CES 2013: Smart TVs Easier To Use, Display Resolution Keeps Climbing
By Michael Silbergleid, SVG Contributing Editor
At CES this week, the trend is about making complex, connected smart TVs easier for users, especially with second-screen interaction and integration with smartphones and tablets. That push was across the board with LG, Panasonic, Samsung, Sharp, and Sony, but Sony President/CEO Kazuo Hirai had an ace up his sleeve on the display side.
3D, the darling app of last year’s CES, has been relegated to “just another feature” status, which isn’t a bad thing: it means that 3D is here to stay (although 3D glasses may not be included with all models).
The big display news this week is in OLED and 4K/Ultra HD (UHD).
LG, a brand unheard of in the U.S. just 10 years ago, is pushing three TV types: 4K/UHD, LED, and Laser TV. With four times the resolution of HD, the company’s $20,000 4K/UHD (3840x2160p) stunned those who have seen it in the current 84-in. offering (in addition to 55- and 65-in. versions), especially with polarized 3D (240 Hz). But, while 3D UHD (complete with depth control) has lifelike characteristics, a few viewers found it a bit unsettling. The company announced a 4K-content deal with KBS (Korea Broadcasting System) and is actively initiating relationships with other global content providers. (Broadcasters are beginning to shoot 4K for mastering and archiving.)
LG also needed this disclaimer: No “ultra high definition” or “4K” content is currently available. No broadcast or other standard currently exists for “4K” or “ultra high definition” television, and the 84LM9600 may or may not be compatible with such standards if and when developed.
But LG isn’t promoting 4K/UHD as the best in picture quality. That would be OLED HD, billed as “The Ultimate Display” and coming to the U.S. in March (at $12,000 for a 55- in. model).
Notably, all LG Blu-ray Disc players will now be 3D-capable.
Want bigger? LG’s Laser TV (2D HD projection) delivers up to 100 in. with a short, 22-in. throw using laser-based illumination instead of mercury-based lamps.
Panasonic’s press event focused on TV but squarely on usability and second-screen interactivity, including a deal with HSN allowing product browsing and ordering. The terms 3D and 4K were never uttered, although Panasonic’s flagship plasma and LED series do include 3D.
An item of interest is that the company’s new camcorders will feature live HD WiFi feeds.
In keeping with the trend of focusing on the interaction between people and devices, Samsung introduced a smart-TV user interface based on those used in its smartphones and tablets. The LED F8000 HD (46-, 55-, 60-, 65-, and 75-in. with a less–than–¼-in. bezel) offers HDVC codec support for improved streaming with double the quality over the same bandwidth as current codecs; it features a quad-core processor (which is also available in the 2013 Evolution Kit to upgrade the company’s 2012 smart TVs).
Although the user interface (UI) provides program suggestions based on viewing habits (as its startup screen), Samsung didn’t mention integration with cable company DVRs or TiVo. The UI can also be used to purchase items seen on TV.
The 55-in. OLED, with “the ultimate in picture quality,” allows viewing of different programs simultaneous by two people using glasses (each with different polarity) equipped with earbuds. Obviously, this also would mean that Samsung’s OLED is 3D-capable.
4K/UHD will be available in 85- and 110-in. versions, with HD upscaling. In a somewhat odd form factor, the screen sits in a frame that is open at the top and bottom and contains the speakers.
For 3D, Samsung introduced the NX300 compact system camera with a single 45mm f1.8 lens for both 2D and 3D stills and movies (1080p).
In addition to an 8K demo at CES for a second year (with 16 times the resolution of HD), Sharp announced its 85-in. Aquos 4K/UHD available later this year. The 60-in. ICC Purios version will be available with lifelike 3D. Sharp’s Active 3D will be available in all three of its HD-screen classes.
(NHK will demo 8K/Super Hi-Vision real-time, over-the-air broadcasting, using two UHF channels, at April’s NAB Show.)
To say that Sony buried the lead on 4K/UHD is an understatement. Hirai made it clear that the company’s focus is on three areas — digital imaging, games, and mobile — and that TV is secondary in his mission to turn around the business.
But, when it came TVs, 4K/UHD took up almost half the press conference. The previously announced 84-in. Bravia 4K/UHD (at $25,000 and exceeding sales estimates) scales 2K content to near-4K quality (complete with 11 built-in 4K movies), but that was just the start of Sony’s massive 4K push. Smaller sizes (55 and 65 in.) will be available in the spring to make 4K (also with 3D) more accessible for smaller living rooms and smaller wallets.
The company is showing a 4K/UHD prototype consumer camera, the start of its Home 4K Experience.
Sony also announced an online 4K Video Distribution Service, slated to launch in the U.S. this summer, as well as distribution plans for a series of 4K-mastered Blu-ray Discs of existing motion pictures shot in 4K or scanned in 4K from the original film.
By leveraging all Sony content creating assets (as well as those from other 4K companies), Sony has taken the lead in 4K content for the home. The company even sees its professional F5 and F55 4K camcorders being used to produce not only cinema but TV dramas and commercials.
The final announcement was the unveiling of a 56-in. 4K/UHD OLED prototype. Its resolution and clarity was so clear that, when the Windows computer feeding it crashed and rebooted, you could read the text tens of feet away.
With more than 10 companies showing 4K/UHD at CES and Sony’s 4K-content push, does that mean the format will be a hit with consumers? Given that it has taken 10 years for HD to reach 75% U.S. household penetration (according to the latest Nielson U.S. Consumer Usage Report), the question isn’t “if” but “when.” And that may be when content becomes readily available and accessible for all brands of 4K/UHD TVs. If this sounds like a familiar conundrum, it is.