In December of last year, Japanese discount store chain Don Quijote began selling the Android TV Equipped Tunerless Smart TV. As its name explains, this TV has no tuner with which to view terrestrial broadcasts, but does have Chromecast built-in and is compatible with Amazon’s Fire TV Stick.
Despite lacking the ability to watch TV, which some purists might consider the most important aspect of a TV, this device flew off the shelves soon after its release. The reason is likely a Dec 2 ruling by the Supreme Court of Japan that a woman with a TV modified to block signals from the public broadcaster NHK was still required to pay an annual fee.
Paying for NHK in Japan is something of a contentious issue, so much so that an entire political party was formed because of it. In a nutshell, the broadcaster had outsourced the task of getting people to sign contracts for the fees. These collectors are notoriously aggressive in their tactics, which has resulted in some equally aggressive ways to get out of paying for it.
Buying a specially modified TV that accepts every station except for NHK is one such way. However, although the woman’s TV wasn’t able to receive NHK at the time, the court ruled that she must pay because the blocking feature had the potential to be undone at any time.
It was a verdict that left many others with similar TVs suddenly in need of a new one that would keep NHK out of their pockets. Mere days after, when the Android Equipped Tunerless Smart TV was released, Don Quijote never mentioned NHK explicitly in ads, but the TVs quickly gained a reputation online as an “NHK-proof” television.
Demand rose sharply for the two televisions: a 24-inch model for 21,780 yen and a 42-inch one for 32,780 yen. Even Don Quijote admitted they underestimated how well these TVs would sell, and their initial run of 6,000 units didn’t prevent some locations from selling out. This month they announced that production of a further 6,000 was underway.
Online comments were a mix of reactions, with some celebrating the alternative television but other worried about its quality. In addition, others posed the obvious question: Aren’t these just monitors?
“It’s a monitor.”
“This will be the new normal.”
“I bet you a lot of people bought this thinking it would let them watch other channels…”
“It’s just a monitor. Everyone is being deceived.”
“I would be better to plug a Fire TV into a monitor with HDMI. Can you even update the OS on those things?”
“Wow! Don Quijote did it!”
“Because of NHK other stations will be losing viewers now.”
“I wonder if you could modify one of those TVs to watch NHK.”
“Isn’t it just a big tablet?”
“It’s not just a monitor! It’s a monitor with Chromecast built in.”
In fairness, the Android TV Equipped Tunerless Smart TV, isn’t “just” a monitor since it does have a lot of the trappings of a television, like a remote control, numerous audio/video inputs, and a display more suited for viewing at a distance. Still, it’s undeniable that you can’t watch TV on this TV, so can it really be called a “TV?”
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