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Ultra HD is the new big thing
CES 2013 trends: Ultra HD is hot, 3D is not

28 Jan 2013 | Rasmus Larsen |

CES 2013 is over and we have been bombarded with information and impressions – but the trends on the TV market are unambiguous. Ultra HD is the new big thing. Smart TVs are here to stay. OLED is still an early technology. 3D has been forgotten – but is not dead.

Ultra HD is the new big thing, Smart TV is still hot

Ultra HD was the next big thing at CES. Samsung, Sony, LG, Panasonic, Sharp, and even Chinese manufacturers such as Hisense, Haier and TCL and American manufacturers such as Westinghouse and Vizio exhibited Ultra HD TVs. And even though Ultra HD TVs are crazy expensive right now it is certainly something we will hear more about in the coming years – and again at CES 2014.

 Samsung’s Ultra HD TV was unveiled at CES
Samsung’s Ultra HD TV was unveiled at CES


Even small Chinese and American TV brands exhibited Ultra HD TVs at CES 2013
Ultra HD is the next revolution in resolution, and also referred to as 4K at times. It has 4 times the pixel count of a Full HD TV, which means that over 8 million pixels (3840x2160 = 8,294,400 pixels) are required. It is an incredible amount of picture data that you can start taking advantage of on TVs around 60-70 inch sizes (maybe smaller if you sit very close to the TV).

Everyone had a Ultra HD TV at CES but manufacturers were surprisingly mum on how to get Ultra HD content onto our screens. Blu-ray does not support Ultra HD and HDMI caps out at Ultra HD in 2D. What happens when we move to 48 fps (such as in The Hobbit), 3D and an expanded color gamut? And what happens when we combine these things?

This is a crucial question that very few manufacturers had a reasonable answer to. Sony does not believe in a new 4K Blu-ray standard. Netflix demonstrated 4K streaming and we also heard some chatter about the Redray but there are so many pieces that need to fall in place before Ultra HD reaches the mass market. On the bright side; there is tons of 4K content. Many movies are shot in resolutions above 4K resolution. The film crew “just” needs to return to the studio to create a higher-resolution master copy.

LG 2013 Smart TV
LG’s new Smart TV flagship


Smart, smarter, smartest – but still not very smart
What about Smart TVs? The hot subject of yesteryear’s CES show. Smart TVs are certainly still hot. They were everywhere at CES. The Smart TV trend started almost at the same time as the 3D trend but it is easy to see that manufacturers’ have more faith in Smart TV than in 3D. All TV manufacturers talked about Smart TV, and there were also more Google TV demonstrations than in the past. Google TV still has a long way to go before we see a breakthrough but Asus and Netgear have been added as partners, and Sony and LG remain on board even though they have yet to offer an all-in solution.

But we also noticed that Smart TVs are still not very smart. New buzzwords such as dual-core and quad-core processors are thrown around but 99 % of the Smart TV features exhibited at CES have been developed by the TV manufacturers themselves. There is still no significant support from the developer community; at least not in any way comparable to the support for smartphones and tablets where thousands of developers continue to pump out new exciting apps.

The most talked about Smart TV feature at CES 2013 was the option to “push” video, images and music from a smartphone or tablet onto the TV screen – something that has been possible on the Apple TV for many years via Airplay. TV manufacturers add NFC, WiFi, WiDi, Miracast and more wireless technologies to TVs but journalists have already seen all this before so there is nothing to get too excited about here. Is this really supposed to be the highlight of TV innovation?

Smart TV is still work-in-progress. Manufacturers still explore new controlling methods, user interfaces and a deeper understanding
Smart TV is still work-in-progress. Manufacturers still explore new controlling methods, user interfaces and a deeper understanding, but at least some manufacturers’ have started to acknowledge that user friendliness & user experience is a top priority. Because; how cool is it to have a TV with all kinds of features if the average user never gets past the Smart TV home screen? TV manufacturers are starting to focus on the user interface and we believe that is the first important step.

Curved OLED-TV from Samsung
Samsung and LG exhibited curved OLED-TVs at CES


OLED was also a hot subject at CES but we still somehow feel that we are seeing technology demonstrations rather than product demonstrations. Product details are sparse, launch dates “to be announced”, and prices are north of 10.000 USD for a TV, so our gut feeling tell us that Ultra HD has a bigger potential to be the next buzz word in the short term. If those to could be combined, ohh boy.

3D has been forgotten – for now

And then there is 3D. 3D was the “next big thing” a few years ago. All TV manufacturers agreed that 3D was the future. The content side obviously delayed the rollout but general consumer interest has also been very low as most feel that the effect is too modest to justify the ridiculous 3D glasses.

At CES 2013, 3D was almost forgotten. Some even say that 3D is dead after CES 2013 but you have to be a bit delusional to believe in that last dramatization. 3D is not dead but 3D was far from a highlight. It is almost surreal to imagine that 3D TVs were exhibited in every hall in Las Vegas just a few years ago.

Sony 4K 3DTV
TV makers wanted to show how good 3D looks on an Ultra HD TV but besides that CES had very few 3D demonstrations. Here you see Sony’s 84” Ultra HD TV with 3D


The big 3D demos were absent. It is almost surreal to imagine that 3D TVs were exhibited in every hall in Las Vegas just a few years ago
3D is integrated into more TVs than ever and 3D was still exhibited at the show floors but was not the center of attention. No one talked about it; not at the press events and not in the press releases.

3D has worked in some movies but perhaps the biggest problem with 3D is its failed promise to immerse viewers and gamers in a whole new way. For now 3D seems to have been pushed aside, back into the research center where engineers will try to combine it with Virtual Reality headsets, Ultra HD and other technologies. The question is when 3D will be making its comeback? We are convinced that 3D will make a comeback - but it will return in a different shape.

CES is always exciting and the 2013 edition shows that there is so much to look forward to. The TV industry is approaching a new era of hardware innovation, and that is amazing to observe. However, we also saw a trend. TV manufacturers have fewer products to show off. We mean; there are tons of new products but most of them are “feeler products”. Very few specifications are shared, launch dates are not announced and pricing details are far, far away, simply because manufacturers know that the competitors are watching and they do not want to reveal everything 2-4 months before the products hit the markets. It is a bit strange to show off products so many months before the actual launch but electronics shows are still bigger than ever, and the same was true for CES 2013.

If software is key to the future of TV, the software needs to improve

To summarize: CES gave us a glimpse into the future of TV technology with a new display technology, OLED, a new resolution revolution, Ultra HD, and products that hope to change the way we consume video content, Smart TVs. We are convinced that TV makers can master the first two ones. They are masters of hardware.

However, we remain doubtful on the software part. TV makers do not have a history for developing great software, and that is crystal clear when you walk around on the CES floors. We still believe that traditional software companies such as Google, Microsoft, and Apple have far better odds in this arena – and we know they are working on TV... things. The TV makers also know that and after some years without much praise for the current Smart TV offerings this fact has become the “elephant in the room”. The software giants are coming – soon.



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