China's TCL throws hat into nation's emerging console gaming market

China recently lifted a 13-year-old ban on gaming consoles

Chinese electronics maker TCL is planning its own game console for China, joining the growing throng of tech companies wanting to enter the nation's emerging video games market.

The company is preparing a game console and a "gaming TV" that will both deliver an Xbox-like experience, said Hao Yi, CEO of TCL Multimedia, on his official account with the Chinese messaging app WeChat.

TCL on Tuesday declined to provide further information on the upcoming products. But the company is entering the video game market after China recently lifted a 13-year-old ban on gaming consoles.

TCL aims to be an early mover in the new market, and use gaming to elevate the company's entertainment offerings, said Hao in his posting. In China, the electronics maker is perhaps best known for its TVs, but it also sells smartphones and household appliances.

To create an ecosystem for its console products, TCL will partner with ATET, a Chinese maker of a smartphone gaming device, Hao added.

Earlier this month, China's Huawei Technologies said it would release an Android gaming console, Tron. The device is scheduled to arrive in China during the second quarter, with a possible price tag of around US$200.

In addition, Microsoft last September entered into a joint venture with a Chinese company to develop a next generation of family gaming. The company has spent years trying to legally bring its Xbox systems to the nation, and has lobbied Chinese politicians to lift the console ban.

Other big console makers such as Sony and Nintendo are also expected to tap into China's gaming market, and already benefit with better brand recognition, and long histories in game development.

But less established Chinese players such as Huawei and TCL will still have a chance to carve out a presence, said Xue Yongfeng, an analyst with Beijing-based research firm Analysys International.

"China represents a new untapped market, but many of the consumers will only buy products at the low end," he said. "It's not like in foreign markets, where many people are buying high-end gaming systems."

As a result, Chinese companies will probably build consoles at the lower end of the market, avoiding direct competition with gaming systems from Microsoft and Sony, Xue said. Consoles from Chinese companies could also take the form of a built-in addition to a set-top box or smart TV, he added.

Many smart TVs are installed with Google's Android OS, and thus can also run mobile games. In China, smart TV shipments to the market reached 20 million units last year, according to Xue.

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