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CES 2019 won't be a big leap forward for TVs. Here's why

Commentary: There's a lot of cool TV tech on the horizon, but it's not here yet.

James Martin/CNET

The consumer electronics industry has cycles. CES, the annual tech jamboree held in Las Vegas each January, reveals where we are in this cycle. Some years there are revolutions, like 4K TVs, quantum dots or OLED.

Other years there are evolutions: a bigger TV or a thinner one. Sometimes it's a new TV operating system. Certainly not flashy, but they're important. Maybe it's a production model using new tech, but no cool world-changing prototypes. In these years, there's certainly interesting stuff, but there's less wow.

2019 is looking to be an evolution year in TV technology. That's not to say such evolutions aren't important, just not as exciting as the revolutions.

To see evidence of what I mean, check out David Katzmaier's CES 2019 TVs preview. He's already been briefed by the big TV makers and none of the stuff he highlighted -- 8K TVs going on sale, rollable OLED, the trend toward larger screens and built-in Alexa and Google Assistant voice control -- is new for 2019.

Want more evidence? Read on.

hdmi-closeup
Geoffrey Morrison/CNET

No HDMI 2.1

The next-generation HDMI spec is called 2.1. This is what's required to send 8K content from an 8K source to an 8K TV. Without 2.1, you'll only be able to get 8K content -- what there is of it -- from internal apps.

The real issue is that it's highly unlikely you'll be able to upgrade a non-2.1 TV to full 2.1 compatibility. It is, at least in part, a hardware change. Maybe with Samsung's One Connect box, for some as-yet unknown upgrade price, but if all the connections are inside the TV it's highly unlikely they'll be upgradable.

This isn't to say we won't see more 8K TVs this year, we definitely will, it's just the wider roll-out and acceptance of this new tech is still going to be slow throughout 2019 (and likely well beyond).

Speaking of 8K…

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2:30

8K is already here, sitting around not caring if you want it

Even though it's completely unnecessary in 2019, you can buy an 8K TV right now. In fact, multiple companies have been showing 8K TVs at CES for years. If you're outside the US, there are even multiple models you can choose from already on the market.

Which is to say, we've seen 8K, so it's not "new," but we're not at the point where it's common (obviously). CES 2019 will likely have several new companies announcing 8K TVs, but these will still be expensive anomalies more than mainstream products.

24-samsung-q900
Sarah Tew/CNET

These will likely be quite high performing, irrespective of their resolution. As Katzmaier found in his recent hands-on with the Samsung Q900, it's a gorgeous television that just happens to also have a lot of pixels: "The improved brightness of the Q900 made its images pop more, the dark areas looked more natural and well defined, and the colors appeared more vibrant." So they're good TVs at least, but without HDMI 2.1 they remain a bit of a oddity. Like owning a speedboat in the Sahara.

As we've said repeatedly over the years, resolution is only one aspect of overall picture quality, and not even one of the most important. And yes, 8K is inevitable. But don't worry about it for now, regardless of what new TVs get announced at CES.

No next-gen TV tech

True next-gen TV tech is really what makes a CES memorable. It's unlikely we'll see any of the rumored next-gen display technologies. No TV-sized micro LED displays, no working direct-view quantum dot or OLED/QD hybrid TVs.

It's possible we'll step in-between these, like higher-performing OLED or more advanced quantum dot LCDs. This is especially true for Samsung, who are still pushing every last nit of performance out of liquid crystals and seem to be willing to do so for the foreseeable future.

Perhaps next year we'll see the real future tech.

direct-view-qd

How a direct-view quantum dot display would work. Unlike current quantum dot TVs, there's no LCD layer at all. This is essentially how OLED works, but instead of organic light emitting materials, there are quantum dots. For more, check out how quantum dots could challenge OLED for best TV picture.

Nanosys

What's next

We'll likely see the progression of two TV techs we've seen in prototype before: clear and roll-up TVs.

LG has demoed transparent tech before, as have some other companies. Rumor has it Samsung is working on the tech again too. What good is a transparent display? This is definitely not something for your home, but the industrial and non-TV uses could be wide ranging. In-store displays and digital signage for a start. Then imagine home windows that can display weather and news without ruining the view. Or car windshields that can display navigation info. Very sci-fi and very cool.

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LG is reportedly going to sell its roll-up OLED TV in 2019. We checked this out in detail at CES 2018. How much it will cost is a big question, but a TV that can disappear is likely high on the list for many spouses. Sure, you can do that now with a projector and screen, but unlike a projector, a roll-up OLED would be bright enough to handle ambient light in everything but the brightest rooms.

Otherwise? Bigger and brighter TVs of all kinds will be the name of the game... just like always.

If you're looking forward to seeing how wrong I was, check out our live coverage of CES 2019, starting Jan. 7.  


Got a question for Geoff? First, check out all the other articles he's written on topics like why all HDMI cables are the sameTV resolutions explainedLED LCD vs. OLED and more.

Still have a question? Tweet at him @TechWriterGeoff, then check out his travel photography on Instagram. He also thinks you should check out his best-selling sci-fi novel and its sequel