Here’s the thing: TV have been and will forever be a cornerstone of CES. Even with all the coverage from robotics to appliances that can be remotely controlled with your mind, the main hall of the Las Vegas Convention Center is home to the latest and most popular centerpieces of home entertainment, even if it did feel like a repeat performance for acquainted visitors.
4K/UHD can’t be ignored
It’s not so much of a knock, but a general observation as major manufacturers and the industry as whole has been in transition to counteract slowing demand. On the surface, every relevant company had a plethora of 4K TVs (or UHD if you’re that person) on display and were once again doing everything to promote how the additional pixels equaled unprecedented detail and picture quality that any demanding videophile could hope for. As far availability is concerned, 4K resolution is officially here and will most likely be native, whether the screen is flat or curved.
Of course, actual content continues to be practically nonexistent while initial bleeding-edge owners will eventually have to deal with the problems of HDCP 2.2 (High-bandwidth Digital Content Protection); a hardware DRM implementation that most AV receivers currently available to some early 4K displays may not be able to handle.
OLED remains a dream, Quantum dot tech to fill the gaps
After the death of Plasma and like my long lost article from the Internet Time Machine my hopes for groundbreaking display technology didn’t exactly come to fruition. After just over a year of limited production, Samsung ceased making OLED TVs a couple months ago, despite them moving forward on a vague panel business strategy. This decision is not surprising due to astronomical manufacturing costs and overall difficulty just to get working examples into market, especially after three years of numerous production delays. This leaves LG as the sole purveyor of the large-screen OLED pie, and essentially the only company right now willing to take the plunge into the next generation, which by the way continues to look absolutely stunning.
Meanwhile everybody is falling back on Quantum dot (QD) technology to fill the void, by being incorporated into existing LCD panels without totally overhauling or extensive factory retooling. The method is interesting enough as the dots are incredibly small nanocrystals made from semiconductor materials, which can be applied to various displays of size and shapes without suffering environmental inconsistencies during the manufacturing process; with each dot triggered by electric currents and appropriately sized and confined for specific light spectrums. The assembly is typically done in a full QD-LED array and used as a color filter for better LED backlight calibration, it’s also roughly similar to OLED but much more cost-effective in scale.
From Sony with their cinematic XBR-75X940C, and the provocative but nonsensically named SUHD (JS9500) premium TVs from Samsung QD-LED TVs were admittedly damn beautiful to look at with impressively vivid colors and respectable black depths. Prices will obviously be steep since these models only come in extra-large sizes but this will be the next best thing this Spring as OLED continues to be scarce.
Smart TVs are still learning the basics
A decade ago, the then-benchmark KD-34XBR960 FD Trinitron included media integration. It may have been the last great CRT around but it was also one of the earliest TVs to have a Memory Stick slot for image viewing, freeze-frame capturing (I don’t know why), and a CableCARD slot that was supposed to make cable boxes obsolete for instant access to pay-per-view and on-demand programs — As expected, it hardly did any of those things. I bring up those memories because Smart TVs today are in many ways just as tepid thanks to poor firmware and congested interfaces — knowing this LG, Samsung, and Sony have decided to wipe the slate clean (again) with active network connectivity, PlayStation Now, and quick app switching.
Samsung has stumbled every step of the way when they introduced their Tizen OS, an open source alternative that milestones the falling out between them and Google. However, with Tizen embedded in their TVs they’re hoping to have more content than anyone else and bring online videos instantly to you through their Milk Video service, more important they want all Samsung devices to be instantly connected with your TV unlike anything we’ve seen before. Quite ambitious.
LG has transformed the storied WebOS platform into something more simplified as well, with customization and infinite ease of use in conjunction with their signature Motion Remote. The real draw is supposed to be cable box control which is another way to remove the clutter of external boxes but we’ll have to see how it works in the real world. If anything the OS has definitely transformed to be anything but confusing or lackluster.
When the Nexus Player debuted a couple months ago it was still a ‘work in progress’, but you were buying into idea of the Android ecosystem where all your downloaded apps would be with you whether you watched movies or were an avid mobile gamer. The same thing applies with Sony’s implementation of Android TV which sports a cleaner look and semi-custom lollipop version 5.0, then combine all of this with the touchpad remote with microphone and the ability to have most your purchased apps work without fail (it’s still Android OS after all). The demo was restricted but the representative mentioned that Google Cast-compatible phones and tablets would also be able to control the TV.
A farewell to consumer 3D
After several years of trying to gain a foothold, stereoscopic 3D for the average viewer was practically absent at this year’s show. Companies like Vizio and Toshiba have purged it already, and now almost every major player has dropped the feature too. There were exceptions though as LG (105UC9T) and Panasonic (TC-65CX800U) have withdrawn 3D to just their flagship models, or Sony whose active-shutter glasses have found a more welcoming home in their SXRD LCoS lineup (VPL-VW350ES), similar to competing LCD-based and DLP projectors; all of which are priced at a distinct premium solely for home theater enthusiasts. Also, don’t expect Samsung showing an 8K Glassless 3D prototype as an indicator for anything, it was neat to witness again but autostereoscopic tech is still far off to really call.
Conclusion: Everything 4K and beyond is finally shaping up
Despite all of the innovations seen along with some unsung heroes (Philips PFL8900) the vibe of 4K/UHD resolution is soldiering forward. I suppose it was appropriate considering Two years ago an 84” 4K TV would cost impatient buyers around $21,000-$24,000, now we might be looking below the $1K mark for a decently optioned display (no promises). No matter how you see it, that’s a quick turnaround from what many people we’re expecting to cough up — and a hell of a lot cheaper than what 1080p sets were right after their introduction. Thinking about buying a TV? 2015 might be the right time to do so.