A new decade is upon us, and to kick off the "tens" in perfect fashion, there's the International Consumer Electronics Show. CES is ground zero for TV announcements, so each year I use this space to predict the major trends in TV tech. As you may know, CNET also runs the Best of CES awards, and I'll be picking the three most compelling HDTVs again this year. Chances are, one or more of the following trends will play a big part in the winner's pedigree.
Over the last five shows worth of prognostication--CES 2005, CES 2006, CES 2007, CES 2008 and CES 2009--I've already included all of the buzzword/trends below. But before you despair that there's nothing new under the Las Vegas winter sun, take heart. I've rarely felt as confident as I do now that one particular buzzword (technicaly, a number followed by a letter) will rule them all.
Inflamed by the $150 million in marketing behind the new James Cameron epic "Avatar," 3D hoopla will be everywhere at CES. Those sweet, glasses-and-ticket-required demos will grace the booths of most major TV manufacturers, creating the inevitable attention that accompanies having to wait in line to get or do stuff. Panasonic is already running TV ads pairing the company's plasmas with the film, which itself is heavily promoted as a near life-changing event, and other TV makers are sure to hitch onto the buzz.
But what will we see in terms of actual product? More than one maker will likely announce a "3D TV" at the show this year, but what that actually means is unclear. I'm guessing they'll offer some kind of 2D to 3D upconversion system, to apply a 3D effect to existing sources, as well as compatibility with future 3D formats. In any event you shouldn't expect the same kinds of results you'll see when you sit down for "Avatar" in the theater, at least for a year or two.
For 3D to be successful in the home it requires a specific 3D home video format. The murmurs in that direction began at last year's show and in October of this year Panasonic submitted a standard to the Blu-ray Disc association for an official format "for adoption in 2010." The company says it hopes to avoid a format war like the Blu-ray vs. HD-DVD battle of yore, but with the future of home entertainment at stake we don't have our hopes up.
And yes, you still need glasses.
Smaller Buzz: OLED, LED, green, and interactivity
This year I'm just going to lump these trends into a big 2D ball (er, disc, I guess) and dispose of them as appropriate. It's a near certainty that somebody--LG, Samsung, Sony?--will show an OLED TV larger than the 11-inch model Sony currently sells, but I don't think a real product announcement will be forthcoming. LG's 15-inch model on sale in Korea is the likeliest candidate, but that's hardly worth caring about.
Much more tangible will be the increase in the number of LED-based LCD TVs. I expect lower price points and lots of ultra-thin permutations for this technology. LED lets TV makers differentiate their sets into discrete pricing tiers, with "full array" LED (e.g. Sharp LC-700UN) at the bottom, edge-lit in the middle, and local dimming at the high-end. Samsung has carved out a healthy lead in this category, although we expect Vizio and LG, among others, to narrow the gap in 2010.
Energy efficiency is one of LED's big claims to fame, and it's also going to be used as a selling point again in 2010, especially with the new Energy Star 4.0 regulations coming out in May (I'm curious how many big plasmas will earn the blue sticker). "Green" will be especially prominent in entry-level models where nothing else is worth a bullet point.
And finally there's the Internet. On TV. The trickle of interactive services and the TVs that offer them will become the usual incomprehensible flood as makers strive to differentiate themselves. Finally Netflix will be everywhere, followed closely by the usual suspects: YouTube, Vudu, Amazon Video on Demand, Pandora, Rhapsody, widgets that are actually worthwhile (I love the ESPN Red Zone widget on Verizon Fios--it's probably coming to a TV soon too) and of course in-house streaming. One logical progression, albeit unlikely, is a TV that officially supports streaming aggregation software like Boxee or PlayOn. I think we'll see quite a few makers bundle more interactive-friendly remotes, like the Bluetooth QWERTY clicker on Vizio's upcoming VF552XVT, and maybe even trot out an iPhone pairing. No matter what, software upgrades and additional functionality are going to be nearly a requirement, as is the addition of wireless networking capability.
So what do you think? Are there any other trends you're dying to hear about at CES? Or would you just settle for picture quality that matches a certain 18-month-old plasma?