2011 TVs wrap-up

CNET wraps up the major announcements and trends in the television hardware category from CES 2011.

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.
4 min read

VIA Plus platform
In a show dominated by tablet news, our Best of CES pick was Vizio's tablet-friendly VIA Plus-enabled TV. Vizio

For the last few years the biggest category at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas has been, in more ways than one, televisions. Gigantic-screen HDTVs festooned with yearly boosts in technology--from SXRD to 1080p to LEDs to lasers to 3D--have owned the headlines at previous shows, but this year something "different" happened.

There were still plenty of TVs announced, but show-wide it seemed like everyone followed Apple's iPad and released a tablet.

Best of CES: TVs
Vizio is a TV-centric company whose 2010 flagship 2D model, the XVT3SV series, won our Editors' Choice for LCD TVs. At CES 2011 it, too, came out with a tablet, but it was a Vizio TV that won our Best of CES award in its category.

The Vizio XVT3D6SP series is billed as a complement to the company's new Android phone and tablet. It boasts a custom Google TV interface and a beefed-up version of VIA (Vizio Internet Apps), our favorite Internet TV suite of last year. It also has a spiffy new remote that replaces a trendy touch screen with a much more useful touch pad, a la your favorite laptop PC. Finally it boasts passive 3D (see below) and all of the full-array local-dimming LED goodness we liked so much on the XVT3SV series. Oh yeah: it's also the first TV announced with embedded OnLive gaming (video).

Our runner-ups for best TVs of CES came from Panasonic and Samsung. The Panasonic VT30 series sounds like more of what we liked in our Editors' Choice VT25: premium plasma picture quality with supposedly improved black-level performance. The Samsung UND8000 series supposedly improves the picture quality of the UNC8000, but another big reason it scored our nomination was its amazing design, with a bezel just 0.2 inch thick.

A couple of other models to watch include the Sony XBR-HX929 and the LG LW9500 series, both flagship TVs with local-dimming LEDs said to improve upon their predecessors.

Check out the slideshows below for an introduction to each maker's 2011 lineups, with links to select models.

Panasonic's 2011 TVs (photos)

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Samsung's 2011 TVs (photos)

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Sony's 2011 TVs (photos)

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LG's 2011 TVs (photos)

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2011 trends in TVs
I went over my predictions for the prominent TV hardware trends before the show, and most of them came true (it's easy when you get prebriefed). Here's what to watch for in 2011.

3D format war: passive vs. active: Vizio, LG, and Toshiba all announced 3D TVs that use passive-glasses technology, which is said to be more comfortable over long periods of time than active-shutter. It also requires cheaper glasses than active and, in its current iteration, offers only half the onscreen resolution (more info). Sony, Samsung, and Panasonic eschewed passive to concentrate on the same active 3D technology used by all TVs in 2010 (more info). Expect some barbs to fly between the camps, especially to and from Vizio, which is concentrating solely on passive (LG and Toshiba will produce both).

In the next couple of weeks we'll be reviewing our first passive 3D model in-depth, the Vizio XVT3D650SV. It's basically the opening salvo in a new format war, so we're curious to know how it directly compares with the best active TVs. Stay tuned.

Internet diversification: Samsung, Panasonic, Vizio (with VIA Plus), and LG all announced completely revamped Internet TV offerings, which in many models include built-in Web browsers and fancy remotes designed to make the interfaces easier to use.

All will have app stores and expanded content offerings, and we're sure Vizio won't be the only maker to announce a new Google TV in 2011. Especially with 3D becoming more common, different flavors of Internet connectivity will become the primary ways companies set themselves, and their various TV model lines, apart.

Device interoperability: Many makers announced ways for apps on iOS and Android devices to control and interact with the TVs, and some, like Vizio and Samsung, tie the two together even more explicitly. Beyond new capabilities like being able to watch and resume media across devices, it will be interesting to see if this kind of convergence is delivered in an open way or used to not-so-subtly guide consumers to purchase like-brand products.

Thinner, bigger, brighter...and better?
Despite all the new designs and technologies, I saw little at CES 2011 that made me believe that image quality would be substantially improved. I expect LED backlight LCDs and plasmas to yield some improvements, especially for 3D, but it doesn't seem like such advancements were the major focus of TV makers at the show. Of course only in-depth reviews will tell for sure, so until we get our hands on the new sets, all we can do is speculate.

So what TVs are you most looking forward to in 2011?