A few months ago, we all thought we knew the future of television displays. 2013 was going to be the long anticipated year of OLED.
According to TV manufacturers launching new products at CES, this still may be true. Or it may be the year TV screens with 4K resolution—also called Ultra High Definition—capture our attention. Or it may be time for a new technology to take the spotlight. Whatever the future of television is, it is sure to be expensive, at least for a while.
Last year at CES, Samsung and LG promised televisions using Organic Light Emitting Diode (OLED) technology would hit the market by the end of 2012. That date slipped somewhat, but yesterday at a press conference, LG spokesmen indicated that the manufacturing problems have been resolved and global shipments of LG’s first OLED TVs started this month. It will go on sale in the U.S. come March for $12,000.
In the next breath—or perhaps without stopping for a breath—LG announced that it is also launching 4K televisions this year, built using standard LCD technology. They'll be available in a range of screen sizes, from 55 to 84 inches in diagonal. The format, also called UltraHD, doubles the resolution of today’s HDTV screens.
Samsung, too, seemed to give equal play to its 2013 OLED launch and to UltraHD. Samsung put an original twist on its OLED offerings with a feature the company calls Multiview. With Multiview, Samsung takes advantage of OLED’s fast switching speed to display two different programs to two people in the room—glasses with built-in headphones separate the images and the sound.
Samsung also announced that its new smart televisions will incorporate recommender technology that not only knows what you want to watch, but when you want to watch it. That is, it takes into account that TV watchers have different preferences at different times of day.
Panasonic who last summer announced that they would be working with Sony on OLED, was notably silent about the technology in its pre-CES press conference, but did announce UltraHD televisions. Sony also announced UltraHD models (the 56-inch OLED model is pictured above), and said that it will bring out a 4K media player and distribute 4K programming starting this summer. Sony’s distribution announcement answers a big question about UltraHD—what can you watch on it? Sony also presented a prototype 56-inch OLED TV, but gave no ship date or pricing information.
The future of television got even more interesting yesterday when Sharp Electronics predicted a TV technology future that brings a new technology into the game. Sharp’s new televisions are implementing a new display technology using Indium Gallium Zinc Oxide, or IGZO. IGZO, a Sharp spokesman said, is vastly more energy efficient than current LCD technology, and has a much faster switching speed, important clear action shots and gaming. Sharp announced IGZO displays ranging from 4 to 32 inches in diagonal.
So the future of TV is, well, confusing. But that may be more accurate than the scene here at CES in 2010, when the industry was in complete agreement that 3-D capability was the next must-have feature. Consumers, of course, did not rush out to replace their fairly new high definition TV sets with 3D models, and those who simply needed or wanted a new TV and ended up with the 3D feature don’t use it much, if at all.
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Update: Panasonic later in the week revealed a 56-inch 4K OLED TV, although indicated that this was meant as a technology statement, not a product announcement.
Tekla S. Perry is a senior editor at IEEE Spectrum. Based in Palo Alto, Calif., she's been covering the people, companies, and technology that make Silicon Valley a special place for more than 30 years. An IEEE member, she holds a bachelor's degree in journalism from Michigan State University.