Category Archives: Gadget News, Reviews, And Features

CES TVs preview: What to expect from the big screens of 2018

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 first wallpaper TV and another TV that used the screen as the speaker — and both went on sale this year. At CES 2016 we saw a concept TV that could be rolled up like a piece of paper and a concept modular TV that can get as big as you can imagine. At CES 2015 there was the introduction of HDR and Samsung’s quantum-dot-infused SUHD. At CES 2014 the buzz was all about concept TVs that got bent.

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 bigger than your actual house? 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 TCL 43S405. 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 low-quality HDR 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. In explaining its inexplicable decision to 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.

U.S. TV market share by revenue; a.k.a “dollar share”

Average selling price per brand

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 OLED models made by LG. In 2017 Sony started selling OLED TVs too, joining Philips, Panasonic (both selling OLEDs in Europe, not the U.S.) and Bang Olufsen 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.

sony-xbra1e-06.jpg

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:

Dollar share by brand for TVs over $1,000

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, whether QLED or otherwise.

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?

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Samsung’s Cinema Screen is a modular technology that uses direct LED.


Samsung

Samsung’s QLED TVs like the Q7 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.

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Prototype electroluminescent quantum dots, a.k.a. “true QLED.”


Qdvision

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. The Amazon Fire TV Edition is the best example, allowing you to say stuff like “Alexa, turn on Fire TV” and “Alexa, watch Breaking Bad on Fire TV” into thin air and have the TV react, no remote required. Vizio and Sony TVs can perform similar tricks with Google Home speakers, and Sony’s Android TV even has an Alexa app.

Alexa Sony TV 01

 Voice control and interaction keeps getting better.


David Katzmaier / CNET

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 has already announced Bixby for TVs in 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.

TCL S305 series Roku TV

News flash: people like to stream TV shows and movies.


Sarah Tew/CNET

Netflix, Amazon Video, Hulu and YouTube (sorry, Fire TV) 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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Article source: https://www.cnet.com/news/ces-2018-tv-preview-what-to-expect-from-the-big-screens-of-las-vegas/#ftag=CAD590a51e

Harry Potter chapter written by bots is magically terrible

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Is there a spell that can write more Harry Potter books that aren’t robotic-sounding?


Warner Bros

J.K. Rowling, you’re in no danger of being replaced any time soon.

The bright Muggles at Botnik Studios trained predictive keyboards (one for narration, one for dialogue) on all seven Harry Potter books and produced a brand-new chapter about the young wizard. And great sizzling dragon bogies, is it awful.

“Our web keyboard app analyzes text files and offers the most common word sequences as suggestions to the human user, to help them write in the style of the source material,” Botnik CEO and co-founder Jamie Brew told CNET. (There’s a David Bowie-lyric version too.) “Then a bunch of writers in the Botnik community got together in an online chat room and pitched lines they wrote using the keyboard. Our editorial team cobbled these fragments together into the full chapter we posted today.”

Even the book title the bot constructed is hilariously horrible: Would you line up at a Barnes Noble at midnight to buy a copy of “Harry Potter and the Portrait of What Looked Like a Large Pile of Ash”?

There are plot twists Rowling never imagined. Ron Weasley “immediately began to eat Hermione’s family,” while wearing something called a “Ron shirt.” Hufflepuff House has a pig that pulses like a large bullfrog. Ron “was going to be spiders. He just was.” One of Hogwarts’ passwords is “BEEF WOMEN.” And not to spoil the ending, but Harry falls down a staircase “for the rest of the summer” before issuing an overconfident warning.

“The reaction has been great,” Brew told CNET. “I think my favorite response so far is this amazing art by character designer Elsa Chang.”

There’s also a Botnik-ed version of an “X-Files” episode, if you want to believe — in howlingly bad computer writing.

Article source: https://www.cnet.com/news/harry-potter-new-chapter-predictive-text-botnik/#ftag=CAD590a51e

Tidal may only have enough cash left to last six months

“We have experienced negative stories about Tidal since its inception and we have done nothing but grow the business each year,” a spokesperson for Tidal told Engadget. The company reportedly claims it will break even soon, before achieving profitability in mid-2018.

