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The Latest in TV Technology


What's Hot and What's Hype

The annual Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas is the Super Bowl of new TV technologies. And this year's big event promises lots of new products. Big OLED TVs, 4K and 8K TVS, gesture control and maybe the first contender for a glasses-free TV that really works.


OLEDs
The most beautiful sets at CES are OLEDs: Organic Light Emitting Diodes. They have much higher contrast than current LED sets; light can be turned off on a per pixel basis. Dark scenes offer the blackest of blacks — rich deep colors without the blooming of light that affects other LCD and LED TVs.

OLEDs are super thin: 3/16ths of an inch. Some are so thin that the power ports and connectors need to be housed in the stands, not on the set itself. OLEDs use half the power of current HDTVs and some sets will consume less energy than a 50-watt bulb. And finally the dreaded motion blur of LED and LCDs (when sports and fast action appear blocky) almost completely disappears with OLEDs.

I've seen small 12 and 20-inch prototype OLEDs in past years at CES, but never a true big screen option that is in production and planned for release. This year is different: LG has a 55-inch OLED on display, and Samsung is rumored to have another OLED debuting this week. The prices on these sets will be ridiculous — $8,000-10,000 — but predictions from analysts say that by the end of 2013, they'll be more like $4000. Availability is still a little unclear, although rumors of late 2012 offerings are in the air.

4K and 8K Resolution
Another trend at CES: higher resolution TVs than ever. 4K and 8K respectively double and quadruple the resolution of the highest high definition sets on the market. Panasonic, Sharp, Samsung, and most other TV manufacturers are going for this crisper, more vivid resolution as an incentive to get consumers to trade in their old TV sets. But this technology is still a ways from every day reality, and CES may prove a litmus test on whether attendees think the 4K sets are that much more visually compelling. An even greater inhibitor to widespread 4K/8K TVs any time soon is that they will mandate all new source video and new cameras and infrastructure from TV networks and production companies. Today, very little content is produced at such high resolution.

3D Is Dead Long Live 3D!
In the early press releases from manufacturers, there has been very little mention of 3D. It seems they now understand that most consumers aren't willing to pay much more for a TV with 3D. It's being seen as less of a feature, more of a gimmick. That being said, there is early buzz around Toshiba, who is saying that they will have a glasses-free, big-screen 3DTV available for sale within the year, according to CNET news. This is a big departure from other manufacturers like Samsung, which has managed expectations, saying they don't expect to have glasses-free technology ready for market within 10 years.

Gesture Control — An End To The Remote Control?
The success of the XBOX Kinect, which tracks the player's movements to control gaming, has spawned a whole new idea for interacting with your TV: gesture control. Imagine flicking your wrist to mute the volume, raising your arm to pull up the guide and grabbing or swiping to select a show. Such sets could even have facial recognition to turn on your favorite channels and volume presets when you walk into the room.

PrimeSense, the company behind the Kinect's gesture control, is showing off a TV driven with the same technology, and Samsung is rumored to be debuting sets with this same type of user control.

Smart Internet Connected TVs
Internet connected sets are becoming completely mainstream, so expect a lot of products to tout Google TV and Yahoo! Connected TV built into their sets. Apple is rumored to announce later this year a full-fledged, big screen TV with all the Apple content access built in. Yet more than 8 million consumers have already purchased TVs with the Yahoo! Connected TV platform. One cool product for people whose existing sets aren't connected yet, and who don't want to upgrade, is a new product from Roku. It's a small stick about the size of a USB stick that you plug into your TV through a slot called the MHL port (many TVs have these ports- check your spec sheet or the back of the T for something that looks like a micro USB port) for wireless access to Netflix, YouTube and a whole host of independent Internet content providers. No price yet, but estimates are centering on the $50 range.

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