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CES TVs preview: What to expect from the big screens of 2018

From OLED to QLED to Micro LED, CES is the place where screen time is absolutely friggin' huge. Here's a peek.


For those of us who care about new TV technology, Christmas comes in January.

CES 2018 in Las Vegas presages the coming year of TV tech with the latest in display innovations, and if previous shows are any indication, there'll be plenty of massive, jaw-dropping screens to go around.

At CES 2017 we saw the first wallpaper TV and another TV that used the screen as the speaker -- and both went on sale this year. At CES 2016 we saw a concept TV that could be rolled up like a piece of paper and a concept modular TV that can get as big as you can imagine. At CES 2015 there was the introduction of HDR and Samsung's quantum-dot-infused SUHD. At CES 2014 the buzz was all about concept TVs that got bent.

If the pattern holds, the most notable TVs at CES 2018 will probably populate the "concept" bucket. So how weird it will get? Transparent, paint-on, holographic or completely ephemeral? Huge, massive or bigger than your actual house? 4K, 8K, 16K or InfinityK? We'll see.

In addition to crazy concepts, CES also debuts plenty of TVs that will actually be on sale in 2018, laying out the trends for the year. At the time of this writing I haven't been briefed by any of the manufacturers (yet), so here are my best trend guesses.

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4K and HDR are for all and ho-hum

In 2017 TVs with 4K resolution and high dynamic range are available in the US as cheap as the $300 TCL 43S405. So yeah, those two features are thoroughly mainstream. This year we saw just about every TV maker phase out non-4K TVs in sizes smaller than 50 inches, and in 2018 that resolution, along with low-quality HDR that costs very little to implement, will make its way into even smaller and cheaper TVs.

Local dimming as the LCD differentiator

All of my favorite LCD TVs for 2017 used local dimming, a technology that allows the screen to brighten and dim in different areas independently, significantly boosting the picture. It's particularly valuable with HDR. Sony, TCL and Samsung expanded the number of TVs that utilize dimming, and Vizio continued to set the pace, with dimming-capable TVs available in every series. In 2018 local dimming will become even more common, if only to separate the cheap 4K HDR TVs from the slightly less-cheap ones.

Samsung dominant, TCL rising

The biggest domestic brand in China and now the No. 5 brand in the US, TCL will make even bigger inroads in 2018. In explaining its inexplicable decision to drop the 50- and 65-inch sizes of its excellent P series, TCL representatives said, "We'll be shifting our focus ... to the next-generation P-series portfolio featuring new, cutting-edge technology." In other words, it wants to take share from the four brands above it.

According to NPD sales data, TCL has indeed made big gains lately, but it's largely in cheaper models -- even cheaper than Vizio. Here's a comparison between the top five brands in 2016 and 2017, showing market share considering price (dollar share) and the average selling price for each during the January through October time periods (the latest available when I asked).

US TV market share by revenue, aka 'dollar share'

2016 2017
Samsung 37% 35%
Vizio 19% 15%
LG 12% 14%
Sony 11% 12%
TCL 2% 5%

Average US selling price per brand

2016 2017
Samsung $603 $612
Vizio $390 $351
LG $686 $660
Sony $868 $1,220
TCL $246 $243

So yes, TCL is growing and Samsung and Vizio are shrinking, but TCL still has a lot of ground to make up before it can approach those two. Making a big splash at CES wouldn't hurt.

Will anyone join LG and Sony on the OLED train?

Samsung dominates the market for both cheap and high-end TVs, but the sets snagging all the glory are OLED models made by LG. In 2017, Sony started selling OLED TVs too, joining Philips, Panasonic (both selling OLEDs in Europe, not the US) and Bang & Olufsen as brands that buy panels from LG Display. I don't think Samsung will do so in 2018, but it wouldn't shock me if Vizio, TCL or Hisense hopped aboard.

High-end LCDs feel the OLED squeeze

When I asked NPD for US sales data on high-end TVs, analyst Stephen Baker put it into some interesting context.

"Only about 10 percent of all TVs sell for $1,000 or more," he said, "and that number has been very consistent for a number of years. And for TVs over $1,000, the average price over the last five years has been around $1,700. So the introduction of new technology, or the wider availability of bigger screens, really hasn't changed the share of volume or the amount consumers are willing to pay for a premium TV."

The part that jumped out at me was the $1,700 figure. That happens to be near the new all-time low of LG's 2017 55-inch OLED TV. Here's Baker's chart for the over-$1,000 market, covering the same Jan-Oct window period as the above charts:

Dollar share by brand for TVs over $1,000

2016 2017
Samsung 53% 48%
Sony 22% 27%
LG 16% 19%
Vizio 9% 6%

LG and Sony, both of which sell high-end OLED TVs, are rising in high-end share, while Samsung and Vizio, which do not, are falling. Anecdotally most of the people I talk to in the high-end market want an OLED rather than a similarly priced high-end LCD, whether QLED or otherwise.

