Tech round-up for November 7: TCL's TV lineup in Canada, Roku's role in video, Toshiba back in TVs, Next Level video game convention, Red Dead Redemption 2 a masterpiece

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Categories Consumer technology | Video games

This week, Toshiba is selling TVs again, new Fire TV products from Amazon, and Roku adds Prime Video to its streaming devices. Plus, a video game convention in the GTA this weekend, and a review of Red Dead Redemption 2, which is a masterpiece.

TCL’s TV line comes to Canada, bringing high tech for low cost

In mid-October, a brand of televisions was quietly offered for sale through Amazon Canada. The screens, from TCL, quickly moved to the list of top selling devices, and the two most expensive models sold out.

“We’ll have more in stock soon,” assured Chris Larson, the senior vice president of TCL North America.

Larson was speaking with me at a hotel in downtown Vancouver where he and his colleagues were set up and showing off the televisions which have been disrupting the industry in the United States since they started selling there in 2014. In that time, TCL has gone to number three in the TV space south of the border, behind Samsung and LG.

When it comes to high-quality picture for a reasonable price, no other brand or manufacturer comes close to TCL. The company’s “6 Series” includes 4K resolution and supports Dolby Vision and full HDR. They also have a number of additional features and technology to improve colour and contrast performance, as well as local dimming (called “Contrast Control Zones” by TCL).

While similar TVs from other brands cost in the neighbourhood of $2,000, TCL’s two sizes of 6 Series TVs are a fraction of the price, costing $849 for the 55-inch and $1,249 for the 65-inch.

TCL also has two other models coming to Canada, with slightly scaled back features. The 3 Series models cost $209 and $309 for 720p and 1080p resolution, while the 4 Series models, starting at $390, have 4K and basic HDR support, but none of the picture-enhancing controls.

While the cost of TCLs televisions is less, the quality is on par or better than other manufacturers.

Larson explained that TCL is one of only three TV brands that manufacture their own components. Other TV brands have to get components from other companies, or even have other companies construct their TVs for them. TCL has turned this advantage into an opportunity to undercut the competition.

Using a TCL is also a better experience because the company has partnered with Roku to provide the software for the TVs. Roku’s director of communications, Mike Duin, explained that his company takes care of the entire platform for TCL, including the operating system (OS) and programming.

The OS is not simply a port of the software Roku uses for its streaming devices, either. The Roku OS for televisions is a separate product, and Duin said that in developing the software, Roku prides themselves on “taking stuff out instead of adding things.” For example, the small and simple Roku remote control does not have an input button because anything plugged into one of the TCL TV ports appears on the TVs home screen.

Steven Abrams is the leading TCL’s push into Canada. He said that what makes the market here so unique is that consumers are very polarized. They either want the cheapest TV they can get, or they want the best thing available on the market.

TCL believes they have TVs that are both at the same time.

Amazon Fire-enabled TVs coming to Canada courtesy of Toshiba

Toshiba is back in the TV business.

In 2015, the tech company got out of the North American TV market, but as of this fall Toshiba sets will be sold in a partnership with Amazon.

There are two models of Toshiba Fire TV Edition, one which delivers 4K images and one displaying at 720p.

Fire TV is Amazon’s streaming media player and it’s also available as a Stick 4K ($70) that plugs into an HDMI port on your existing television. It’s selling with a new Bluetooth remote with Alexa voice functionality. You can also purchase the remote on its own for $40.

Amazon Prime Video now streaming on Roku

Roku also makes media streaming devices, and now you can watch Amazon Prime Video on them.

Prime Video is the streaming video service from Amazon that comes with every Prime membership. Popular shows on Prime Video include American Gods, The Man in the High Castle, and Goliath.

New shows include Homecoming, starring Julia Roberts and directed by Mr. Robot creator Sam Esmail, and the Jack Ryan series with John Krasinski in the title role.

Next Level video game convention in Mississauga this weekend

If you’re in the greater Toronto area with time on your hands this weekend, head out to the International Centre in Mississauga for the Next Level Video Game Convention which includes tournaments for Gears of War, Call of Duty, and more. Also appearing are local indie game developers, tabletop games to play, and a Magic card game tournament.

The event runs Saturday and Sunday. Tickets are $30 for a day and $45 for the weekend.

Meditative Red Dead Redemption 2 a masterwork

You may find the first hours of Red Dead Redemption 2 somewhat ponderous. The game’s introduction and tutorial levels are intentionally slow. Players are locked into a linear experience, during which time you learn a bit about the person you’ve become, Arthur Morgan, and his role as a lieutenant in the criminal gang of Dutch van der Linde.

If you played Red Dead Redemption (2010), some of the characters in the gang are familiar, because they appeared in that game as antagonists. In this prequel, though, they are part of your family.

I bristled a bit at the lack of independence, but realized that was how the developers at Rockstar Games got me to recognize that this open world game is not like other open world games. It’s more of a simulation. The systems in place are intricate and intertwined, the world existing whether you engage with it or not.

And the pace doesn’t change much after the world has opened up. You’ll spend hours on horseback simply riding from place to place. You won’t be looking to the map for side missions, because you just discover them occurring where you happen to be. The slower gait of the game gives you time to appreciate the attention to detail and the exquisite characterizations and dialogue, time to meditate on the themes of expectation, honour, and freedom.

Available for PS4 and Xbox One, Red Dead Redemption 2 is set in a fictionalized version of the American frontier in 1899 and is carefully constructed to peel away the myth and romance of the Wild West.

The role-playing and crafting systems in the game are a bit arcane, and the controls of the game are soft, much the same as they were eight years ago.

But if you don’t mind a game that plays things slow, it’s easy to be at peace with those limitations.

And for an open world game, this one has value. The game’s epilogue is almost as long as the fifty-hour narrative itself, and it all concludes with the map opening up even more. The world of Red Dead Redemption 2 is one you will want to continue exploring long after the game is done with you.


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