While a number of once-strong brands have been forced to depart the UK TV scene in recent years, Chinese company Hisense believes there's now space in the market for it to launch a concerted assault on UK living rooms.
As well as throwing vast sums of money at making sure its brand name gets out there – not least by becoming one of the sponsors of the Infiniti Red Bull Formula 1 team – Hisense has also taken the pruning shears to its pricing. So much so that the first TV we've seen from the brand, the horribly named LTDN50K321UWT, offers 50 inches of 4K UHD screen for just £499.
That's a price/screen real estate combination deliberately designed to give the more established TV brands a heart attack. But surely such a large, cheap 4K TV can't also be any good, can it?
Aesthetically it's solid. You can't ignore the fact that there's a lot of plastic in its build quality, but nor can you ignore the fact that its frame is as slim as those wrapped around the majority of the competition. Its deep grey colouring is quite attractive; and the addition of some gloss to the bottom edge is a cute touch that shows Hisense's design department isn't just running on autopilot.
While the pair of feet the TV sits on aren't especially glamorous, they do deserve kudos for being incredibly easy to attach compared with the insanely fiddly efforts you get with the majority of today's TVs.
The LTDN50K321UWT is much better connected than I would have expected for its money. Its four HDMIs, for instance, is as good as you get with even the most expensive TVs out there right now.
What's more, two of these HDMIs are capable of playing 4K UHD signals at up to 60 frames a second, making them ready for the first generation of 4K broadcasts (delivered via external set top boxes such as BT's latest Humax box and, eventually, the upcoming Sky Q).
You also get a trio of USBs for playing back multimedia files from USB storage devices, and integrated Wi-Fi for both streaming in multimedia from networked DLNA-enabled devices, and taking the LTDN50K321UWT online.
The only disappointment – though it's scarcely that, really, given how affordable the TV is – is that there's no support through the LTDN50K321UWT's connections for high dynamic range (HDR) playback.
4K streaming support
The online connectivity actually goes further than expected in one way by supporting 4K UHD Streaming from both Netflix and Amazon if you've subscribed to their UHD services.
This is a hugely welcome touch for such a budget 4K set, and joins with a BBC iPlayer app in showing that Hisense is up for the challenge of forging content/app relationships with key local players in its push towards a global TV presence.
Before anyone gets too excited about the LTDN50K321UWT's smart features, it must be stressed that the onscreen interface for accessing them is pretty basic by modern standards. Also, while the iPlayer might be present and correct, there's no sign – yet, anyway – of any of the other key UK catch-up services.
Though there is rather too much sign of foreign language apps, which clutter up the interface and run counter to the sense of localisation created elsewhere.
It's hard to gripe too much about the limitations of the LTDN50K321UWT's smart features, though, when you remember that £499 price.
No HDR, no 3D
I mentioned earlier that the LTDN50K321UWT doesn't support HDR, and that's not its only omission; it also can't play 3D. This may upset a few people, I guess, but in truth the lack of 3D isn't a surprise at all now that more and more big-name manufacturers are starting to strip 3D off their entry level and even lower-midrange TVs.
When it comes to getting the LTDN50K321UWT's pictures looking how you want them to look, there's a solid set of tweaks and adjustments at your disposal.
These include noise reduction processing, motion clarity processing, white balance management, an adjustable dynamic contrast system, and a backlight adjustment alongside the usual contrast and brightness controls.
Colour management is fairly limited, though, and as we'll see later, if you're after really 'accurate' pictures the LTDN50K321UWT may not be for you.
After making a few adjustments to the LTDN50K321UWT's pictures (most importantly, reducing the backlight to around its 30 mark, and setting the dynamic contrast feature to its most powerful level), Hisense's UK TV debut is capable of producing seriously watchable pictures that comfortably outgun the efforts of any similarly affordable 4K TVs I've come across.
For starters, the LTDN50K321UWT's pictures look sharp - really sharp.
Fed a native 4K source, Hisense's screen delivers a genuine 4K advantage as images look crisper, more detailed, and more full of depth than those you get from any HD set. This is achieved, moreover, without pushing grain too strongly or causing any ringing effects around lines and other small areas of detail.
The impressive sense of sharpness even holds up quite well when you're watching an action scene thanks to the way the LTDN50K321UWT suffers far less with motion blur than the majority of budget TVs.
That's not to say motion handling is perfect (more on this later), but it's great to see moving objects not reducing the picture's '4Kness' as much as usual on a budget TV.
I was pleasantly surprised, too, by how well the LTDN50K321UWT upscales HD sources to its native 4K screen. It manages to add at least a little extra detail without, crucially, exaggerating any noise that might have been present in the source.
It's not just with its sharpness that the LTDN50K321UWT outguns the vast majority of other budget TVs, it's also ahead of the game with its black level response.
