Post-show report: Big OLEDs dominate TV news at CES 2012

Organic light-emitting diode-based TVs stole the spotlight at CES 2012, but there was plenty of other juicy TV news. Check out the full wrap-up from CNET's David Katzmaier and Ty Pendlebury.

2012 is the year big-screen OLED TVs finally go on sale. Ty Pendlebury/CNET

LAS VEGAS--At the start of 2012, CNET television editors David Katzmaier and Ty Pendlebury put forward their predictions for what we will see in the coming year.

Sadly jetpacks and metallic jumpsuits will have to wait till next year, but we will see the debut of big OLEDs and voice/gesture-based TV control.

So what did we learn from this year's show? Read our head-to-head CES 2012 wrap.

Pendlebury's post-game

Forget the squabbling over which format of mobile device will be successful in the coming years--ultrabook, tablet, smartphone--OLED is the future, and this year you'll be able to buy one in a 55-inch size. Both Samsung and LG's OLED displays were impressive, with Samsung the most visually striking thanks to a superior reel of demo program material (see photo). It's indisputable that OLED offers amazing picture qualty, beginning with the potential for absolute black levels, wide viewing angles, and near-instantaneous response times.

We picked the LG 55EM9600 as our favorite device from this year's show, but it doesn't mean that LG can rest on its laurels and just release any old rubbish. We saw prototypes from both Korean companies, and there is still a bit of work to do to get them ready for market--specs on both displays were scarce at the show, and of course pricing wasn't announced. I'm guessing somewhere in the $8,000 range.

While OLED has been on the cards for many years, the only surprise TV technology shown this year was from Sony--the LED-based Crystal Display. Displayed without pomp or ceremony on the main floor, the Crystal Display features six million tiny LEDs in a miniaturized version of sporting scoreboards. The picture looked pretty good compared to the LCD placed next to it, but it didn't have the pop we saw from the competitive OLEDs. Possibility it will ever be released? Probably good...eventually. Possibility it will be commercially successful? Never.

First computers and then telephones got bitten by the dual-core bug, and now we're sorry to say: so have TVs. No one cares about the processor in a TV; it's not a big deal. People hated computers in their lounge rooms and that's why home theater PCs never took off. Reminding them there's one in their TVs will only arouse the angry mob with firebrands and pitchforks.

Think that plasma is dead? Samsung reckons it'll be around till 2020 and it keeps getting better. While we haven't seen a plasma yet that matches the too-good-for-this-world Kuro, all three plasma makers (Panasonic, Samsung and LG) boasted improved black levels and other specs for their 2012 TVs.

The biggest disappointments from this year? Sony has been hurting, and this has caused the company to pull back on the reins. Its CES press conference was filled with more guest stars than actual technology, but still managed to announce its smallest range of TVs in years. While the top-end TVs have the new Gorilla Glass, there hasn't been any innovation from the company in two years--the Crystal TV notwithstanding.

We were also puzzled by Panasonic's bizarre press conference. A 10-minute music montage followed by 40 minutes of droming about green principles, a blink-and-you'd-miss it slide that said, "here are some plasmas," and then Justin Timberlake (who once played the founder of Napster) announced "MySpace TV."

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Dave's denouement

It seems like I've been waiting for big-screen OLED since the technology appeared in 2008 for real in Sony's pipsqueak 11-inch XEL-1. I spent a good deal of time staring at both the LG and Samsung prototype 55-inch sets at the show, and they looked really impressive--mainly because of their incredibly deep black levels. They "popped" like nothing else.

Aside from picture quality both TVs exhibited jaw-dropping style, with ridiculously thin cabinets--LG's rep described it as "as thick as three credit cards"--and frames around the screen measuring fractions of an inch. In person those beautiful pictures seemed to hang in space, disembodied and futuristic.

LG's OLED barely beat out Samsung's for Best TV of CES, but only after plenty of discussion between Ty and me. It was the toughest call I can remember having had to make in this category. Check out my Best Of post for more on that.

A bunch of other non-OLED news broke too this year in TVs. I'm psyched to compare Panasonic and Samsung's top- and midrange plasmas again. Samsung claims to have improved the picture on its edge-lit LEDs, and Sharp and LG both announced full-array LED models--although unsurprisingly, no new Elite was announced (I expect that to happen sometime during the summer).

In non-picture-quality-related announcements, the coolest thing was voice/gesture control from Samsung. Improved remotes with touchpads from Panasonic and Samsung also piqued my interest, and LG added voice control to its Wii-like magic motion controller. I like the trend of cable-box control from Toshiba and Samsung, and designs seem to have improved from everyone, especially laggard Panasonic. Thin bezels forever!

Finally a word on 3D: meh. Few makers seemed to be talking about it, the exception being Toshiba with its glasses-free model. I feel like I was too easy on it in the video ; Ty said it was still a mess, and I agree, but we'll see how it looks on the shipping version before we pass final judgement. The move toward universal active glasses is welcome, and I was frankly surprised that Samsung and Sony didn't join Panasonic in announcing less expensive passive models.

All told, CES 2012 was easily the most exciting in years in the TVs category, and I haven't even mentioned 4K/8K, LED TV, or improved Internet suites. The new models begin rolling in over the next few weeks, so Ty and I will have our work cut out reviewing them. In the meantime, let us know what you think in the comments.

 

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