For those of us who care about new TV technology, Christmas comes in January.
The 2018 Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas presages the coming year of TV tech with the latest in display innovations, and if previous shows are any indication, there’ll be plenty of massive, jaw-dropping screens to go around.
At CES 2017 we saw the firstand another TV that — and both went on sale this year. At CES 2016 we saw a concept TV that could be and a concept that can get as big as you can imagine. At CES 2015 there was the and Samsung’s . At CES 2014 the buzz was all about concept .
If the pattern holds, the most notable TVs at CES 2018 will probably populate the “concept” bucket. So how weird it will get? Transparent, paint-on, holographic or completely ephemeral? Huge, massive or? 4K, 8K, 16K or InifnityK? We’ll see.
In addition to crazy concepts, CES also debuts plenty of TVs that will actually be on sale in 2018, laying out the trends for the year. At the time of this writing I haven’t been briefed by any of the manufacturers (yet), so here are my best trend guesses.
4K and HDR are for all and ho-hum
In 2017 TVs with 4K resolution and high dynamic range are available as cheap as the $300. So yeah, those two features are thoroughly mainstream. This year we saw just about every TV maker phase out non-4K TVs in sizes smaller than 50 inches, and in 2018 that resolution, along with that costs very little to implement, will make its way into even smaller and cheaper TVs.
Local dimming as the LCD differentiator
All of my favorite LCD TVs for 2017 used local dimming, a technology that allows the screen to brighten and dim in different areas independently, significantly boosting the picture. It’s particularly valuable with HDR. Sony, TCL and Samsung expanded the number of TVs that utilize dimming, and Vizio continued to set the pace, with dimming-capable TVs available in every series. In 2018 local dimming will become even more common, if only to separate the cheap 4K HDR TVs from the slightly less-cheap ones.
Samsung dominant, TCL rising
The biggest domestic brand in China and now the #5 brand in the US, TCL will make even bigger inroads in 2018. Into drop the 50- and 65-inch sizes of its excellent P series, TCL representatives said “We’ll be shifting our focus…to the next-generation P-series portfolio featuring new, cutting-edge technology.” In other words, it wants to take share from the four brands above it.
According to NPD sales data, TCL has indeed made big gains lately, but it’s largely in cheaper models — even cheaper than Vizio. Here’s a comparison between the top five brands in 2016 and 2017, showing market share considering price (dollar share) and the average selling price for each.
So yes, TCL is growing and Samsung and Vizio are shrinking, but TCL still has a lot of ground to make up before it can approach those two. Making a big splash at CES wouldn’t hurt.
Will anyone join LG and Sony on the OLED train?
Samsung dominates the market for both cheap and high-end TVs, but the sets snagging all the glory are . In 2017 , joining Philips, Panasonic (both selling OLEDs in Europe, not the U.S.) and as brands that buy panels from LG Display. I don’t think Samsung will do so in 2018, but it wouldn’t shock me if Vizio, TCL or Hisense hopped aboard.
High-end LCDs feel the OLED squeeze
When I asked NPD for sales data on high-end TVs, analyst Stephen Baker put it into some interesting context.
“Only about 10% of all TVs sell for $1,000 or more,” he said, “and that number has been very consistent for a number of years. And for TVs over $1,000, the average price over the last 5 years has been around $1,700. So the introduction of new technology, or the wider availability of bigger screens, really hasn’t changed the share of volume or the amount consumers are willing to pay for a premium TV.”
The part that jumped out at me was the $1,700 figure. That happens to be near the new all-time low of LG’s 2017 55-inch OLED TV. Here’s Baker’s chart for the over-$1,000 market:
LG and Sony, both of which sell high-end OLED TVs, are rising in high-end share, while Samsung and Vizio, which do not, are falling. Anecdotally most of the people I talk to in the high-end market want an OLED rather than a similarly-priced high-end LCD,.
And I’m sure LG will get the price of its OLEDs even lower. I wouldn’t be surprised to see the 65-incher selling for $2,000 this time next year. Samsung and others are sure to introduce expensive non-OLED TVs at CES, but they’ll face a tougher battle than ever against OLED.
Micro LED? Emissive quantum dots? Both?
represent its best effort to compete against OLED using tried-and-true LCD technology, but at the end of the day they’re still just LCD TVs. Maybe it will take an entirely new display tech to dethrone OLED.
A report out of Korea names Samsung’s Micro LED as one contender. The technology uses an array of very small, pixel-sized light-emitting diodes to produce an image, doing away with the LCD panel entirely. It can get very bright and can turn each LED off individually, so it can produce absolute black and an infinite contrast ratio (just like OLED). Samsung has shown it before in the form of Cinema Screen for the commercial market, but the report says it will appear in a 150-inch TV at the show, and be commercialized later in 2018.
Meanwhile, emissive quantum dots are the “true QLED” video nerds are looking forward to, and maybe they’ll appear in a concept TV this year too. Using quantum dots that actually emit light, as opposed to merely enhancing a standard LCD backlight, emissive QD also has the potential to match the “infinite” contrast ratio of OLED, with better power efficiency, better color and more.
Samsung has been working on the technology for awhile but most experts still think it won’t hit the market until 2020 or 2021. If that timeline is correct maybe CES 2018 is a bit early to show a concept, but it sure would be exciting — and take some of the wind out of OLED’s sails.
Voice is the new Smart
Beyond all this display technology stuff, one of my favorite innovations with TVs is improved voice control and interaction. Theis the best example, allowing you to say stuff like “Alexa, turn on Fire TV” and “Alexa, watch Breaking Bad on Fire TV” , no remote required. and can perform similar tricks with Google Home speakers, and .
Those features will get better, but the key in my book is TV makers partnering with Amazon and Google. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Samsung introduce a TV that can be controlled by a new Bixby far-field speaker — it hasin 2018 — but I wouldn’t be as excited about that as I would the same TV integrated with Alexa, perhaps with an app similar to Sony’s. There’s no reason other Smart sets, like LG’s OLEDs or even TCL’s Roku TVs, couldn’t also make nice with the two behemoths of voice.
Streaming app support will get even more important
News flash: people like to stream TV shows and movies. And when they can do it without having to switch to a new input and grab another remote, they like it even more. Witness the surge in popularity of Roku TVs, which I continue to laud in reviews, and which continue to top Amazon’s best seller lists.
Netflix, Amazon Video, Hulu and YouTube () are the big names in TV streaming apps and nearly every set offers them, but support for increasingly popular cord-cutter TV apps like Sling TV, DirecTV Now and YouTube TV, as well as apps like Twitch, Pluto TV, BBC iPlayer, Spotify, Plex, Fox Sports Go and more, is also important.
In 2018 Disney will launch its own dedicated streaming service, and so will ESPN. There’s no doubt more new TV apps will continue to parade down the pike, and Smart TVs that build more of those in, like Roku and Android TV, have an advantage to users of the apps.
We’ll be there
My boldest prediction yet: I’ll be at CES to sort through all the new TV tech in person, and there’s gonna be a lot of it. Follow us at CNET to keep for the latest.
CNET at CES 2018: All the news from the year’s biggest tech show
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