Looking for a 55-inch 4K budget smart TV from Amazon? Thanks to the pandemic, you'll find little selection and brands you've never heard of..
Looking for a 55-inch, 4K, budget, smart TV from Amazon? Thanks to the pandemic, you'll find a weak selection, high prices, and brands you've never heard of, such as the Caixun AiPlus4K (model EC55S1UA). While affordable for a smart TV that does 4K at 60Hz, is it worth $480?
The AiPlus4k is an adequate alternative to other budget 4K televisions. It displays 4K content at 60Hz. That's suitable for the last generation of consoles, like a PS4 Pro, as well as PC gamers. And its LCD panel's contrast ratio is good. But the value isn't equal to better-known television brands.
What Is Caixun, Express Luck Technology? And Are Their TVs Good?
Caixun (pronounced "Kai-Shuin") is a sub-label of Express Luck Technology, a 20-year-old TV manufacturer out of China. They use panels from a variety of sources, including CSOT, AUO, and others. However, it's unlikely that anyone in the United States has even heard of them, although you may have owned a television of their design.
Express Luck Technology is an Original Equipment Manufacturer (OEM or ODM). In other words, they make TVs that other companies slap brands on. For example, many of the televisions at Walmart, such as Element and Onn, farm production out to OEMs. Caixun is a rare example of a little-known OEM selling their televisions direct to consumers through Amazon.
Caixun AiPlus4K Set Up and Configuration
Like all 55-inch TVs, the AiPlus4K requires a little assembly, but that's limited to screwing on its feet. After hooking it up to a power source, you need to configure its smart components for use.
The setup process requires a few simple steps:
Sign in to your home Wi-Fi network or plugging the TV into a router using its Ethernet port.
Log into your Google Account.
Pair the included Bluetooth remote control by holding the Back button with the Volume Down button for a few seconds and then choosing the remote control in the television's pairing options.
If you have additional peripherals, like gamepads, you go through the same process:
Put your device into Bluetooth pairing mode.
Choose Setup > Remotes & accessories and then choose your device.
Specifications and Hardware
Dimensions: 48.5 x 28.1 x 3.4 inches
Display: 55-inch 4K, 3860x2160 resolution panel with 60Hz refresh speed
Chipset: MStar M7322 (quadcore ARM Cortex-A55 processor with Mali-470 MP2 GPU)
RAM: 1.5GB of RAM
Storage: 8GB (4GB available to the user)
VESA: 200 x 200mm VESA mounting holes
Weight: 26.6 pounds
Ports: 2 x USB-A 2.0, 3 x HDMI 2.0, component, optical, co-axial antenna, 3.5mm aux, and Ethernet
Power consumption: 119 watts at 60Hz; 89 watts at 30Hz; 19 watts idle
The Caixun AiPlus4k's Hardware and Specifications
The AiPlus4K offers mid-range for a budget price. Going off the specs, it's equivalent to similarly priced budget 4K televisions, from large TV manufacturers.
Storage and RAM
The eMMC 5.0 storage format allows for a peak transfer speed of 400MB/s. While the latest eMMC technology is 5.1A (JESD84-B51A), the transfer speeds aren't noticeably different. In other words, the chip inside of the Caixun offers good transfer speeds and represents modern, if not performant, technology for a budget 4K smart TV.
Its 8GB-sized storage capacity has 2GB available to the user. The limited space makes it useful as a streaming box with few installed apps. Don't expect to play large games, particularly given that Android devices can become progressively slower as free storage decreases.
It's possible to plug in a USB-A flash drive to expand storage capacity. Unfortunately, no matter how fast your flash drive, you will suffer from slower system performance because of Caixun's slow USB 2.0 ports, which bottlenecks system performance.
Lots of Ports, Like Most Budget 4K TVs
There are three HDMI 2.0 ports, an 3.5mm audio jack, a co-axial antenna connector, two USB 2.0 ports, optical, and component cable ports, in the rear of the Caixun. The type and number are virtually standard on almost all budget 4K systems.
Processor and System on a Chip
The AiPlus4k uses an MStar M7322 processor on a MediaTek MSD6886 motherboard. This processor and system-on-a-chip appear in televisions from TCL and other manufacturers, since 2020.
