CES 2021 TV preview: 8K, OLED, MicroLED screens remain huge, hype shrinks

A global pandemic can't stop the biggest TV trade show on Earth, but it can slow it down.

David Katzmaier Editorial Director -- Personal Tech
David reviews TVs and leads the Personal Tech team at CNET, covering mobile, software, computing, streaming and home entertainment. We provide helpful, expert reviews, advice and videos on what gadget or service to buy and how to get the most out of it.
Expertise A 20-year CNET veteran, David has been reviewing TVs since the days of CRT, rear-projection and plasma. Prior to CNET he worked at Sound & Vision magazine and eTown.com. He is known to two people on Twitter as the Cormac McCarthy of consumer electronics. Credentials
  • Although still awaiting his Oscar for Best Picture Reviewer, David does hold certifications from the Imaging Science Foundation and the National Institutes of Standards and Technology on display calibration and evaluation.
David Katzmaier
6 min read

There will be plenty of new televisions in 2021, but for the first time in decades they won't be introduced in person at CES. Instead of filling massive booths in Las Vegas with jumbo screens to wow hundreds of thousands of attendees, TV makers like Samsung, LG and TCL will host virtual events online -- just like Apple, Google and others during the pandemic.

That means people like me will be covering the latest in TV tech from the comfort of our homes and apartments (for the most part). At CNET we'll still host live discussions and events over video chat and you can expect to read plenty of articles about new TVs during the first couple weeks in January, but the wow factor and sizzle won't be the same. I'll do my best but let's face it: My basement isn't quite big enough to hold Samsung's 292-inch MicroLED, LG's OLED wave or the CNET stage.

The biggest and best TVs of CES 2020

See all photos

Because CES is "all-digital" this year, I also don't expect there to be quite as much to talk about. Some TV makers will use the lack of a physical show to tout big products early, like the 110-inch Samsung MicroLED TV. Some will make new TV announcements later in the year, closer to their spring launch dates, rather than compete for coverage space at CES. And crazy concepts like transparent OLED and custom in-flight screens from LG Display don't translate as well to Zoom presentations.

There will still be plenty of TV news at CES 2021, however. Buzzwords like 8K, Mini-LED and MicroLED will nab their share of headlines, TV makers will promise better image quality, bigger screens and add-ons of dubious usefulness and the show will provide the first glimpse of best TVs of 2021. Here's a preview of this unique iteration of CES featuring insights from Stephen Baker, vice president of Industry Analysis at NPD Group, a market research firm.

Watch this: Samsung The Wall 292-inch MicroLED TV: Huge

Lots of Samsung, TCL and LG, less Vizio and Hisense

I'll start with the basics. Here are the top five US TV brands by units sold and dollars (the number of TVs and the amount of money spent on TVs). Like all the data in this article, it's from NPD and applies to 2020 through Cyber Monday week, ending Dec. 5.

2020 market share by brand

Samsung 25%38%
TCL 15%10%
Vizio 14%10%
LG 10%17%
Hisense 9%6%

Three of the five biggest brands will likely show off new televisions at CES, but two will definitely sit it out. Vizio confirmed to CNET that it won't announce any new TVs at CES 2021 -- despite a massive presence in previous years, including 2020. Hisense also typically shows off new TVs at CES, but this year a company representative told me new models for the US market would instead be revealed "closer to their availability dates" in 2021.

Will 2021 finally be the year of 8K TV? Probably not.

2020 was a massive year for TV sales in general -- they grew an incredible 20% year-over-year -- and Samsung in particular, which sold nearly half of all the TVs over $1,000 and actually increased its already dominant market share by another 3%. Many of Samsung's CES announcements last year centered on 8K, but sales of 8K TVs will likely remain tiny in 2021.