And I'm sure LG will get the price of its OLEDs even lower. I wouldn't be surprised to see the 65-incher selling for $2,000 this time next year. Samsung and others are sure to introduce expensive non-OLED TVs at CES, but they'll face a tougher battle than ever against OLED.

Micro LED? Emissive quantum dots? Both?


Samsung's Cinema Screen is a modular technology that uses direct LED.


Samsung's QLED TVs like the Q7 represent its best effort to compete against OLED using tried-and-true LCD technology, but at the end of the day they're still just LCD TVs. Maybe it will take an entirely new display tech to dethrone OLED.

A report out of Korea names Samsung's Micro LED as one contender. The technology uses an array of very small, pixel-sized light-emitting diodes to produce an image, doing away with the LCD panel entirely. It can get very bright and can turn each LED off individually, so it can produce absolute black and an infinite contrast ratio (just like OLED). Samsung has shown it before in the form of Cinema Screen for the commercial market, but the report says it will appear in a 150-inch TV at the show, and be commercialized later in 2018.


Prototype electroluminescent quantum dots, aka "true QLED."


Meanwhile, emissive quantum dots are the "true QLED" video nerds are looking forward to, and maybe they'll appear in a concept TV this year too. Using quantum dots that actually emit light, as opposed to merely enhancing a standard LCD backlight, emissive QD also has the potential to match the "infinite" contrast ratio of OLED, with better power efficiency, better color and more.

Samsung has been working on the technology for a while, but most experts still think it won't hit the market until 2020 or 2021. If that timeline is correct maybe CES 2018 is a bit early to show a concept, but it sure would be exciting -- and take some of the wind out of OLED's sails.

Voice is the new smart

Beyond all this display technology stuff, one of my favorite innovations with TVs is improved voice control and interaction. The Amazon Fire TV Edition is the best example, allowing you to say stuff like, "Alexa, turn on Fire TV," and, "Alexa, watch 'Breaking Bad' on Fire TV" and have the TV react, no remote required. Vizio and Sony TVs can perform similar tricks with Google Home speakers, and Sony's Android TV even has an Alexa app.

Alexa Sony TV 01

 Voice control and interaction keeps getting better.

David Katzmaier/CNET

Those features will get better, but the key in my book is TV makers partnering with Amazon and Google. I wouldn't be surprised to see Samsung introduce a TV that can be controlled by a new Bixby far-field speaker -- it has already announced Bixby for TVs in 2018 -- but I wouldn't be as excited about that as I would the same TV integrated with Alexa, perhaps with an app similar to Sony's. There's no reason other smart sets, like LG's OLEDs or even TCL's Roku TVs, couldn't also make nice with the two behemoths of voice.

Streaming app support will get even more important

News flash: people like to stream TV shows and movies. And when they can do it without having to switch to a new input and grab another remote, they like it even more. Witness the surge in popularity of Roku TVs, which I continue to laud in reviews, and which continue to top Amazon's best seller lists.

TCL S305 series Roku TV

News flash: people like to stream TV shows and movies.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Netflix, Amazon Video, Hulu and YouTube (sorry, Fire TV) are the big names in TV streaming apps and nearly every set offers them, but support for increasingly popular cord-cutter TV apps such as Sling TV, DirecTV Now and YouTube TV, as well as apps like Twitch, Pluto TV, BBC iPlayer, Now TV, Spotify, Plex, Fox Sports Go and more, is also important.

In 2018 Disney will launch its own dedicated streaming service, and so will ESPN. There's no doubt more new TV apps will continue to parade down the pike, and smart TVs that build more of those in, such as Roku and Android TV, have an advantage to users of the apps.

So, what about HDMI 2.1?

Update, 9.05 a.m. ET: The above tweet came in after this article originally published -- and it's right, the new generation of the HDMI connection used in all TVs deserves a mention too.

I don't expect many, if any, of the TVs announced at CES will comply with the new HDMI 2.1 standard. It was finalized in late November, leaving very little time for manufacturers to build it into their 2018 televisions and other gear.

So does that mean you should hold off and not buy a TV next year? Nope. As we recently explained: "HDMI 2.1 is almost ridiculously future-proofed. Most of the stuff it adds, like higher resolutions and frame rates, won't be widely available for years, if they come at all. A TV bought today or next year that doesn't have HDMI 2.1 will still be able to play back the vast majority of available content in the highest quality." 

In short, don't worry about it.

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We'll be there

My boldest predictions yet: I'll be at CES to sort through all the new screens in person, and there's gonna be a lot of 'em. Follow us at @CNET for the latest CES news in general, and me @dkatzmaier for TV tech specifically. Should be fun!

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