The future of television, now

The new year in technology starts off with a bang with the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas. As in 2012, a lot of focus at CES this year is on innovation in television as manufacturers push to enormous screens with much higher resolutions. By Duncan McLeod.

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There’s almost a sense of urgency in the air in the technology industry at the start of each year, thanks to CES, where the world’s biggest electronics companies jostle to show off what they have in store for the months ahead.

Though Microsoft has no official presence at this year’s CES, hardware manufacturers from Lenovo to Acer are showcasing a range of new Windows 8-based tablets and touch-screen-based laptops. The latest in in-vehicle technology from the likes of Ford and Lexus is also a big focus area.

But this year, again, much of the excitement is coming from the rapid innovation happening in television, with the big names in the industry — Sony, Samsung Electronics, LG Electronics, Toshiba, Hisense — all vying to outdo one another with bigger and better screens and software. None of the manufacturers has disappointed.

Let’s start with Samsung.

The Korean consumer electronics giant debuted a range of new laptops, cameras and even hi-tech refrigerators. But it was its television sets that stole the show, including promises of an ultra-high-definition (UHD) monster with a 110-inch screen. Think about that for a minute: that’s 2,8m of screen real estate! No pricing details are available yet, but expect one of these giants to set you back hundreds of thousands of rand, if not more.

If you don’t have a living room the size of a rugby field, you may have to settle for the (still-enormous) 85-inch Samsung S9 UHD TV, with its strange but still appealing design — it looks like the panel is resting in an easel. It’s an inch bigger than Sony’s already-on-sale flagship 84-inch UHD set — which costs R279 000, by the way — and, like the Sony, offers four times the resolution of “ordinary” full high-definition sets.

There is precious little content available at the new “4K” resolution being punted so enthusiastically in Las Vegas this week, but Samsung, like some of its rivals, has integrated upscaling hardware to make Blu-ray HD content display at the higher resolution.

Speaking of Sony, the Japanese company also introduced smaller-sized versions of its 4K flagship at CES. Available in the autumn in 55-inch and 65-inch variants, they’ll presumably also cost a lot less than the 84-inch model. LG has announced similar plans.

Both Samsung and LG used CES to reaffirm their commitment to next-generation screens using organic light-emitting diode (OLED) technology. Both companies debuted OLED sets at CES a year ago, but failed to bring them to market. They’ve now promised to get the tech into consumers’ hands this year. LG said it would introduce a 55-inch OLED set in March for about US$12 000.

OLED promises much thinner TVs that offer a far superior picture quality to today’s LCD technology. Combined with 4K UHD, this technology represents the future of television.

Sony used CES to upstage Samsung and LG by demonstrating the world’s first 4K OLED TV, a 56-inch prototype that, according to reports, delivers a picture quality that has to be seen to be believed. There was no immediate word on when Sony planned to make the TV available commercially. One thing’s for certain, though: if you want one, you may have to remortgage your house.

Five years from now that will have changed considerably, and prices will have tumbled as they always do in consumer electronics. Remember, it was only a couple of years ago that basic 3D sets were priced at R30 000 and above. Today, all manufacturers offer large-screen, full-HD 3D sets for a fraction of that.

It pays to be patient.  — (c) 2013 NewsCentral Media

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