Ultra HD, gesture control and cloud PVR: We show you the future of TVs and home cinema
In the 20-teens we'll still be shouting at Match of the Day, but the TVs we'll be viewing it on could be very different. We take a look at what the future holds for home cinema.
Three years is a long time in the tech world, but it's the blink of an eye in tellyland. In the 20-teens we'll still be watching EastEnders and shouting at Match of the Day on (what's left of) the BBC, but the screens we'll be viewing them on could be very different. The connected home will finally come out from the corner it's been hiding behind for the last decade -- meaning seamless, personalised video when and where we want it. Our prediction? The Radio Times for Christmas 2012 will be the last one ever...
If a 3D telly isn't already on your shopping list, you probably don't have a child under ten in the house. But as more films arrive in 3D, and television embraces the extra dimension (it's actually a relatively small investment for live sports and studio-based shows), the temptation to go multi-dimensional is only going to grow.
You'll be eased on your way by the next generation of 3D specs. Not only will one set of glasses work with multiple makes of TV (so you can take your specs to your mate's house), they'll be lighter, smaller and cheaper. Within a year or five, 3D specs should be indistinguishable from normal sunglasses -- at which point fashion brands will get in on the action, to say nothing of a tidal wave of Disney-themed eyewear for kids.
The really hot ticket is always going to be, but that's still a way off, according to Michael Bove, director of the consumer electronics laboratory at MIT. The first spec-free screens, like the arriving in Japan this winter, will have limited viewing zones, outside of which the 3D video flips unpleasantly back to 2D.
"The living room is complex because people want to put their chairs where they're comfortable, not necessarily where the right view zones are," says Bove. "There is the potential for making these screens steerable, though, so you could make the view zones be where you want to put your chairs."
Likely release date: Toshiba glasses-free TV -- early 2011. Pocket-money 3D specs -- 2013.
Whether you want it or not, higher-definition TV is coming to the airwaves. If you think Anne Robinson looks reptilian in HD, new formats will reveal her true V-like nature -- and possibly the tiniest trace of gerbil flesh between her teeth. 4K is an intermediate standard being adopted for digital cinema, offering just over twice the resolution of 1080p 'Full HD' at 4,096x3,112 pixels.
But the real visual powerhouse thundering towards us at 33 megapixels per frame and 60 frames per second is Ultra HD, sometimes called Super Hi-Vision. Measuring 7,680x4,320 pixels, Ultra HD broadcasts are 16 times as sharp as 1080p and require a mammoth 24Gbps of bandwidth to stream uncompressed.
Japan's state broadcaster NHK recently lent the BBC one of only three Ultra HD cameras in the world to record and transmit a Charlatans gig. Ageing indie rockers in Ultra HD? Where's Anne Robinson when you need her?
With the weight of NHK and Japan's hi-def-happy millions behind it, Ultra HD is sure to move forward, but the infrastructure and displays required to show that level of detail are still years from domestication. Your first chance of seeing the tech in action is at the 2012 Olympics, where the Beeb is planning to film and. Or at least, it was, until its budget got slashed back to the days of 425-line black and white broadcasts.
Likely release date: The first Ultra HD Sky channel -- 2015.
After 50 years of inciting marital conflict and running out of juice in the middle of Manimal, the remote control is about to slip beneath the sofa cushions once and for all. The immediate threats are zap apps for the Android devices that sidestep infrared communications for wireless channel surfing.and
It won't be long, though, until we don't need a zapper at all. Microsoft's gesture and voice-controlledtechnology, already available with the , is hyped as the next great gaming interface, but we reckon it'll actually have a bigger impact as a media-control system for your TV.
Set Kinect loose on searching recordings or swapping channels and it's clearly superior to plodding through menus and virtual keyboards with a remote -- and the slight lag that can spoil gameplay is barely noticeable when you're just flicking through options on screen.
Sharon Loftis, a program manager at Microsoft, says "We'll start with great new games, then move on. We will look at everything on Xbox 360 and ask how it can be made better with Kinect -- Xbox Live, movies and TV."
Further forward, TVs with webcams and computing power alreadyaccess will add their own gesture-control systems -- look for them at CES 2011.
Likely release date: TVs with gesture control -- late 2011.
How much bandwidth do you think you'll need for the next wave of IP goodies? 10Mbps? 20Mbps maybe? Think again. Analysts at IMS Research estimate consumers will require upwards of 60Mbps to support multimedia, high-definition streaming entertainment.
One innovative method of delivering that data might be not on increasingly crowded (and decreasingly secure) Wi-Fi networks but using light itself. Researchers at the Frauenhofer Institute in Germany have demonstrated a system for distributing broadband around the home using nothing but commercial LED lamps.
The LEDs are adjusted to flicker millions of times faster than is noticeable to the human eye. That imperceptible modulation can carry huge quantities of information -- at least 100Mbps, and up to 230Mbps in lab tests.
Unlike Wi-Fi, light-based downloads can't leak through walls, making them more secure for online banking and shopping (although you might want to pull the curtains if you're downloading something naughty).
Likely release date: Houses built with optical broadband -- 2014.
The days of filling your walls with a library of VHS and recordable DVDs are long gone -- and now the era of the set-top DVR is now fading fast. DVRs looked fantastic compared to VCRs but you still have to remember to record programmes (or whole series), two tuners still isn't quite enough on a busy TV night and they still sometimes stop recording two minutes into that crucial cliffhanger finale.
The sooner TV recording retreats into the cloud, the better. Google Queue will turn into Google Rewind (that's what we're calling it anyway): a way to shunt your telly watching to its capacious online coffers, managing all your broadcast, streaming and satellite TV channels via a simple Web interface.
You'll still pay Sky for premium sports and LoveFilm for movies, of course, but now you'll be able to watch your virtual recordings in the ideal format for whatever screen you have to hand. That means 1080p and 9.2 sound in the living room, 720p and virtual surround on your laptop on the train, or crisp VGA and stereo on your mobile (Android, naturally).
Likely release date: The first major broadcaster to move recording entirely to the cloud -- 2013.
- This week we've been running a series of features looking ahead to the near future of consumer tech. On Monday we peered into the , Tuesday saw , Wednesday was all about , and yesterday we looked at .
- So tell us what you think -- which home cinema developments are you most looking forward to? Let us know in the comments below, on our Facebook page or on Twitter.