Officially CES opens for business today, when an army of gadget-hungry buyers, sellers, analysts and journalists descend on the Las Vegas Convention Center eager for a first look at this year’s latest and greatest. And yet most of the major players in the electronics biz have already made their big reveals during a flurry of press conferences yesterday. (But don’t worry, the funnest part of CES is making cool discoveries from the little guys who just may be next decade’s electronics giant.) During their overpacked pressers, LG, Samsung, Panasonic, Microsoft, and Sony talked shop about an incredible array of products, from smartphones to smart refrigerators, but the common theme throughout was the ability for all our devices to work together, and that, more than ever, the TV is going to be the hub of our digital worlds.
No surprise, the most obvious update to this year’s crop of HDTVs is cosmetic, with every TV maker offering their take on ever bigger but thinner panels, with ever smaller bezels (the frame around the screen). LG showed off its gorgeous line of sets with scant 5mm bezels that are almost imperceptible, making our current TV’s frame look like the digital equivalent of a pair of bulky horn-rim glasses. Animating these new models is a host of new high tech video wizardry, an alphabet soup of abbreviations we won’t bother parsing here other than to say the results are amazing. Super OLED! AMOLED! IPS! 4K! Full HD 3-D!
Speaking of 3-D, despite unrelenting haranguing from most of the techiesphere, the electronics industry has a lot riding on that extra dimension (as do Hollywood, and the networks, and cablecos, among others). So like it or not, virtually every TV within the next few years is going to be 3-D ready. Panasonic announced that NBC will be using their cameras at this summer’s London Olympics and will air some 200 hours of programming in 3-D. They also noted some 20 percent of all HDTVs sold this year worldwide will be 3-D ready (so… at best a small percentage of viewers will be watching Michael Phelps in 3-D?) LG, Philips, Samsung, Sharp, Sony and Vizio are all on the bandwagon as well, so either hop on board yourself or stop worrying and consider it a feature you have but don’t have to use, like film mode or automatic ambient brightness adjustment. Or for some of us, the off button.
The killer app for TVs, similar to last year, is the push to make them smart. In short, yet another networked, internet-connected device that both communicates with other devices you own (phone, tablet, PC) as well as with the internet via apps or widgets (including social networking stuff as well as web video, games and more). And the cloud, don’t forget the cloud! Every company has their own implementation of how things will work: Samsung’s already well-received Smart TV software has a dedicated app store and will implement cloud storage so that photos and movies and music are accessible across all your Samsung devices. Panasonic’s version, renamed (yet again) to VIERA Connect, offers similar functionality but as an exclusive will include apps like the just relaunched Myspace TV service, which in theory will bring social networking to your TV watching experience (and was presented by Myspace investor Justin Timberlake at Panny’s presser yesterday!) Sony also has an implementation, as does Vizio and Philips and everyone else – all hoping to chip away at Apple’s mighty iTunes store ecosystem. (And, we bet, all hoping upon hope that rumors of an Apple-developed TV are just that.) Either way, prepare to be utterly befuddled by options the next time you’re ready to buy a TV. The good news is that judging from what we’ve seen so far, it’s a curse of riches.