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You Asked: Panasonic TVs, Apple and FlexConnect, and TV spies

In this installment of You Asked: Panasonic TVs, Apple TV with Dolby FlexConnect, and the TV spies among us.

Where's the Panasonic TVs? Will Apple TV Get FlexConnect? | You Asked Ep. 27

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Panasonic MZ2000 4K OLED TV
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Paul Fillingham asks: Which Panasonic almost matches the Sony? And @indibassi4817 writes: Why don’t you ever speak about Panasonic?


I’m assuming you mean Panasonic TVs. If you meant Panasonic Blu-ray players, the answer is that I’ve not been doing many Blu-ray player reviews lately, though it’s going to be a bit different this year because I’ve got a Magnetar and need to compare it to a Panasonic player.

But assuming you meant why I don’t speak about Panasonic TVs, the simplest answer is because I can’t get them in to experience them myself. Panasonic doesn’t have a distribution network for TVs in North America anymore, which makes me very sad. And that means that the majority of my viewers can’t buy them — at least not easily.

But Digital Trends being a global operation, I would like to pull in notable TVs, like Panasonic’s OLEDs, and I’ll try to make that happen. But it’s tricky. The only way for me to get them is from a retailer and we don’t buy TVs for reviews. (I have a whole video talking about that.)

It’s not like I’m ignoring that Panasonic exists or pretending it doesn’t make some of the best TVs you can buy. I just can’t get my hands — or, more important, my eyes — on them. At least not very easily. I’ll see what I can do, and this won’t be the first year I’ve tried to make it happen. But we can always hope for better this year!

Apple TV and FlexConnect?

Apple HomePod 2023
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DoctorVadarWho writes: Do you think the Apple TV will get Dolby Atmos FlexConnect?


This is just my gut talking, but no, I don’t think so.

I don’t see Apple adding to the cost of the Apple TV unless it leads to selling more Apple products. If Apple added Dolby Atmos FlexConnect, it would do so out of the goodness of its heart to let folks use FlexConnect-capable speakers. But those speakers would compete with the HomePod and HomePod mini. FlexConnect will likely get folded into TV hardware, possibly other streaming boxes, maybe soundbars, and even AV receivers.

I think it is far more likely that Apple would create a tuning algorithm that works similarly to FlexConnect in that it would allow more randomized placement of HomePod and HomePod mini speakers to deliver spatial audio and Dolby Atmos.

Apple has the chops to do that. I think Sony, Apple, and Dolby will dominate this kind of technology. And I reckon Dolby is the only one that will license it for use by any home entertainment brand willing to pay for it.

Spy where?

TV Terms & Conditions
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Dadsproj07 writes: What are your thoughts about the issue of “spying” for TCL TVs and Hisense TVs?


I’m going to be honest: I’ve been avoiding this one for a while. Not because I don’t want to answer it, but because answering it is going to be a whole thing and probably deserves a dedicated article.

So, what are my thoughts about the ” spying ” issue for TCL TVs and Hisense TVs? Well, first, let’s just call out that the question mentions two very specific brands, and I suspect I know why, but let’s get back to that.

Let’s start with the notion of spying. What is “spying” in the context of a TV? Would it be gathering data about your viewing habits — like that you like rom-coms and trashy horror flicks? Or that you spend a lot more time watching Disney+ instead of Netflix? Because if that’s spying, well, all smart TVs and streaming devices do that.

Maybe it’s something more specific? Like, using the microphone or, if your TV has one, the camera to listen and look in on your home? That’s pretty invasive. That sounds bad and feels icky.

What other spying could there be? Use your imagination.

Spying has a very negative connotation to it. Conceptually, it’s a violation of our privacy. But what is the real definition of spying? Is it gathering information without our consent? Gathering information without our awareness? Is it both at the same time?

I ask those questions somewhat rhetorically because I think it is important that we give that some thought. But also because I wanted to tee this up: By those definitions, you’re already being “spied on” every single day. For most folks, every security camera in every business is taking pictures of your face. Every video doorbell on anyone’s property is shooting video and audio of you. Your phone is constantly reporting your location. Your phone and laptop have cameras and microphones. And while you may have tape over your laptop camera, I am willing to bet money you don’t have tape over your phone cameras.

I bring this up because I think it is interesting how folks choose to target certain devices as spying risks while other devices are just accepted. Maybe they’re accepted as low-risk or maybe you’ve just given up the fight with those devices.

But let’s bring it back to smart TVs. They are all “spying” by some definition of that term. And you said that’s OK. You may not have realized it because you just clicked on the “Accept” box when setting up your TV, but you did say yes to it, unless you scrutinized everything in the setup process and deliberately said no. Regardless, all smart TVs can and most do “spy” by some definition of the term.

But, the question singled out TCL and Hisense. Lots of folks do that. But why?

It’s because they are companies based in China. In the U.S., at the very least, we consider China a big security threat, and for good reasons. I mean, the U.S. has a banned company list and a banned devices list, right? Huawei and ZTE are the big-name telecommunications companies that the U.S. has banned, and that’s a big reason why we were and are so behind in deploying 5G wireless infrastructure. Less familiar names on the banned list are Hikvision, Dahua, and Hytera, which make video security equipment and two-way radios.

So, knowing there is a banned list. Knowing it is based on a security threat that was detected and analyzed. Knowing that some companies have been caught with security holes that had to be fixed for those devices to be sold in the U.S. Knowing that, clearly, there are entire organizations dedicated to assessing risk around these telecommunications devices and taking swift action when needed. Knowing all of this …

How in the world would it make sense to anyone that TCL and Hisense have somehow shipped millions upon millions of TV units loaded with spyware into the U.S. that have somehow gone undetected? How is it that thousands of genius hackers, who, by the way, immediately put Samsung on blast as soon as they figured out how to hijack a TV’s built-in camera, have somehow slept on Hisense and TCL? How do we think they are so advanced at making spyware that’s undetectable to the brightest minds in the world, and yet they struggle to get their HBO Max app to act right? How?

Also, why is Lenovo off the hook? How about Oppo? Xiaomi? Anker? And should Taiwan be in the crosshairs? Because that would involve Acer, Asus, Gigabyte, MSI.

But what if just a few got through? What if Hisense or TCL managed to plant just a few spying TVs in the U.S., betting that they would be covered by the millions of clean products coming into the U.S.?

I still think it would be discovered. And, let’s be honest, how often would precious data be exposed? Yeah, I’d be concerned about my credit card number being read aloud where something could hear it, and AI figuring that out, connecting some dots, and putting it in front of someone in some database with millions and millions of other entries. But truthfully, most of the time, they will get your kids fighting over the remote or the Switch controller, your aunt’s Texas Hash recipe, and maybe the knowledge that you get pretty gassy after eating more than three chalupas in one sitting.

To be clear and for legal reasons, I should point out that I have no hard evidence or inside knowledge supporting or refuting this suspicion. This is opinion and opinion only — just observations.

So that’s what I think about the issue. It isn’t an issue. And I thank the folks who work hard to make sure it isn’t an issue.

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Caleb Denison
Digital Trends Editor at Large Caleb Denison is a sought-after writer, speaker, and television correspondent with unmatched…
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