MediaTek owns MStar, which means this is effectively a MediaTek system. While a modern processor, the GPU is a Mali-470 MP2. I couldn't find any specifications for the MP2 variant, but the Mali-470 is a low-power "high-efficiency" four-core Cortex-M3 GPU designed for wearables. Don't expect the TV to perform like an Android TV box. In other words, you can't play Android games at 4K, 60Hz. At best, the chip can pump out either 1080p at 60Hz or 4K at 30hz.
Unfortunately, the slower chip translates into periodic amounts of input delay and lag navigating menus, owing to the overhead of Android combined with a lower-tier processor and GPU. Even so, it's not excessively slow and the TV's head unit functions adequately for all forms of media playback as well as menu navigation and even mobile gaming.
The M7322 processor first entered televisions in 2020, so it's only a year out of date. Considering that many budget televisions are using substantially slower technology, like the ARM Cortex-A53 processor, the AiPlus4K isn't bad at all.
LED 4K (3840x2160) LCD panel
LED 4K screens don't look as good as OLED panels, with comparatively mediocre black levels and contrast ratios. However, they're extremely resilient and long-lasting, being almost immune to burn-in, also known as image retention. While LED-backlight technology isn't state-of-the-art, it's more durable and power-efficient compared to OLED panels. And if you're on a budget, they're cheaper than the latest LED-related tech, like LG's NanoCell or Samsung's Mini LED and Micro LED technologies.
The 4K panel itself doesn't show any stuck pixels or screen imperfections, although if you did detect one, Caixun's customer service requires that you return the unit through Amazon's 30-day return period.
Testing and Calibration
Like with all televisions, you can adjust the lighting and color parameters by going to: Settings > Device preferences > Picture.
For the majority of testing, I used Lagom.nl which offers a range of LCD-testing utilities.
Black Levels, and Contrast Ratio
All budget LED-lit IPS LCD panels look bad compared to OLED. You might notice small degrees of uneven black levels around the edges of the screen, and blacks that are nearly grey in dim lighting. The AiPlus4K doesn't magically solve the problem with LED-lit televisions.
The visibility issues look worst during dark scenes but those imperfections appear even when looking at the screen from dead center. The level of black isn't particularly noticeable and it doesn't distract from watching videos or playing games. But take your eyes off the center of the screen and you'll see it in a dark room.
In my tests, the contrast ratio came in at 2154:1 for the center of the screen. While not great, it's good for a budget LED-backlit LCD screen.
As with most In-Plane Switching (IPS) LCD panels, the 4K display on the AiPlus4K remains adequate from all angles, but the whites deteriorate in quality the further you move away from the dead center. Overall, the screen doesn't show any serious signs of poor quality.
I tested the AiPlus4K with a series of solid colors from Lagom.nl, and it shows a small degree of color aberration as you move left or right of center, particularly for blue, which shifts to purple when viewed from extreme angles.
Most of the AiPlus4K's parts indicate a budget system. But even so, they're decent specs for the budget market. The screen looks good, the hardware is modern, and the software runs fluidly, for the most part.
Caixun AiPlus4K's Implementation of Android TV
The operating system is Android TV, a media-focused version of Android 9. That means the AiPlus4K can access a huge number of apps through either sideloading or the Google Play Store.
What's Android TV?
Android TV offers far fewer Android apps compared to smartphone Android. Other than a smaller app library, Android TV uses a visual interface designed for remote controls and joysticks. The navigation menus feel slower and less intuitive compared to LG's WebOS, but its application library is vast and includes such media tools as VLC Player.
Unlike the Android boxes shipped out by shady manufacturers, the Caixun comes with a valid certificate of authenticity from Google. Google's official certification means security validation for protections against malware, privacy hacks, and other malicious software.
On the downside, the Android 9 on the AiPlus4K falls two years short of Android 11. Android 9 devices almost certainly won't receive the user interface updates that Google pushed out to Android TV in February of 2021. On top of that, Google's upcoming Google TV initiative will implement a new operating system, which brings a refreshed interface and new capabilities, such as the ability to switch off smart features.
Given that the last security update on the AiPlus4K was in July of 2020, it seems that this television won't receive further firmware updates.
Viewing Videos on the AiPlus4K
4K videos on the AiPlus4k look smooth, the viewing angles are good, although the audio quality, while loud, won't replace dedicated speakers. The uneven lighting on the sides of the unit isn't too severe, and the blacks are not overwhelmingly discolored, even in a dark room.
