HDTV 2010: Get Ready for 3D, More LEDs, OLEDS, Pixels, and Web Services

Toshiba Cell TV with 3D conversion technology
HDTV shoppers will have plenty of new options to mull over this coming year.

Sets on display at the 2010 Consumer Electronics Show continue to up the technology ante with everything from 3D imaging to new connected services such as built-in support for Skype video chat.

Pricing Shyness

3D technology was everywhere this year, and show attendees eagerly queued up to see demonstrations from just about every major vendor.

But while content will be forthcoming (ESPN plans a 3D channel, Panasonic/DirecTV and Sony/Discovery/IMAX also announced programming plans, and a Blu-ray Disc standard was announced last month), there is no standard for the sets themselves, and it's not clear how technology differences between TVs from different vendors will impact consumers.

Panasonic's 3D glasses for HDTV viewing
Also unclear is what 3D will cost: Vendors haven't been terribly forthcoming. Panasonic, which announced plans to ship five 1080p 3D plasma sets in sizes ranging from 50 to 65 inches by midyear, didn't specify pricing in its press kit. Similarly, Sony did not discuss prices for the three series of 3D sets it announced, and Samsung did not reveal prices for the 3 series of 3D-enabled LED-backlit LCDs it announced, much less the planned 3D home entertainment system it expects to ship later this year (consisting of TV, Blu-ray player and audio system).

Other Trends

Across the board, 1080p is replacing 720p as the dominant high-def format. For example, only two of the 12 HDTV series that Sony announced will be 720p models, and they only come in a couple of smaller sizes (32 and 22 inches). LED-backlit LCDs are also gaining ground: Samsung alone announced eight new LED series.

Refresh rates of 240hz continue to appear primarily in top-of-the-line models (LG Electronics even announced sets with 480hz refresh rates). And, as usual, vendors continue to shave millimeters off their thinnest sets: LG, for example, announced a 6.3-mm (about a quarter of an inch thick) model.

HDTV with Skype services
Internet-connected TVs continue to expand their capabilities. Two vendors--LG and Panasonic--announced sets that, with the addition of a webcam accessory (an optional extra), will support Internet phone calls using the popular Skype VoIP service. Samsung, meanwhile, announced a TV app platform that will open its big screens to third-party developers, much the way the iTunes app store provides a platform for iPhone application development.

Toshiba's new connected Cell TVs, due out by the end of the year, promise to further raise the performance bar--thanks to super-powerful built in processors that will support 2D-3D conversions, improved brightness, and other image quality-enhancing tasks. These TVs will have companion set-top boxes that will provide storage for recording content as well as access to existing content on other networked devices.

Sharp, which has lost ground to competitors in the last few years, announced new QuadPixel display technology that adds a yellow pixel to the red, blue and green pixels traditionally used in LCD displays. Sharp says the additional pixel will significantly improve the sets' image quality.

Sony and LG both showed sets based on OLED (organic light-emitting diode) display technology, which is also supposed to produce more vibrant colors. However, while these are some of the largest OLED sets to date, they are relatively small (less than 30 inches) by current standards, and are unlikely to take off as a mainstream option.

Wireless News

Vizio VF552XVT wireless HDTV
Vizio, which has established itself as the value-TV brand, also will have 3D sets later this year, including a 72-inch LCD that is expected to cost less than $4000. The company will also introduce a number of sets with Yahoo Widgets, its first Internet-enabled TVs. Vizio also showed reporters its first 480 Hz sets as well.

Vizio also addressed another technology advance that is making inroads in HDTV circles: Wireless replacement of HDMI cables. With the company's WirelessHD-enabled TVs and Blu-ray players, you'll be able to play a Blu-ray movie without having to run an unsightly cable between the set and the player. LG, meanwhile, backed off from its earlier support for WirelessHD, instead announcing plans for a set that will support the rival Wireless Home Digital Interface (WHDI) technology.

Vizio is also entering the relatively young mobile digital TV market. The company announced three small sets under its Razor brand, ranging in diagonal screen size from 7 to 10 inches and priced between $150 and $230. These sets support the recently approved ATSC-MH standard for mobile DTVs.

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