Provided you've followed my earlier set-up tips, dark scenes suffer much less than I would have expected with the sort of grey wash effect commonly seen on cheap LCD TVs. You can certainly get deeper black levels if you spend more - we're not in the same territory as LG's OLED TVs here!
But dark scenes are certainly more watchable than usual for the LTDN50K321UWT's sort of money.
It's not just the depth of the black levels that impresses either; it's also the consistency. By which I mean that there's much less sign of clouding inconsistencies than I might have expected to see - even when an image contains an extreme mix of dark and light content.
Surprisingly for its money the LTDN50K321UWT uses a direct LED lighting system (where the lights sit directly behind the screen), which doubtless plays a part in the freedom from clouding you get to enjoy so long as you don't try to run the image too brightly.
It's common for screens capable of producing decent dark shades to also perform well with other colours. And this is true of the LTDN50K321UWT too, to a point. Tones across the board look punchy and vibrant, standing proud against the blacks to create a good sense of pop that really grabs your attention.
This stands in welcome contrast to the rather flat, muted colour palettes commonly seen on very affordable TVs.
I mentioned earlier that the LTDN50K321UWT's pictures aren't particularly accurate if you're the sort of buyer who's keen on that. By which I mean that it's tricky to get every part of the colour palette hitting every point of the Rec 709 standard that's dominated the home video industry for decades now.
However, while this will upset some, my feeling is that most buyers in the market for a TV bargain will feel more than happy enough with the dynamism, crispness and richness of the pictures on show compared with the flatter, softer, messier pictures usually associated with the LTDN50K321UWT's level of the market.
While the LTDN50K321UWT's images are certainly markedly better than I'd anticipated considering how cheap it is, they're predictably not perfect. Motion while watching 24p Blu-ray sources can look slightly billowy without the motion processing in place, and a little prone to glitching if you turn the motion processing on.
Areas of particularly fine detail can sometimes look a bit fizzy too, while dark areas can look a touch hollow and 'crushed' once you've calibrated the set to get the best black levels.
Finally the LTDN50K321UWT's picture quality suffers if you have to watch it from an angle, with black level response and colour saturations taking a marked hit from viewing angles as little as 20 degrees off axis.
Overall, though, with just a little set-up work the LTDN50K321UWT is capable of delivering pictures that sell its 4K resolution emphatically and are consistently engaging and immersive to a degree you've no right to expect for £499.
Usability, Sound and Value
The LTDN50K321UWT isn't particularly feature rich, which makes it almost by default fairly straightforward to use on a day by day basis. There are a couple of niggles, though.
First, as well as looking a bit drab and failing to filter out a lot of unhelpful foreign language apps for UK users, the smart TV operating system can run a bit sluggishly at times.
Second, the remote control you get with the LTDN50K321UWT is a pretty basic effort; for the most part nothing more than the bog-standard plasticky effort you get with pretty much every other budget TV.
The only little 'bonus' it offers is a dedicated Netflix button providing instant access to the Netflix app.
While the LTDN50K321UWT's audio doesn't stand out from the budget pack like its pictures do, it's a solid enough effort. It's capable of hitting reasonable volumes, manages to keep voices sounding decently well rounded and clear, and creates quite a three dimensional soundstage even if that soundstage's width isn't quite as expansive as I'd ideally like.
There's not much bass worthy of the name, though, and what there is sounds detached from the rest of the mix. Also, the mid-range isn't expansive or open enough to handle loud sequences particularly well, meaning things can start to sound pretty harsh and brittle when the going gets tough.
The LTDN50K321UWT is a 50-inch 4K TV with solid smarts that performs better in all the key picture areas than any similarly priced rival.
Aside from, perhaps, a few more of the UK's key TV catch-up services, it's hard to think what more you might reasonably have expected to get for £499.
Hisense is clearly keen to arrive on the UK TV scene with a bang. At £499 the LTDN50K321UWT is groundbreakingly cheap for a 50-inch 4K TV, yet despite its extreme affordability it offers a pretty impressive set of features. The breadth of multimedia playback support, strong connectivity, a smart TV system, and some promising picture specifications are all as welcome as they are unexpected.
What's more, while not perfect, for the most part it delivers on those specifications far more successfully than you might have hoped.
At £499 for a 50-inch 4K TV, the LTDN50K321UWT's price is very much right.
Especially when Hisense's UK debutante combines its eye-catching price with some genuinely strong picture quality. Connectivity is good for its money too.
The operating system can be a bit sluggish, and the sound system can become harsh under duress.
The smart features don't include many of the UK catch-up services, dark scenes can look a little hollow, and there's no 3D or HDR support.
To say Hisense has hit the ground running with the LTDN50K321UWT would be an understatement.
It has, at the first time of asking, established itself as a brand capable of operating at the budget end of the market while serving up a markedly better-than-budget level of performance and features.
All of which makes it potentially the stuff of nightmares for the more established TV brands.