Oh, yes, this is going to be an interesting year for new TV technology and a year when manufacturers are either carefully or recklessly placing their bets on what the next big thing is going to be.
What it certainly isn’t going to be, at least in the new TV category, is anything at all about 3D. Yes, most manufacturers will include 3D in their 2014 TV lineup, but you’ll be hard-pressed to get them to admit it. 3D has now be relegated to one of those extra features, like picture-in-picture or a virtual surround mode that every TV has but no one uses.
Today what’s new and trending in TVs is sort of all over the place. The dominate message from the big Japanese and Korean TV companies is 4K (Ultra HD—there still isn’t industrywide agreement on what to call it). Beyond that we also have OLED, curved screens (a trend I still can’t figure out), flexible TVs (yes, they’re bendy) and ultra wide (21:9 or CinemaScope).
The opening Press Day of CES is generally a pretty good time to guage the overall trends of the show. Manufactures don’t always reveal everything they’ve got going on—some tidbits they prefer to reveal in their exhibit booths—but it’s a good place to start.
This day started out with LG. 4K was a big deal in the LG press conference. 105-inches big, to be exact. The company showed off a 105-inch CinemaScope-style Ultra HD TV with a 21:9 aspect ratio, making it particularly suited to those widescreen movies that still create pesky black bars on your TV (projector users with masking systems have been able to avoid that problem for years).
The 105-inch LED LCD TV is fun to look at and consider the possibilities, but it’s unlikely to actually show up in very many homes. The size, shape and curve make it impractical for anything but a home theater setup, and for that use, a projector would probably provide a more appropriate solution. Still, it’s one of those interesting concepts that you only see at CES.
Another one of those interesting concept products is flexible television. LG didn’t have this product at the press conference, but at the company’s booth they’re showing a 77-inch curved and flexible OLED TV. The user can control the amount of the curve with a remote. If you want the TV to curve, press a button and the ends start bending forward. If you want it flat, press a button and the TV flattens out against the wall. The curve is slight, and you can’t roll it up (the TV sits in a frame which houses the motor). Like the ultra wide TV, this is probably more likely to fall into the because-we-can category, but perhaps there’s promise for further development in the future.
The 4K TV parade continued at LG with the UB9800 series 4K ULTRA HD TV lineup comprised of 65-, 79-, 84- and 98-inch units. Prices weren’t mentioned.
In addition to the bendable OLED, LG announced curved OLED 4K TVs in 55-, 65- and 77-inch sizes. Also a 55-inch flat OLED model, called the Gallery OLED, it is a TV built into a frame that doubles as a 100 watt speaker system. It looks like a framed piece of art, and it should, because the TV sports a gallery mode that turns the TV into a picture frame displaying works of art.
All of LG’s 4K curved OLED TVs come with HDMI 2.0 capability and decoding for both H.264 and HEVC H.265 formats, at 30 or 60 frames per second.
LG also noted that its new 4K TVs will be able to stream 4K content from Netflix when that company begins to launch 4K movies and TV shows (including the new season of House of Cards).
Sharp was interesting both because of the new technology it showed and the technology it didn’t show.
Last year Sharp made a big deal over several new panel technologies, particularly Moth Eye and ICC Purios. While I remember them looking very good at last year’s CES, neither of those technologies actually made it into consumer TVs and neither were mentioned at all in this year’s CES press conference.
Instead, Sharp was very excited to talk about Quattron+, a feature on the new Q+ line of TVs. Quattron+ LED LCD TVs are not 4K, but Sharp considers them a bridge between standard 1080p and 4K Ultra HD TV. Sharp says Quattron+ takes existing pixels and divides them into subpixels, creating a higher resolution 1080p TV—sounds weird, I know. They’re also able to accept 4K video images and show them on the 1080p Quattron+ panel. Sharp says this makes for a less expensive, but future-proof TV for the 4K era. The Q+ TVs are also THX certified.
Sharp is also offering 4K TVs in 60- and 70-inch sizes with HDMI 2.0 and THX certification.
Sharp isn’t going along with the rest of the TV makers by offering any curved TVs or OLED, though there is an 8K glasses-free 3DTV at the company’s booth.
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Grant Clauser has been covering home electronics for more than 10 years with editorial roles in several consumer and trade magazines. He's done ISF-level damage to hundreds of reviewed products and has had training from THX, the Home Acoustics Alliance, Control4 and Sencore. His latest book is Necessary Myths
. Follow him on Twitter @geclauser.