Xiaomi has been in India for close to four years now. Ever since its phones became popular, a lot of geeks have been following in amazement how Xiaomi had managed to sell Mi TVs which were feature packed, at such affordable rates in China. Every Xiaomi smartphone launch that I have attended since 2014, has seen a lot of journalists ask one common question to Xiaomi representatives.
“When is the Xiaomi Mi TV coming to India?”
And every time there used to be a common answer, along these lines, “We would like to focus and build up our existing smartphone catalogue and then maybe in the future when we are ready, we will get the Mi TVs as well.”
Well, it took four years, and since the last couple of quarters, Xiaomi has been giving some tough competition to Samsung in the mobile phones arena. Guess the time couldn’t have been more apt to introduce its much-awaited product category. We finally have the Mi TV 4 with us and it’s been priced at Rs 39,999.
We will cut to the chase and say that this is a great price for the kind of features you are getting with the Mi TV 4. Yes, there are some issues, but the pros far outweigh the cons. So with that out of the way, read on for the in-depth review.
Build and Design: 8/10
The Mi TV 4 comes with an eye-catching design for sure. The highlight is, of course, the 4.9 mm thin edge which runs across the display. You don’t even get smartphones which are that thin. And complementing the thin edges are thinner bezels that border the display. If there is a dark scene, for instance, you cannot differentiate between the bezel and the scene. It is a frameless design. Also kudos to Xiaomi for having a brush metal finish covering on the rear side of the TV in the top half.
You can wall mount as well as have the TV on the stand. The bundled stand is made of anodised metal allow which has a sort of triangular shape which looks good. The stands distribute the weight of the TV evenly and as the front facing stand leg is lengthier than the rear leg, there’s enough assurance that the TV won’t topple over if accidentally brushed from the rear side. I used to to be extra careful as my switchboard was just behind the TV and I had to reach it from the top of the TV. There is a dedicated power button just under the TV, below the Mi logo.
The controller section of the TV is housed inside a plastic casing on the bottom half of the rear side. The approach to the various ports is well thought out so that there is enough space to manoeuvre around, even if the TV is wall mounted.
The bundled remote control reminded me a lot of the Amazon Fire Stick remote, but Xiaomi claims that this same remote design was also present on the first Mi TV which came much before the Fire Stick. You get a circular D-pad which helps with navigation and the clickable button in the centre is used for confirming the selections. Below this, there are rounded home, back and option buttons followed by a long rounded rectangular volume button. The buttons are responsive and the build quality of the plastic is sturdy. Although the placement of Home and Back buttons is a bit odd, with the Back button in the centre.
Xiaomi is known to go aggressive with the specifications on its devices. And it’s no different for the Mi TV 4. This is a 55-inch 4K HDR frameless display which comes with a smart LED backlight. So you get a native resolution of 3840 x 2160 pixels. The TV has a refresh rate of 60 Hz and a typical response time of 8 ms. This is a Samsung VA panel. Two downward-firing 8W speakers are built into the TV and they come with Dolby Audio certification.
Talking about ports, you get 3x HDMI ports (with one having audio return channel), 1x Ethernet port, 1x S/PDIF out, 1x AV port, 1x USB 2.0 port and 1x USB 3.0 port. On the connectivity front, there is support for Bluetooth 4.0 LE as well as Wi-Fi 802.11 a/b/g/n (supporting 2.4 GHz as well as 5 GHz bands). There’s also a port for connecting your antenna.
Coming on the inside, we get an Amlogic T968 chipset having a 64-bit quad-core processor clocked at 1.8 GHz with Mali T830 MP2 GPU. This is paired with 2 GB RAM and 8 GB storage of eMMC storage. This is only meant for apps and software and you cannot download TV shows on the internal storage.