"No change in the prognosis for 8K," Baker told me. "It remains a product without much demand or differentiation right now." He doesn't expect 8K to exceed 1% of sales volume until 2022. I still expect Samsung, LG, Sony and TCL to announce 8K TVs at CES (TCL, for record, has promised an 8K TV in the US each of the last two years and failed to deliver) but I don't expect many people to buy them.

Read more: 8K TV: What you need to know


Samsung's 98-inch 8K QLED TV costs $60,000.

Sarah Tew/CNET

2021 will be the year of the huge TV (just like 2020 was)

"TVs keep getting bigger," says Baker. "The most remarkable trends this year are how quickly consumers saw value in bigger screens and how much they recognized the value in newer, more modern technology to support their entertainment needs." These two trends go hand in hand: As people replace aging TVs they often get newer ones that are bigger.

Here's how much sales of larger TVs have grown in the last couple of years.

Sales growth by screen size

65-inch TVs 27%39%
70-inch and larger TVs 82%58%

CES often has gigantic, one-off TVs that either cost a fortune or aren't real products, but this kind of growth in truly gigantic screen sizes is real and likely to increase as long as big TVs keep getting cheaper. 

One interesting counter note from Baker, however: "We expected a sharp drop off in smaller screen TVs, instead those sizes have grown alongside larger screens." I don't think that will translate into more small TV announcements at CES -- I'd be surprised to see a smaller-than-48-inch OLED, for example -- but you never know.

Read more: How big a TV to buy? As big as you can

Will OLED have any new tricks up its sleeve?

One of the biggest stories of CES 2020 was Vizio joining Sony and LG in selling an OLED-based TV. Another was the crazy roll-up OLED from LG finally going on sale. For 2021, I won't be surprised if LG tried to differentiate its OLED lineup even more, either with a new panel technology (OLED panels have remained basically unchanged, albeit excellent, for years) or some design trick -- maybe transparent OLED for consumers instead of just retail. 

Speaking of new panels, here's also the possibility that we hear more about QD Display, a quantum dot/OLED hybrid in which Samsung Display invested heavily last year. Initial production is scheduled to start in 2021.

Watch this: LG's OLED 2020 TVs are rollable, 8K and flush-mount

More quick tidbits: gaming, smart TV and soundbars

  • Now that Xbox Series X and PlayStation 5 are available I hope more affordable TVs get gaming-friendly HDMI 2.1 extras like 4K/120Hz and Variable Refresh Rate -- but I don't expect to hear much about cheaper TVs at CES.
  • Streaming had a huge year in 2020 but I don't expect much innovation in smart TV systems, which have largely leveled off. "Streaming has become a checklist item," says Baker, referring to its easy availability on numerous platforms. He says well over 90% of all TVs sold in 2020 were smart TVs.
  • Over-the-air TV could make more headlines in 2021 as additional TVs get NextGen TV tuners, which allow access to 4K antenna broadcasts and more. Last year only a handful of such TVs were introduced. I also wouldn't be surprised to see separate NextGen TV set-top boxes announced.
  • Home entertainment isn't just about TVs: soundbars saw the same 20% increase in growth, TV mounts saw a 31% jump and routers grew by 50% -- all products at or near the center of the home entertainment space. At CES, I expect the trend of TV-branded soundbars to grow (Samsung soundbars that work best with Samsung TVs, for example) and TV makers to continue making wall-mounting and other innovative TV-as-furniture solutions easier.
  • Overall, Baker expects TV sales to decline in 2021 compared to 2020, but that's not a surprise given how much of a blockbuster year TVs had this year. "However it is important to point out that we expect 2021 and 2022 sales volumes to be above the 2017-2019 trend as consumers focus more on their entertainment choices and continue to update, upgrade and upsize their TVs." 

In the TV industry as in so many other areas of life, 2020 was unique. The CTA has already announced that CES 2022 will take place in Las Vegas again. Meanwhile, for this year's virtual, all-digital show my most accurate prediction is the same as ever: CNET will have the latest developments from CES starting in early January. Stay tuned.