Over the next few days, you'll be hearing a lot of television news coming out of the Consumer Electronics Show—especially about new types of TVs, but also some interesting new developments and enhancements to standard LCD and plasma TVs. For those who might be looking at all this news with the idea of getting a new set this year, I thought it might be useful to break down what we think are the top five trends that will emerge in 2013.
1. OLED and Ultra HD TVs arrive, but have minimal impact. We saw prototypes of these new TV technologies last year, but with the exception of two high-priced ($20,000 to $25,000), ultra-large (84-inch) Ultra HD sets, products really didn't arrive as promised. We now expect the first OLED TVs to hit as early as late first quarter of 2013. The bad news is that prices will likely be in the $10,000 neighborhood, a neighborhood too pricey for most buyers.
I also expect that the number of sets will be limited due to manufacturing issues, as OLED production in TV-screen sizes is difficult, with relatively poor yields. But we will see more Ultra HD sets this year, in screen sizes starting as small as 50 or 55 inches, which will help bring the cost down. (We're not sure the benefit of the extra detail will be convincing in these smaller screen sizes.) More manufacturers will offer Ultra HD sets this year than OLED TVs, and Ultra HD TVs can be made on the same lines as LCD TVs, which makes manufacturing easier. But prices will still remain high, and the lack of 4K content will be off-putting to many buyers. So while we're looking forward to getting these new TV technologies into our labs for testing this year, I believe their overall impact on the TV business will be minimal—for now.
2. Smart TV platforms continue to evolve. Although there will be additional content available on smart TV platforms this year, the bigger news will be interfaces that make finding, organizing, and accessing content easier. More smart TVs will have recommendation engines that monitor your viewing habits to make recommendations about shows, movies and apps it thinks you will like.
Companies will develop new icon-based menus that organize content in intuitive ways. And they'll offer remotes with touchpads, keyboards, and built-in microphones that make it easier to access that content, whether it comes from a TV service provider or over the Internet. Speaking of which, we're hoping for notable improvements in gesture- and voice-based control, especially moving to more natural-language commands for things like searches and changing channels.
3. More sharing with mobile devices. TV makers will acknowledge something Apple's been doing for some time: They'll make it easier to display content that's stored on a mobile device on your TV. These so-called "mirroring" efforts will include both wired (MHL) and wireless (Wi-Fi, Wi-Fi Direct/WiDi, Bluetooth, NFC) technologies.
4. Say goodbye to fluorescent (CCFL) backlights and rear-projection TV. In the coming year, several brands will move to all-LED backlighting in their LCD TV lineups, phasing out fluorescent backlights entirely. One reason is a new type of LED backlight, direct LED, which is reaching cost parity with CCFL backlights. While CCFL will still linger in low-cost LCD sets, mostly from secondary brands, this is could be the last year we see this older backlight technology in any manufacturer's TV lineup.
As for rear-projection TV: The handwriting has been on the wall for several years, but last month Mitsubishi—the last rear-projection TV manufacturer—announced it will stop making these types of TVs, ending what was once the only choice for a really large TV. The announcements also spells the end of Mitsubishi as a TV brand, since the company stopped making LCD TVs back in 2011. It will, however, continue to make and sell front projectors, which have done well in our front projector tests.
5. Screen sizes creep up, new sizes emerge. If the biggest TV that will fit in your cabinet is a 37-inch LCD set, we have some bad news: They'll be increasingly hard to find, as many manufacturers are moving to the 39-inch screen size. But if you're looking for a jumbo-sized TV, you'll have more choices in 2013, as we're seeing more models in screen sizes 60 inches and above. Many manufacturers here at CES will announce 70- and 75-inch sets, and one company—can you guess which?—will have a 90-inch monster LCD TV.
Check out the rest of our CES 2013 coverage.
—James K. Willcox