There is an additional accessory called the Mi IR set-top box controller that needs to be bought separately. This cable helps you switch between the smart TV user interface and the STB interface with the Mi Remote. Buying it separately for Rs 299 (Rs 149 on discount) seems like a stupid idea, as one would expect it to be part of the bundle since having a unified interface is one of the USPs of the Mi TV 4. I never got the Mi IR cable from Xiaomi despite repeated reminders, so I was stuck with using three separate remotes - the Mi Remote, my STB remote and my Amazon Fire Stick remote. I couldn’t even buy it online, as it showed up as out of stock. Also it looks strange to have a wire hanging from your TV if you have a clean wall mounted set-up.
The Mi TV 4 supports HDR 10 and not Dolby Vision as Xiaomi claimed. Indeed, there's more HDR 10 content than Dolby Vision content available out there, so you will not really lose out on much.
Software and User interface: 7.5/10
Mi TV 4 comes with an Android 6.0 based operating system called PatchWall. The philosophy with the PatchWall interface is to keep content front and centre. You do not see any streaming app buckets up front and the idea is to keep the interface app agnostic. Xiaomi promises 500k + hours of content available at your disposal at launch. We only saw Sony Liv, Hungama Play, Alt Balaji, Voot, Voot Kids as initial launch partners.
The interface is neatly divided and has an almost magazine-like interface. In terms of looks, it has nothing on the webOS TV interface we've seen on LG smart TVs. That's easily the most beautifully done interface. PatchWall is more function than form, which isn't such a bad thing.
You see the large thumbnails of the TV show or movie up front. There’s endless scrolling and the content is categorised contextually. At the top, you have the primary categories such as Home, VIP, Movies, TV Shows, Kids, Music, Sports. Each category is self-explanatory. VIP section has the services which you need to subscribe to for content - which will have to be done via a mobile phone. For the first three months, Xiaomi is offering it's Mi TV 4 buyers a free subscription to Hungama Play, Sony Liv and Alt Balaji.
Under the Home section, you have the TV Inputs portion which shows the different ports and lets you switch between them. This is followed by Recent where you see a list of the last few seen shows. This is followed by categories that keep changing regularly, based on your viewing patterns, based on what’s trending and so on. For instance, I saw a ‘Best of Sridevi’ category which wasn’t there some days ago, a tribute to the actress after her untimely death. This is something I found to be smart and really going beyond just a static interface.
As you watch, based on your tastes and viewing patterns, the layout and categories shown to you on the home page will change. The other sections such as Music, TV Shows and Movies also have a genre-based categorisation. Also to play the content, you simply tap on what you want to play and it will start playing. There is no need to open the app and then play it. Some content which is behind a paywall will not play immediately, as you will get a prompt to download the plugin for that app and subscribe to that service before it will play the content.
If you are feeling overwhelmed with having to browse through so much, you can simply Search for the content you want. And here is where another intelligent bit shows up. The search result will not only show you content from the apps, but also from what’s currently showing on air or what is about to play.
Time is now ripe to discuss the On Air feature. Xiaomi has partnered with companies which make electronic programme guides (EPG) for DTH providers and digital cable providers. This access to EPG data lets the PatchWall OS show you which shows are currently on air, and what’s the content duration that has passed through on the TV show or movie. So say you spot Suryavansham playing on Sony Max, and you want to watch it, with one glance you can graphically know how much of the movie is already over thanks to the green seeker marker. This is an interesting touch. And here is where the Mi IR remote can really enhance your experience, as you can use your Mi TV 4 Remote to switch from the smart TV interface to your cable TV and continue using the same remote. Since Xiaomi did not send me a Mi IR cable, I had to keep changing remotes.
There's a TV manager feature which works just like your phone manager, in the sense that it manages memory, cleans trash and shuts open apps to optimise the performance.
The user interface does not take much of a learning curve, as the content is right up front, so there isn’t much need of digging around to do. The infinite scrolling can get cumbersome for some users. And Mi TV 4 should support voice control already. It’s 2018.
