The tech world has been abuzz ever since the new TV manufacturing startup Telly announced that it would be shipping hundreds of thousands of 55” 4K smart TVs for free. Users have to surrender anonymous personal data that will be sold to advertisers in order to get these TVs, and they come equipped with a smaller second screen, part of which will be a dedicated space for ads 100% of the time the TV is in use.
Tech writer Chris Welch from The Verge got an in-person look at Telly’s free TVs, and spoke with Telly founder Ilya Pozin, who also created the free streaming service Pluto TV. Pozin called the sets “the smartest TV on the planet,” but is that characterization accurate? When can users who signed up for a free Telly TV expect their set to arrive? Pozin gave answers on a myriad of topics during the discussion, and we have the most pertinent details you need to know below.
When Will Free Telly TVs Ship?
If you registered for one of Telly’s free TVs, you could see a rather big box on your doorstep sometime this month. The initial wave of 500,000 Telly sets is due to start shipping in June and continue rolling out to customers all summer. There was no exact date given as to when all of the first group of customers who signed up will get their TVs, but it should make its way to them sometime during the summer months.
Will Telly Require Minimum Viewing Times For its TVs?
Yes, although exactly how much viewing time would be required was not revealed. Telly’s chief strategy officer Dallas Lawrence told The Verge that the Telly set would have to be the “primary” TV in the home. That means your Telly TV will be tracking how much you use it, and reporting back to the company with your watching statistics.
Will You Have to Return Telly TV if It’s Not the Primary TV in Your Home?
Yes, or face a hefty credit card charge. Users who sign up with Telly do have to provide a payment card of some kind, and the company’s terms of service indicate that users who don’t return a set as required will face a charge of $500. Lawrence says that specific dollar amount has not been finalized.
What Features Does a Telly TV Have?
In addition to a second screen, 4K picture quality and integrated soundbar, Telly sets have a number of features that are fast becoming standard-issue on new televisions. The sets have a camera with built-in support for Zoom, though to ease privacy concerns these cameras are covered with a physical shutter when not in use. They also have microphones for voice assistant support, though it was not immediately clear which home assistants will be compatible with Telly TVs.
Can You Use the Second Screen Simultaneously with the First Screen?
Yes, at least in some capacities. Users will be able to play mobile games or music on the second screen while other content plays on the main screen. Users will then be able to decide which of the two screens will play audio.
Is Telly’s TV Compatible With Streaming Devices like Roku and Apple TV?
Yes! Even though Telly will run on a version of Android’s OS, executives pledge that it will be compatible with Apple streaming devices. Other popular streaming devices like Roku and Amazon Fire TV players will also work with Telly sets, and each will ship with a free Google TV streaming dongle in the box.
Can You Cover Up the Second Screen or Hack a Telly TV to Stop Displaying Ads?
Part of the reason Telly can give away so many TVs for free is that it has agreements with advertisers to always be showing an ad on the second screen. Users could try to cover this screen physically, but HDMI inputs, the volume indicator, the app tray and other settings are exclusively available there. That will make it highly inconvenient for users to cover it up.
Hacking into any electronic device is a great way to void your user agreement, but it’s especially not advisable with a Telly device. Because both screens run on the same operating system, Telly execs caution that by messing with one, you’ll be messing with both. And if that isn’t enough to dissuade you, the company might simply shut off your set if it finds you’ve been tinkering in ways it doesn’t approve of.
“If you try to degrade the TV experience, we have the ability to deactivate the television. If you somehow manage to do something to the bottom screen, you’re not going to be able to utilize the top screen,” Lawrence said.
What Will the Ad Experience Be Like?
Because users will have to give certain information in order to get a Telly TV, the ad experience will be more tailored to individual users. For example, customers will see ads for car companies that actually include offers available in their area, not just a generic, national commercial.
Ads will also be actionable; users who see a commercial for a food delivery service could click it and order from their screen, for example.
How Much Data Will You Have to Surrender to Get a Telly TV?
Privacy concerns have only continued to grow as the world becomes increasingly digitized, and many users have serious questions about whether their data will be safe after signing up for Telly. Users will have to give details they frequently give to streaming platforms as part of user agreements, like location and demographic information that advertisers will make use of.
For its part, Telly has promised that its data scraping will be no more intensive than other smart TVs, which are usually not as straightforward about their practices. It’s important to note, however, that with most smart TVs these data-gathering tools can be turned off.