Just thought I’d give you a look into the not so distant future.
At CES, TV makers show off lighter, sharper sets
LAS VEGAS — As always, the Consumer Electronics Show, the world’s largest personal technology confab, has been filled with hundreds of new TVs, some as small as a cellphone to others as tall as a basketball player.
In fact, there have been so many announcements that it might be tough to keep up with them all if you’re actually looking to CES to help you decide what your next TV set will be.
No worries, here’s a primer to help you cut through the noise.
OLED AND 4K TVS: LG Electronics, the South Korean electronics maker, unveiled a 55-inch OLED TV that is just 3/16 of an inch thick as well as a whopping 84-inch TV with 4K-display resolution. What is OLED and 4K?
OLED, or organic light-emitting diodes, are more energy-efficient, are thinner and provide better black levels when compared with standard current LEDs used in TVs today. LG’s 55-inch OLED TV weighed in at just under 17 pounds.
But OLED is also more costly to produce than LED TVs, which means they’ll be more expensive to consumers. Just about every TV maker threw out claims at CES that their displays provided the best picture. Samsung, the other South Korean electronics giant, rolled out its “super” OLED sets, promising that its prototype display offers “the ultimate in vividness, speed and thinness, with true-to-life picture quality, enhanced color accuracy and motion picture quality even in the fastest scenes.”
4K TVs have also been a major trend at CES in Las Vegas this year. The promise of 4K TVs is a display whose resolution is much higher than that of today’s highest resolution high-definition TVs, which currently top out at 1080p. The 4K TVs will make their way into stores late this year.
A bit confused by all the terms? 1080p refers to TVs with a resolution of 1,920 x 1,080 pixels, or about 2 million pixels. The newer 4K standard refers to TVs with a typical resolution of 4,096 x 2160 pixels, or about 8 million pixels.
Sharp Corp., the Japanese TV maker, is taking the resolution jump further than its rivals and introduced a prototype 8K TV, which it says will offer double the resolution of a 4K TV set, or a resolution of about 16 times higher than a 1080p TV. So far, not much 4K video content is available (most HD-TV channels are 720p), but many filmmakers are moving toward shooting in 4K with newer digital cameras.
The bottom line with OLED and 4K (or 8K) TVs is that viewers will be able to see sharper and brighter images on even larger screens that are, counterintuitively, lighter than even smaller-screen TVs currently available.
But not all new TVs coming to market will be big-screen sets. Sharp also introduced a line of wireless Aquos Freestyle TVs that are built thin and light and can actually be picked up and moved around a home.
The idea is maybe you’d want to take the TV out in the backyard for a couple of hours, or maybe into another room for a bit for a party.
Portable? Yes. Mobile? Not really. The Aquos Freestyle sets were shown off in 20-inch, 31.5-inch, 40-inch and 60-inch models.
CONTROLLING YOUR TV: Remote controls are also getting a makeover — in an effort to make them more user-friendly.
LG said it would make its Magic Remote, which acts like the Wii remote used by Nintendo’s Wii video game console, usable with more TV sets.
With the motion-sensing Magic Remote in hand, a user can navigate on-screen TV menus, settings and even change channels.
GOOGLE TV: LG is also showing off sets with Google TV software that will launch in the U.S. in the first half of 2012 and later for the rest of the world. Among LG’s Google TV offerings will be a 55-inch model, and each Google TV set from LG will include a Magic Remote with a built-in keyboard.
Google TV will run on LG’s TVs alongside its Smart TV platform unveiled last year. Since last year’s CES, LG said it had added more than 1,200 apps to its Smart TV offerings.
Vizio Inc., the bargain-priced TV maker, is also releasing a lineup of Google TV products including TVs running the Google TV software, Google TV Blu-ray player and a set-top box called the Stream Player that will enable Google TV to run on any HD-TV.
