The 2013 Consumer Electronics show is a wrap, and now that we know something about the hundreds of new TVs models, it's worth asking whether all those new technologies will improve what matters: picture quality.
Will flat-panel TV picture quality get even better in 2013?
I'm guessing "Yes" in the case of the Best of CES nominee Panasonic TC-PZT60 and the re-engineered Samsung UNF8500, very likely the two best-performing TVs of 2013 under $10,000.
But those two are hardly the TV hardware poster children of the 2013 Consumer Electronics Show, where all the headlines touted expensive 4K and OLED sets -- still stupid and chronically under-delivered, respectively -- as well as new gadgetry of questionable usefulness. Finger-gesture control, anyone?
I got a chance to see both the Panasonic and the Samsung plasmas in extended private viewing sessions and suffice it to say, I think both will be able to surpass the mind-bogglingly good Panasonic TC-PVT50 of 2012 at doing what TVs are supposed to do best: make beautiful pictures. I can't wait to review them, nor to test a few other TVs that stood out from a picture quality perspective.
Other TVs that piqued my videophile interest
Uh, what about 4K and OLED?
In our preview we called out both of these buzz-grabbing trends as the stars of CES, but it's important to remember that showstopping display technology usually takes years to go mainstream. You'll be hard-pressed to find 4K TVs anywhere on store shelves in 2013, and OLED will be as rare as a Tesla Roadster. The TVs with both, introduced by Sony and Panasonic, were prototypes that are still years away.
TVs with 4K, or Ultra High Definition (UHD) resolution, were front and center in nearly every major maker's booth, and their huge screens and slow-moving, short-looping demo material often looked very good (although often worse than I expected). No pricing was announced for any of the major makers' new 4K sets, however, and product managers I pressed on the question were universally more tight-lipped than usual -- not a good sign.
Sony mentioned "a cost that is right around that of a premium HDTV" for its smaller XBR-X900 sizes, and I'm guessing that means $5,000 for the 55-incher. While LG's smaller 4K models might cost a bit less than that, I don't think you'll be able to buy a non-Chinese 4K TV for less than $4K this year. I'll be interested to test new sets from Chinese makers like Hisense (its 4K TVs go down to 50 inches) and TCL, but I'm not expecting them to match the picture quality of the established brands.
And then there are OLED TVs, which LG says will finally be shipping in March for $12,000. Even if you have that kind of cash I'm guessing it will be nearly impossible to lay your hands on one -- initial quantities will be extremely limited. The only other TV maker close to production is Samsung, which says "this year" for its KN55F9500. But the company still hasn't released a final design, and I'm still skeptical the TV will ship.
Whizbang doodads, newfangled thingamabobs, miscellaneous frippery
No CES TV wrap-up would be complete without passing mention of all the extra bullet points TV makers will pack onto specification sheets that have nothing to do with the core mission of making great pictures. I'll try to get it all into one paragraph.
Samsung, the king of featuritis, has a new Smart TV suite that can control your cable box as well as recommend upcoming shows and consolidate searches of on-demand video sources (just not Amazon). Sony is pushing NFC pairing, a second-screen app, and DirecTV-friendliness. LG also touts NFC, along with improved voice control and a better motion remote. Panasonic wants to entice you with an optional pen accessory for marking up documents onscreen (huh?), voice control, a touch-pad controller, and a pop-up camera on some models. Vizio has M-Go, a studio-sanctioned streaming app, as well as a new streaming-3D service and HTML5 support in higher-end sets. Everybody has dual-core processors, built-in Wi-Fi, and tons of apps that you'll never use. But at least they all have Netflix.
In the preview I wistfully asked for a dumb TV with all the picture quality enhancements of a flagship model for a bit less money. None was announced. Maybe next year.