Support for apps such as Netflix, Amazon Prime Video isn’t there. While I didn’t try side-loading apps, as a majority of online forum reports stated that side-loaded Netflix app does not play any video. Plus with an Amazon Fire Stick attached, I didn’t feel the need to. But not everyone out there may have a Fire Stick, and it would be in Xiaomi’s favour to have Netflix, Prime Video at least in its stable. While the Hotstar app shows up on the Xiaomi Mi TV product page, I did not see it anywhere on the PatchWall interface.
The PatchWall OS also has support for up to 15 Indian languages, so you can set the interface language according to your preference.
The Xiaomi Mi TV 4 has a Samsung made VA panel which offers excellent colour reproduction, viewing angles are good provided you don’t view from extreme angles as that will result in contrast shifting. Backlight bleed is not noticeable unless you are really looking for that. You may need to adjust the brightness and contrast settings at times, or you can use the preset modes.
The two 8W downward firing speakers are good enough for your basic audio needs. When watching a TV show or watching a live sport, my only concern was that the sound should be loud and clear enough. On that front, Xiaomi MI TV 4 delivers. But if I am watching a movie or playing a game, then I feel I can certainly do with a better speaker set or an audio bar. The lower frequencies aren’t handled that great by the Mi TV 4 bundled speakers. But thankfully, there is no voice distortion at higher volume levels. Bluetooth support lets you pair your Bluetooth headsets or Bluetooth speakers with the Mi TV 4. This is great if you are viewing those late night football matches, but do not want to miss out on the commentary.
When watching content streaming off of the Fire Stick, as long as I had no issues with the internet connection, the scaling was really good. HD and FHD content scales really well across the display. There were no immediately visible issues as such. But when I was streaming live games, such as football and cricket matches, I realised the quality of scaling and clarity wasn’t that up to the mark. It could be due to slow connection speeds, but I double checked and other non-live content streamed quite well. When I switched to my cable display, I still noticed a minor bit of framing during the fast football passes. But it’s not enough to impact the overall viewing experience.
Since the onboard services do not offer native 4K content, I had to download some 4K clips to view it on the display. I downloaded clips with bright as well as dark lighting situations, and the TV display held well on both ends. Since I have the Fire Stick which limits the broadcast to 1080p, even the Premium Netflix plan content had to be seen in Full HD and wasn’t able to stream in UltraHD. So it’s a classic chicken and egg situation. Mi TV 4 offers 4K HDR support but does not have any native 4K HDR content offering. Also, there is no way to know the actual resolution on the bundled apps, you only get options such as low, medium, high, which is not really helpful.
If you have a set top box which just broadcasts SD content, then you will be disappointed as the scaling causes noticeable pixelation. And this isn’t really the fault of the panel, you will just need to upgrade to HD broadcasts.
The user interface is smooth and the built-in quad-core processor ensures that the fluidity is maintained. I did not notice any lag in any operations. Switching between sources does take a few seconds, but that’s normal. Also, since the Mi TV 4 remote connects to the TV via Bluetooth, in case its batteries run out, you can switch to the Mi Tv remote app which can help you with controlling the TV just as easily.
Verdict and Price in India
Let’s put one thing out of the way - at Rs 39,999 you will not get a better deal on a 4K HDR supporting smart LED TV.
I just wish Xiaomi adds on more partners such as Netflix, Prime Video and others. Yes, a lot of the users whose only TV consumption pattern is via the cable and DTH, will not bother much with this and Xiaomi is already delivering for that use case. But the early adopters for the Mi TV 4 will be users who stream a lot of content. And for heaven’s sake, bundle that Mi IR cable with the TV and not put the customer through the trouble of separately buying it and always coming across an ‘out of stock’. C’mon Xiaomi, you can do better than that. Also the option to load your favourite Android video streaming apps, either through side-loading or via an on-board feature, would be appreciated.
But yes, just like it's smartphones, the Mi TV 4 is currently available in online flash sales only. And the last one got over in 10 seconds. So, all the best with buying one in the next sale.