OTHER NOTABLE TV ANNOUNCEMENTS: Sony is rolling out TVs featuring screens made of Corning Inc.’s Gorilla Glass, which is easy to clean and scratch resistant, as well as thin and light. The HX series with the Gorilla Glass will be available in 46-inch and 55-inch sizes, each with a 1080p resolution.
Sony’s EX line won’t have Gorilla Glass or 3-D, but these TVs will have built-in Wi-Fi and Sony apps and will be available in 40-inch, 46-inch and 55-inch sizes, each with a 1080p resolution.
Samsung also announced an update to its high-end Smart TV line — which runs apps such as Netflix on its TVs — that it says will enable users to control their sets with voice and motion control and facial-recognition technology.
For example, users can turn the TV on or off, activate selected apps or search for content in the Web browser simply by speaking in any of the 20 to 30 languages supported by the technology.
A built-in camera in the top-of-the-line Smart TV sets “recognizes movement in the foreground, and two unidirectional array microphones recognize voice at an incredibly accurate rate. Noise cancellation technology helps separate any background noise from the users’ commands.”
4K TV sets make their debut, minus the hoopla
With surprisingly little fanfare, the major consumer electronics manufacturers introduced a new category of television at the Consumer Electronics Show this year: 4K TV sets, which cram four times as much picture information onto the screen as the best of the current high-definition models. That’s a little over 8 million pixels, compared to about 2 million in a 1080P HDTV set.
LG showed off an 84-inch “ultra definition” LCD set (pictured above). Sony, which already has a 4K projector on the market, said it would continue to develop 4K TVs and promised Blu-ray disc players that upconvert HDTV to 4K. And Sharp took the wraps off not only a 4K LCD TV, but also an 8K prototype. No details were available on prices or release dates, although most manufacturers said they’d have 4K sets in stores this year.
The LG and Sharp sets offered stunningly good pictures, presenting a precisely defined yet silky smooth canvas of images. Yet with so many consumers more than happy with 1080P (and 720P, a less intensive level of high definition), why bother? 4K TV doesn’t change the viewing experience as fundamentally as the shift from analog to HDTV, or from 2D to 3D. And although 3D sets are selling well, it’s not clear that consumers are buying them because they want something better than HDTV — they may just see it as a way to future-proof their sizable investment in a flat-panel set.
To some degree, 4K is a natural reaction to the rapid decline in TV prices. Manufacturers are under pressure to offer new capabilities every year in order to push prices back up, at least at the high end of the market. LG spokesman John Taylor added a more practical consideration: On a very big screen, 1080P doesn’t provide enough resolution.
4K probably won’t come to 42-inch sets because it’s not needed in that size, Taylor said. But over time, U.S. consumers have gravitated toward ever-larger sets, attracted by thinner and lighter designs and plunging prices. So while 42 inches may be the sweet spot now for many buyers, especially those who grew up on 25-inch analog sets, the demand for bigger displays is likely to grow.
The nontrivial problem for 4K, though, is that there’s nothing to watch in that format. As bad as the shortage of 3D programming has been for home viewers, the supply of 3D dwarfs the availability of 4K material. That helps explain why the new 4K sets received so little attention during the manufacturers’ press blitz Monday, even though they will be making their debut in 2012.
“There is no 4K broadcasting,” noted Panasonic’s chief technology officer, Eisuke Tsuyuzaki. And given that the quality of 4K is equivalent to a pristine copy of a 35mm film print, piracy-conscious studios may think twice before agreeing to let any truly valuable content be broadcast in that format, Tsuyuzaki said.
He envisioned a demand for a few thousand 4K displays for medical use (for example, assisting surgeons) and in computer graphics and design. But for the living room? “It’s going to be a while,” he said. “It’s not a technical issue…. The biggest issue is the content.”
Then again, TV stations don’t broadcast in 1080P, either. That format is limited mainly to Blu-ray discs and video-on-demand services. So if upconverted broadcasts have been good enough for 1080P, perhaps that will be enough to justify the purchase of a 4K set — for those whose homes are big enough to fit one in.
— Jon Healey in Las Vegas