CES 2013: 3D and the Future of TV

With high-definition flat screens now firmly entrenched in living rooms and bedrooms around the globe, the world’s television manufacturers are already looking for the next big thing.

3D, so far, hasn’t really engaged consumers. Oled sets have been stuck in neutral for a few years and recent reports indicate there have manufacturing problems for Amoled TV screens. The same reports say LG and Samsung are shifting their focus from Amoled to 4K LED, but 4K is just making its debut. Will any of those technologies be the game changer the industry wants? What else can we expect to see in the coming years?

Many companies appear to be placing their bets on 4K ultra high definition for the long term. More CE companies are showing UHD TVs at this year’s CES, and they seem to hope it will excite consumers more than 3D has. While the lack of 4K content is a hurdle — even in theaters, most content is only at 2K — manufacturers see that as a temporary problem that will be resolved when 4K sets fall to a price consumers find palatable. Some companies are thinking about 8K screens, though they’re not putting a time frame on the concept.

“If you look at camera tech and what’s out there for people who are capturing the content, that’s really the best indictor of where display tech can go,” says Mike Lucas, senior vice president of Networked Technology and Services Division at Sony Electronics. “Certainly there are some cameras out there that can capture better than 4K. … As the demand for bigger sets increases, you’re always going to want the best display technology to view that.”

Some futurists, though, aren’t convinced that 4K ultra high definition (or, by extension, 8K) is the future of TV.

“I’m skeptical about 4K and some of the raw hardware,” says Tawny Schlieski, an Intel Labs researcher. “Right now, we’re making things that are already pretty a little prettier — and it’s hard to get the upsell on that.”

Oled technology has wowed showgoers at the Intl. CES for the past couple of years with its picture quality, but manufacturers have had trouble moving beyond the prototype phase. That hurdle is expected to cleared soon, but growth won’t be rapid. NPD DisplaySearch predicts Oled TV shipments won’t hit 1 million until some time in 2014, though it does expect the technology to have a market penetration rate of 3% by 2016.

Flexible screens are still nascent, but the technology holds promise — especially for people in small living quarters who are looking for a big screen experience without sacrificing the square footage.

“It’s just a matter of time,” says Marty Shindler, CEO at the Shindler Perspective. “Imagine a TV that’s like a movie screen — one that you can roll up and hide away when you’re not using it.”

Other technologies that could prove impactful are shutter glasses that allow two people to watch different programs (in full screen) on the same set and a technology called Toled, a see-through panel that ‘vanishes’ when you turn it off.

And, while it has fallen off of most consumer’s TV radars, don’t count out 3D just yet.

“I think autostereo will make a difference,” says Shindler. “The problem with 3D is elevated expectations. But there’s going to be some form of a major event … that makes the guy on the street want to watch (in 3D).”

CES 2013: 3D and the Future of TV
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