The statement sounds like a stab at DN’s report disputing Jay-Z’s updates on Tidal’s subscriber numbers just days before Sprint’s investment. In September 2015, Jay-Z tweeted that Tidal had hit the 1 million member milestone, but the newspaper claimed internal payments to record labels revealed it to be closer to 350,000. Around six months later he claimed it had reached the 3 million member mark, whereas the number was 850,000. Meanwhile, Tidal had internally circulated a figure of 1.2 million subscribers. Since then, the company has kept quiet about user numbers.

Even judging it by its own accounts, it’s still still trailing rivals Spotify (which announced more than 60 million subscribers as of July) and Apple Music (30 million as of September).

Article source: https://www.engadget.com/2017/12/13/tidal-jay-z-financial-trouble/

Cadillac CTS V-Sport gets fancy new Morello Red interior package

Mark Twain once said that the Cadillac CTS V-Sport was “A fine automobile, spoilt by a boring black interior.” (Don’t look that up.)

Clearly, the folks at GM are out to prove fake Mr. Clemens wrong, though, because the already handsome 2018 CTS V-Sport will now be offered with a new interior package known as “Morello Red.”

cadillac-morello-red-1Enlarge Image

I can all but guarantee that this has nothing to do with Rage Against the Machine’s guitarist.


Cadillac

In addition to the expected reddening of the door panels and armrests, those who opt for this package will receive the big brother CTS-V’s spectacular multi-adjustable Recaro sport seats, a sueded microfiber steering wheel and shift knob and Morello carbon-fiber inserts. Think that’s all? Think again, because a black chrome grille, gloss black side window trim and a V-Sport base spoiler are all included, too.

How much is Cadillac asking for all this sueded, carbon-fiber sporting opulence? The answer is $4,000, so kind of a lot. All jokes aside, it is a desirable upgrade that helps the CTS V-Sport’s interior live up to the promise of its elegant exterior styling and generally pleasant, if not overly sporty road manners.

Our own Andrew Krok drove the 2017.5 CTS V-Sport earlier this year and found it to be a bargain, particularly when compared to its European rivals and had high praise for the (mercifully) redesigned Cue infotainment system.

The Morello Red package is currently live on Cadillac’s CTS configurator.

Article source: https://www.cnet.com/roadshow/news/cadillac-cts-v-sport-gets-fancy-new-morello-red-interior-package/#ftag=CAD590a51e

NASA video flies you through Jupiter’s Great Red Spot

NASA’s Juno spacecraft is currently traipsing around Jupiter, but it has no plans to pull a Cassini and dive into the planet’s massive Great Red Spot storm. For that, we need to turn to a fascinating computer-animated video that uses NASA data to imagine what it would be like to soar through Jupiter’s raucous atmosphere.

The video, released Monday, takes us on a dramatic simulated journey over and through Jupiter’s swirling clouds and back up through the Great Red Spot. Gauges display the altitude and temperature, which increases with the plunge. A spacey soundtrack adds to the sci-fi feel.  

Information collected during a Juno flyby over the oval storm in July seems to show the spot extends far below the cloud tops. “Juno data indicate that the solar system’s most famous storm is almost one-and-a-half Earths wide, and has roots that penetrate about 200 miles (300 kilometers) into the planet’s atmosphere,” says Juno principal investigator Scott Bolton.

NASA says the Great Red Spot may have been in existence for over 350 years, but it seems to be shrinking in recent years. Juno will continue to keep an eye on happenings at the planet as it continues its scientific investigations. 

Article source: https://www.cnet.com/news/nasa-jupiter-juno-storm-video-great-red-spot/#ftag=CAD590a51e

Lyft’s first international service goes live in Toronto

The addition is crucial for Lyft. If it’s going to compete with Uber on a large scale, it needs to do more than strike deals with foreign companies — it has to run its own service in other countries. Canada is a logical choice given that it’s relatively close both culturally and physically, minimizing the amount of work Lyft needs to do.

And for Canadian passengers, it’s an important step. While Americans who’ve wanted to ditch Uber over its policies (at least, before Kalanick left) have frequently had Lyft and other services as options, Canucks haven’t had that choice. More often than not, the choice has been between Uber and old-school taxi service. Uber has already improved its services in response to criticism, but Lyft’s international expansion could pressure it to step up its game.

Article source: https://www.engadget.com/2017/12/12/lyft-available-in-canada/