It seems as if you just bought that flat screen HDTV, doesn't it? And based on the headline of this post, a sickening feeling is curdling in your innards that the HDTV you sorta just bought is already out-of-date.
Fear not. Your current HDTV in fine and dandy, and will be fine and dandy for a long time to come. No need to have an HDTV inferiority complex.
Right now, the state of the TV business is like the Republican presidential field of about a month ago – a lot of squabbling contenders. None of these new technologies detailed below will be ready for prime time – literally and figuratively – for a while.
But at the recently concluded Consumer Electronics Show (CES), I caught a glimpse of multiple TV futures, many of which I blurbed last week in "Best of New CES Gadgets: HDTV Edition."
Here's a bit more on each of these possible TV futures.
All we heard at CES was this TV is smart, and that TV is smart, blah blah blah. None of these TVs are smart (which is why I use quotes around "smart"). These "smart" TVs are the same old boob tubes they ever were, except "smart" TVs connect you to the Internet via apps, just like your smart phone. In fact, your smart phone is a whole lot smarter than any of these big ol' lumbering "smart" TV.
You want a smart TV? Try TiVo. That thing's not only smart, it's a mind reader.
Pretty much all TVs from all the major manufacturers can and will be able to be connected to the Internet. Internet connectivity is likely to be as normal a feature of future TVs as the volume up/down buttons.
But the entire TV business, "smart" and of normally low IQ, is holding its collective breath waiting to see what kind of HDTV Apple is rumored to unveiling later this year.
Considering Apple's computing and user interface pedigree (of which current TV makers have none) and the company's penchant to completely disrupt existing techno-paradigms, an Apple TV is likely to be George Milton compared to the Lennie Small that are current connected HDTVs. (Extra points for knowing the George-Lennie reference without clicking on the link.)
Let's clear up a popular misconception once and for all – a 3D HDTV is not ONLY a 3D HDTV. Yes, a 3D HDTV let's you view something that is in 3D (i.e. a 3D Blu-ray – and by the end of 2013, ALL Blu-ray players will be 3D capable – or a 3D TV channel such as ESPN 3D). But a 3D TV is otherwise a really good 2D HDTV for normal, everyday, 2D, non-3D TV and movie watching. The technology that makes an HDTV 3D also makes it a great normal HDTV.
Like "smart" TVs, 3D HDTVs are already out there. According to GfK, a global market research firm, just 8.9 million 3D HDTVs were sold worldwide last year (Apple has sold nearly 40 million iPads during roughly the same period). According to industry projections, by 2014, half of all HDTVs will be 3D capable.
None of which means that anyone is actually WATCHING 3D HDTV. I have yet to encounter anyone watching 3D TV in the wild (i.e. outside industry events).
But the industry will be keep pushing 3D, and the only reason I'd recommend one is because they are the best regular HDTVs available.
Perhaps the primary reason we are blasĂ© about 3D is those stupid glasses we have to wear at home.
To correct this problem, lots of folks are experimenting with glasses-free 3D, especially Toshiba. At CES, Toshiba once again demonstrated an experimental super high-resolution glasses-free 3D HDTV (see "Toshiba 55-inch 4k2k 3D"), following up on the more consumer-friendly glasses-free 3D the company showed at IFA last September (see "Toshiba No-Glasses 3D No Good").
I am cynical that any glasses-free 3D HDTV will be commercially viable until much higher-resolution 4k2k HDTVs are available in the coming years, if then. A full recap of my glasses-free 3D cynicism can be found in my "Forget Glasses-Free 3D."
There's no denying it – OLED HDTVs give stunningly beautiful images. An old compatriot of mine, CNET's David Katzmaier, arguably the sharpest-eyed TV reviewer extant, got a behind-closed-door look at both the LG and Samsung 55-inch LEDs at CES and filed this detailed OLED report.
LG and Samsung say they'll start selling their respective 55-inch OLED models, I'm guessing for around $8,000-$10,000, later this year. Sony displayed its Crystal LED technology, which I found curious since Sony had been the primary OLED hawker at past shows. But I think Crystal LED is more of a show-me technology than anything the company plans to actually sell.
Someone will buy the first OLED sets – they'll serve as a one percenter's TV bragging rights. Not you or I, though, not until the price drops substantially, which is unlikely for many years – it's taken 10 years for current flat screen HDTVs to drop from $10,000 to under $1,000.
Regardless of OLED's brilliance, thinness and lightness, I stand by my OLED cynicism explored in my "Ignore News About 'New' OLED HDTVs."
Ultra HD 4k2k
I'll be honest – I'm not sure if the "k" is supposed to be capitalized or not. I've seen it both ways.
In all events, 4k2k HDTVs offer four times the resolution of current 1920 x 1080p HDTVs. Several TV makers exhibited 4k2k HDTVs at CES, including Panasonic, which has hung its 152-inch 4k HDTV at the last few CESs. Sharp has taken the next step with an 8k4k set ("Sharp 8K4K LCD HDTV").
But 4k is nearly useless at the usual HDTV sizes – you can't detect the pixel difference on such relatively small sets. You don't even have to worry about 1080p until you get to 50-inch HDTVs, for instance – 720p is fine for smaller flat TVs. Unless you plan on buying a 70-inch HDTV or larger, say Fahrenheit 451 wall TVs, it'll be hard to see the advantages of 4k2k sets – except perhaps for glasses-free HDTV.
So in a decade from now, what kind of TVs will be watching? Maybe all of them. Maybe 80-inch 8k4k 3D OLED HDTV with full connectivity and computing capabilities will be the norm.
Or maybe a whole new technology will emerge by then – 3D holographic HDTV? One day, we may consider R2D2's plea from Princess Leia, "Help me, Obi-wan. You're my only hope!" as quaint.