The television industry has been in flux during the last few years. Marquee Japanese names such as Panasonic, Sharp, and Sony are struggling, new technologies like voice and gesture control and 3D aren't compelling enough to warrant upgrades, and demand is expected to stay flat for 2013. Amid this atmosphere of regrouping and consolidation, there are likely to be very few surprises at this year's Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas.
What we're going to see at the show are several technologies that debuted at previous shows, such as OLED and 4K. We doubt any new display technologies, like the prototype Crystal LED shown last year by Sony, will hit the market in 2013. But chances are some technology will debut that we didn't expect, perhaps from a surprising quarter: think China.
Meanwhile, here's what we do expect.
Of all the TVs and technologies announced at last year's show, the 55-inch OLED TVs shown by Samsung and LG clearly looked like "the future." It was a close call between the two, but the winner of the CNET Best of CES 2012 was LG. Too bad neither maker fulfilled its promise to ship this year -- as of today, big-screen OLED TVs are still vaporware.
At the 2013 show, we expect both Samsung and LG to (again) announce they're shipping 55-inch OLED TVs. Beyond that it's anybody's guess, but we wouldn't be surprised to hear approximate pricing (around $10,000), spring-to-summer availability, and feature sets similar to what we saw last year. For 3D especially, this means passive technology for LG and active 3D for Samsung, complete with the dual-view technology demoed at CES 2012 that allows two users to watch different 2D programs simultaneously while wearing 3D glasses. We also hope to hear more about how the companies' two approaches -- WRGB for LG and standard RGB for Samsung -- differ.
But will there be other screen sizes? Will Panasonic, Sony, or a dark-horse maker announce OLED too? Will we actually be given a life span spec for OLED TVs? We doubt all three, but won't rule anything out.
Although the Consumer Electronics Association, the organization that hosts CES, has decided to call the next consumer resolution "Ultra HD," we think for many people it will continue to be known by its former name: 4K. And whether or not you think 4K TVs are stupid, a few more are sure to be shown at CES 2013.
Two 4K TVs are available now, the LG 84LM9600 and the Sony XBR-84X900. Both are 84-inch LEDs that cost around $20,000. At CES 2013, we expect both smaller and larger sizes to be announced, and other manufacturers to get into the game. The announcement last month from Chinese giant Hisense of 50-, 58-, and 65-inch sizes is a good indication of where other makers might go, too.
One problem with 4K is convincing people it's worth the premium. While OLED sells itself -- the pictures are that good -- it is a difficult technology to manufacture. 4K LCD is a lot easier to make but with 1080p so inexpensive now, it will be a lot tougher to sell. (And will there be a 4K OLED TV shown at CES 2013? Wethinks not.)
One instructive comparison might be to 3D. While 3D is here to stay, it failed to spark the public's interest in the way manufacturers hoped it would. Most people now buy a TV that might have the 3D feature, rather than seek out 3D televisions specifically. The main reason 3D "failed" is lack of content.
The situation with 4K content is even worse. It's basically nonexistent in home video today, unless you pay $100 or more for a hard-drive- or USB-based independent film. There's no Blu-ray standard for 4K yet, and a broadcast standard, to allow for actual 4K-resolution TV broadcasts, is even further in the future. Cable and satellite makers have enough trouble finding the bandwidth for good-looking 1080i and 720p channels.
Streaming and Smart TV
Expect evolutionary improvements in this category at CES, with Samsung announcing advances in voice and gesture control (it really needs improving), other TV makers adding it, and sporadic additions of more services, such as Spotify or Redbox Instant. TV-based Web browsers should improve, additional processors (quad-core TV, anyone?) will likely hit, TV-related smartphone and tablet apps will be mentioned, and refinements of fancy remotes will certainly be touted.
One surprise we'd love to see? A dumb TV that focuses mainly on picture quality and costs a bit less than its feature-festooned flagship counterpart. Chances? Slim to none.
This one's easy: TVs will get even bigger -- and big TVs even cheaper -- next year. In 2012, 60-inch and larger was the fastest-growing size category among both LCDs and plasmas, and TV makers will respond with even more mammoth TVs in 2013. The flipside is that the best TVs won't be available in smaller sizes.
It's also easy to predict that somebody, maybe from China this year, will show a 100-inch-plus television to grab the inevitable publicity.
Whither the future of TV?
The TV industry is pretty cutthroat, and the troubles besetting Sharp, Sony, and Panasonic might surface at CES 2013 in the form of smaller TV lineups with fewer models. At the same time, we expect TCL and Hisense, the no. 1 and 2 domestic Chinese TV brands, to have a larger presence than ever at the show.
And with the passing of rear-projection TV we can't help but wonder whether plasma TV is next on the chopping block. We don't expect Panasonic, Samsung, or LG to pull out of plasma at the show, but I wouldn't be surprised if all three showed fewer models than last year.
What are your predictions for CES 2013 TV announcements? Let us know in the comments section below.