2011 TVs preview

CNET editors preview the HDTV technology to expect during the 2011 edition of the Consumer Electronics Show.

David Katzmaier
David Katzmaier Editorial Director -- TVs and streaming
David runs CNET's home entertainment division, where he leads a team that covers TVs, streaming services, streaming devices and home audio. If he doesn't know something about the gear you use to keep yourself entertained at home, it's not worth knowing.
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.
5 min read

The Panasonic TC-PVT20/25 plasma TV won Best of CES and our Editors' Choice in 2010. Will its successor fare as well? Sarah Tew/CNET

Welcome to CNET's predictions for the TV hardware category at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. For previous shows--most recently CES 2005, CES 2006, CES 2007, CES 2008, CES 2009 and CES 2010--I've placed not-so-bold bets on buzzwords like "1080p," "LCoS," "iDCR," "xvYCC," "LED," "Green," "Internet TV" and, yes, "3D." My first bet for 2011: Don't expect to see any major new technology acronyms this year.

The most prominent trends of 2010 were the introduction of 3D--the biggest, and most controversial, new TV feature in the last few years--as well as the addition of expanded Internet capabilities such as Samsung Apps, Vizio's VIA platform, and yes, Google TV. Those two trends will gain strength in 2011 and undergo some interesting differentiation as makers seek to distinguish themselves from the pack.

3D TVs
We've already gotten a look at the 2011 product lines from more than one TV maker, and while we agreed not to get too specific (the price of being given early info), we can say that 3D will be everywhere at the show this year. Late in 2010 Samsung and Panasonic announced less-expensive versions of their flagship 3D models, and in 2011 3D will be reduced from a flagship feature to something available on midtier TVs from just about every manufacturer. One of the advantages of the "active" 3D model found on current TVs (more info) is that it doesn't cost much more for manufacturers to build in--most of the extra cost is in the glasses themselves.

LG 3D glasses

Speaking of the glasses, you'll still need to use them for the foreseeable 3D future. We wouldn't be surprised to see lots of "glasses-free 3D" demos in CES booths (like maybe Toshiba's) next month, but they should be accompanied by admonitions that said technology is still "a few years" away from mainstream release.

A "universal" standard for active 3D glasses is also not in the cards for 2011, so don't expect Sony glasses to work with Samsung TVs, for example. Those specs will remain proprietary, keeping the market window open for third-party universal solutions like the XpanD X103 released in late 2010. Maybe the TV makers can agree on a standard by 2012, but we wouldn't place money on it.

"Passive" 3D TVs
All of the consumer-targeted 3D TVs released by major makers in 2010 used those active shutter glasses, complete with batteries, infrared synching with the TV and generally $100-plus price tags.

Vizio's XVT3D650SV will probably be the first new "passive" 3D TV to ship in the US. Vizio

In the summer of 2010, however, Vizio showed a model using passive 3D technology, and in late November a final-looking version of that very TV, the 65-inch XVT3D650SV, quietly appeared on the company's Web site. While pretty steep at $3700 list, it does come with 4 pairs of the cheaper, non-battery-powered passive polarized glasses, and additional pair may cost as little as $10 each. If Vizio is true to its word, the TV will arrive in stores in January 2011. Update: Vizio's rep says the TV is how shipping, soon to be available at Costco, Sam's Club and online.

We haven't had a chance to thoroughly test it, but in brief demos of preproduction units we found the passive 3D effect on TVs worked well, albeit more subject to off-angle issues than active. Passive 3D, which is used in most US theaters, is said by proponents to reduce crosstalk (an artifact that appears as a double image) and be more comfortable than active over long viewing sessions. For their part, expect purveyors of active TVs to accuse passive models of not achieving "full 1080p to both eyes"--a true accusation technically, although we'll be curious to see for ourselves how much the lower resolution actually affects perceived sharpness at normal viewing distances. If our experience with 2D is any indication, the lower resolution--half of the vertical lines of 1080, or 540--might not even be visible to viewers seated far enough from the screen.

We wouldn't be surprised to see at least one other manufacturer try its hand at the passive 3D technology. Earlier this year LG released a passive 3D model in the UK, the 47LD950, for example.

App TVs
As long it requires glasses, new equipment and new content, the 3D feature on most 3D TVs will likely remain underused. The so-called attach rate for apps and streaming Internet services on TVs, however, is much higher, especially when said TV is equipped with built-in Wi-Fi. Expect that extra, rare among 2010 TVs, to become much more common in 2011.

Internet connectivity itself will become standard on mid-range and higher models, and we also expect makers to add options like "universal" search, TiVo-like suggestions on what to watch, better integration with social media sites like Facebook and Twitter, and full-fledged Web browsers on some models. Like Wi-Fi, Internet extras will be used as step-up features to justify ever-slightly-higher price points, which is good news for people who just want Netflix, Amazon VOD, YouTube, and/or Pandora, all of which we expect to be available on nearly all connected TVs.

Sony's NSX-GT1 series of TVs is the first to incorporate Google TV. Will the second be a Sony too? Sony Electronics

In 2010 Sony was the only maker to ship a Google TV but the exclusivity ends next year, opening the gates for competitors like Samsung and Vizio to follow suit in 2011. But we doubt either one, or a dark horse like LG, Panasonic, Toshiba or Sharp, will want to dilute its share of the CES spotlight to announce a Google-equipped model at the show. Non-Sony major-brand Google TVs will be announced in 2011, we'll warrant, just not at CES.

One challenge for TV designers will be to make their Internet platforms easy to use without overwhelming watchers with multiple, warring interfaces, clunky response times, useless apps and/or too much advertising. We're curious to see how the new designs feel at the CES demos, although as usual we expect lots of beta and pre-release versions.

Picture-first TVs
Extras like 3D and built-in browsers may help fill up a spec sheet, but what about innovations that actually improve image quality? CES isn't the best place to evaluate the sure to be numerous claims of improvements, but that won't stop us from speculating.

For LCD TVs you can count on a continuing proliferation of LED backlight schemes--TV makers really don't care about profit-thin CCFL LCDs anymore--and LG has already fired the first volley with its "Nano" announcement. Various permutations of edge-lit, full-array and local dimming will get press release ink at CES, and we'll accompany them with statements along the lines of "we're looking forward to reviewing Samsung's 'Spectacu-LED' technology." Hopefully makers will find ways to improve issues we've seen on current LCDs, including uniformity and blooming in 2D, and excessive crosstalk in 3D.

Plasma TVs don't suffer from the latter problems, but the two-and-a-half-year-old question "yeah, but is it as good as a Kuro?" continues to plague the category. The successor to our 2010 Editors' Choice plasma, the Panasonic TC-PVT25 series, has as good a chance as any to answer "yes" to that question, although again officials will likely dodge the question of whether they've fully incorporated the Kuro technology, which Panasonic acquired when Pioneer folded its TV division. In any case we see Panasonic, Samsung and LG staying in the plasma game (and Mitsubishi, for its part, keeping at rear-projection DLP).

Next-generation display technologies will, we predict, remain just that in 2011. We'll be surprised if any TV maker announces availability next year of OLED (in any size) or another high-tech replacement for LCD/plasma. But we've been wrong before, so we'll just have to wait till January 5 to find out.

In the meantime, what's your prediction for CES 2011 TV news?