, I gave up a Yamaha soundbar with the OnePlus TV Q1 because OnePlus with a number of updates got the sort of sound experience that I wanted from the speakers in the TV itself—it’s got good clarity, can get quite loud and well, generous bass as well.
Settling down to watch The Grand Tour and some Netflix binge watching on the OnePlus TV U Series invokes the same sort of audio experience as the OnePlus TV Q1, for the most part. There is a four-speaker configuration packed in, much like the OnePlus TV 55 Q1, and this also returns with a lot of clarity, loudness, details and depth. You’ll need to head into the settings menu to tweak the sound EQ to get this to deliver a bit more bass—but once you do that, this does have more than enough bass for you to enjoy movies, TV shows and even the occasional YouTube music playlists.
OnePlus says that these are full-range speakers with the 25mm diameter coil which provides a solid foundation for the sound experience to build on. In fact, this is 56% larger than what most TVs manage. Also, the way the speakers have been placed makes a lot of difference. In most TVs, the speakers are placed facing downwards, which means the table you keep the TV on has to do the job of reflecting the sound to you. In the case of the OnePlus TV U Series, the speakers are placed looking towards the rear and there is a reflective film that then directs the sound downwards and out towards you. All this, I can say with the utmost confidence, makes a world of difference.
Remote: Best of both worlds, in one edition
Last time around, OnePlus released the Q1 series with a very cool remote, that went minimalistic with buttons and has a rather cool look. Later, they had to issue a simpler plastic bodied remote with the Netflix and Amazon Prime Video buttons for existing as well as new users. This time, in the case of the OnePlus TV U Series, OnePlus has melded what is clearly inspiration taken from both those remotes. It looks like the aluminum remote and yet is designed like the subsequent plastic remote with a similar line-up of buttons. Yet, in the larger scheme of things, this remote is by far and away more premium to look at, to hold and to use than the very thoughtlessly designed and clunky remotes most rivals’ bundle. The remote is your constant interface with the TV, and this gets it spot on.
Android TV: Not plain but perfect
OnePlus has kept the Android TV 9.0 smart TV platform as clean as it can be. There are no alterations to the layout and no changes to the default experience as it should be, including the home screen. Yet, there are subtle additions and changes under the hood which add that touch of experience that Android TV itself is still learning. The OnePlus connect app, for instance, involves your smartphone if you wish to discover new content and play it on the OnePlus TV U Series.
Now, the OnePlus Connect app is also available for the Apple iPhone and not just Android phones, as OnePlus wants to widen the appeal of the unique feature. There is a new quick app switch option as well, to move between two or more apps open at the same time. Then there is the new Data Saver Plus, which is handy if you are using a limited internet connection such as your mobile hotspot—it limits bandwidth usage, turns off background data usage and limits video resolution as well. And then there is the Kids Mode, which lets parents control some bit of the TV viewing habits of the children at home, including limiting viewing hours. Google Assistant is properly baked in for voice-based control and if you have an Amazon Echo speaker, you can also invoke the powers of Alexa to control some functionality of your OnePlus TV U Series.
The Last Word: Forget What Other TV Makers Said About Their Affordable TVs
The thing is, the OnePlus TV U Series 55-inch variant has ticked off all the boxes on the checklist, quite emphatically. I probably have a lot more to say about it, but for the urgent requirement of giving you a verdict, let me just sum it up—great picture, proper HDR experience, really good sound and support for Dolby Atmos, slick Android TV experience and well, it looks great too sitting in the living room. In a nutshell, it looks and performs like a television much more expensive than one with a price tag of Rs 49,999. That in itself is value for money.