CES 2012: TVs Make a Comeback

Jan162012

After a week of new technology on display at CES 2012 the overwhelming feeling I’m left with is that there was nothing really all that overwhelming.

CES was in full swing again this year with its extravagant invite-only parties, out of place celebrities, and the annual painfully awkward Keynote from Microsoft (Although Microsoft will not be attending next year’s event). However one of the disappointments of this year’s show was that there was no clear-cut “winner”. There was no single product or technology that the tech world will be talking about for months to come. Having said that, the general consensus from Las Vegas seemed to be that TV’s were among the most interesting technologies to be found around the show floor this year.

Last year the TV industry was pushing 3D pretty hard at CES and it didn’t really hit home with consumers as TV sales have been a bit lackluster in the past 12 months.  Last year all the major players in the TV industry released products that seemed oddly identical in functionality. Let’s face it, at CES last year the only question you had to ask about a TV before moving on was “Is this an active or passive 3D TV?”.

This year it seems as though TV manufacturers have learned from that and have begun to differentiate themselves in various ways. While nearly all the TVs on display this year were again 3D capable, the big change was that 3D was not the main feature they were showing off to consumers.

Let’s take a look at some of the cool TVs and technologies that were unveiled at CES 2012:

Large Scale OLED TVs

LG’s 55-inch OLED TV - Source: The Verge

While OLED (Organic Light-Emitting Diode) displays are nothing new, a 55-inch OLED TV is a pretty cool sight. LG and Samsung both unveiled 55-inch OLED TVs which were visually stunning in both physical appearance and TV performance.

Small and expensive OLED TVs have been on the market for some time and OLED screens are quite common in smartphones but large OLED displays are definitely a rarity. Even though OLED has the potential to out perform any other current flat panel display technology the barrier keeping OLED TVs out of consumer’s living rooms is the high cost. You can expect to see Samsung and LG release large scale OLED TVs in the second half of 2012 at prices around $10,000. While an exciting technology, the high price point means most consumers will have forgotten about this technology until new OLED TV’s are showcased at next year’s CES.

Smart TVs


The TV industry decided to get on another bandwagon this year. It was the year of Smart TV’s. In general, a “Smart TV” is one that has internet connectivity so that it has the ability to offer content in the form of apps, media streaming, and general web browsing. While last year saw the initial release of Smart TVs, their functionality was rather limited and they were only found in top tier televisions. The interesting thing about Smart TVs is that manufacturers have all implemented it in different ways leading to some differentiation in terms of TV software. For example, Samsung, LG and a number of other manufacturers showed off ways to use voice and motion-control to interact with TVs.

We’ll see how consumers feel about internet ready TVs since purchasing an internet connected set-top box can lead to much of the same functionality without the need to buy an expensive new TV (You can guess which way I’m leaning on this debate).

4K Displays

LG’s 84-inch "ultra-definition" 4K TV - Source: Engadget

As expected, a host of companies showed off 4K displays at CES this year. This ultra definition display has approximately four times as many pixels crammed into the screen as current HDTV’s. This would particularly be useful for extremely large screens where 1080P just doesn’t provide enough resolution. So you can bet you’re probably not going to see this technology in smaller TV’s such as 40-inch sets because it is not needed at that size.

While most manufacturers said they would have 4K TVs in stores this year for consumers, the real problem is that there is absolutely no content available to take advantage of the new ultra definition screens. Similar to the lack of 3D content which is holding back 3D TVs, most experts believe that it will be even harder to find 4K content anytime soon. There is literally nothing to watch in the 4K format. The lack of content probably explains why this technology did not garner as much attention as other TV technologies that were announced at CES. Cable and satellite companies do not even broadcast in 1080P yet so there is little hope of them adopting the 4K format anytime in the coming years.

Panasonic’s CTO noted this problem at CES and said that he foresees the initial demand for 4K displays to be in niche markets like for medical use. He also said that as for your living room, “It’s going to be a while. It’s not a technical issue. The biggest issue is the content”.

CinemaWide HDTV’s

Vizio’s CinemaWide HDTV featuring a 21:9 aspect ratio - Source: The Verge

Vizio showed off an unusual but intriguing line of HDTV’s they call the CinemaWide collection. They are some of the first TVs to use an aspect ratio of 21:9 which is the aspect ratio used in most theatres. The result is the elimination of those nasty black bars on your television while viewing widescreen content.

Since these TVs are so wide, another cool feature announced by Vizio is that the CinemaWide TVs will allow users to access the web while simultaneously viewing 1080P content on the same screen. I think this is great because I like the idea of watching TV while having TV apps open at the same time. In some cases the apps may even be able to interact with the content on the screen. I’m not sure this will be possible just yet but I think it is a good step in the right direction.

Conclusion

While CES was undoubtedly a fun and exciting week for any gadget lover, this year’s edition represented an evolution in technology over anything revolutionary. This was certainly seen in the TV industry as most new TV features were really just refined features from last year and new TV technologies that were announced are still a long way from entering your living room.

Does any of this new tech peak your interest? Does the idea of a Smart TV appeal to you?

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