As with all televisions in this price segment, the refresh rate when using YouTube or other streaming video apps comes in at less than 30Hz. VLC Player indicated that the refresh rate while playing 4K content is 24Hz. Additionally, I noticed high levels of smearing and ghosting while playing back 4K content, but only for dark scenes. Otherwise, the panel's image quality remained consistent.
Gaming on the Caixun AiPlus4k
For 4K gaming at 60Hz, the AiPlus4K doesn't show any serious vices. The on-screen images remain crisp, without much smearing or ghosting. I can't quantitatively measure response times, but Lagom.nl's toolset didn't detect any issues.
Caixun AiPlus4K Is Like Most OEM-Made Televisions
To the best of my knowledge, the Sansui ES55XS1A and the AiPlus4K look like the same television. There's a lot of evidence suggesting that they are the same.
Express Luck is Sansui's OEM, and the AiPlus4K even uses the same service centers as Sansui. On top of that, their model numbers are extremely similar.
While this does not mean the AiPlus4K is a bad television, it does mean it's overpriced. And, as of the writing of this article, Amazon's stock of budget 55-inch LCD smart televisions are severely limited.
Warranty, Customer Support, and Return Policy
Caixun contracts with Premier Customer Service for technical support in North America. I called the customer service line with a bogus technical support issue and spoke with an operator named "Delorse". Delorse mentioned she hadn't encountered a Caixun failure yet and because of this, she was less familiar with the return process.
She mentioned that if a hardware defect had been detected, the RMA process would call for return to the service center at Primer's US repair center, the ship-in costs covered by Caixun. Overall, the customer service is good, although there was no higher tier of technical support. Meaning, if you have a technical issue related to setup and configuration, you'll likely not find an answer.
Repairability and Sustainability
There are no teardowns of the AiPlus4K anywhere, but you shouldn't need one for two reasons. First, disassembly doesn't require removing security screws. Second, accessing the logic board doesn't require any special instructions. Simply unscrewing the rear access panel provides a full view of the electronics driving the television.
If you suffer from either a failing capacitor or a desoldered GPU, replacement only requires a soldering iron and basic electronics safety measures. I'd still recommend taking the TV to a repair shop, rather than fixing it yourself, because of the potential for injury. But overall, the AiPlus4K's electronics are extremely easy to repair, unless you've broken the LCD screen, which is difficult and expensive to repair.
Signs of Poor Workmanship
After tearing down the AiPlus4K, I noticed four signs of poor workmanship.
First, there's a small amount of hot glue, trailing down the sides of the bezel, surrounding the LCD screen.
Second, there are scorch marks on several electrical connections, potentially from overheating Rosin flux.
Third, there's a bridged solder point on the mainboard. While sometimes logic boards intentionally bridge connections, I don't believe that's the case here.
However, the television runs, so it's clear that the bridging isn't creating an electrical short. And it's on electrical connections that are marked as "cold" or neutral, so there's minimal risk that this could cause a short.
Fourth, the wireless and Bluetooth antennas are poorly positioned, which should result in weaker signal strength. If you plan on using this television on a network with poor wireless connectivity, consider using a Powerline adapter along with its far more reliable Ethernet port.
All OEM budget televisions suffer from imperfections on their televisions, some more than others.
Sustainability and Power Efficiency
The one element that I dislike is the use of an integrated power cable, which means an integrated power supply unit. My guess is that the internal power supply unit offers up to 135-watts of power.
In my tests, the power consumption hit 89-watts while refreshing at 30Hz and 118 watts at 60Hz. Its idle draw came in at 19.5 watts. In yearly power costs, the standby alone would cost around $20 at $0.10 per kilowatt-hour. The official rating lists the power costs as coming in at $18 per year.
Should You Buy the Caixun AiPlus4K?
I wouldn't normally recommend a television from a little-known manufacturer, particularly if it cost the same as a nearly identical TV from LG. But the pandemic's impact on supply chains means you must make do with what's available.
If Hisense, TCL, Samsung, Vizio, or (in particular) LG's 55-inch 4K budget televisions aren't available, I'd recommend buying the AiPlus4K because it's more or less a slightly newer and better TV than the other OEM-made budget options at Walmart.
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