Bigger, better, brighter: The Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas has been reliably an event of superlatives for TV manufacturers. Each year, companies try to outdo each other with the biggest display, the most advanced technology and the largest amount of pixels. This year, companies like Samsung, LG and Sony did once again try to outdo each other — but they also showed us a future in which the TV itself may fade away altogether.
Walking the show floor in Las Vegas, it’s easy to see 4K HDR displays everywhere, with each manufacturer promising that they have found the best way to display colors more authentic than the other guys. Natural color reproduction has become what brightness used to be just a few years ago, with Samsung SVP Dave Das telling reporters: “With QLED TV, you are not watching TV. You are looking through a window.”
|Samsung SVP Dave Das introduced the company’s latest TVs at CES.Janko Roettgers / Variety|
Except, windows just work and don’t really require a whole lot of research. The same can’t really be said for this new generation of TVs, which still rely on a myriad of competing formats to display HDR video. LG made a point of mentioning that is TVs support four different HDR formats.
To make matters worse, manufacturers are getting ever better at marketing different displays with strikingly similar names. Case in point: Whereas LG continues to use OLED displays for its high-end TVs, Samsung introduced something it calls QLED — sort for quantum dot LED — which is supposed to improve viewing angles, use less energy, and is likely going to be cheaper than OLED. (For a more detailed comparison of the two technologies, check out this article.)
Aside from picture quality, TV manufacturers have also been investing in the form factor of their devices, which are getting thinner every year. Some of LG’s new W7 TVs are just 2.57mm (0.1 inch) thin, and can be mounted flush to a wall, where it almost disappears, looking more like a giant picture than a big and bulky TV screen. As a comparison: With 7.1mm, Apple’s latest iPhone is more than twice as thick as LG’s ultra-thin TV set.
LG is able to do this by stripping the TV set of everything but the screen, and putting all of the ports, chipsets and everything else necessary to power the TV set in the soundbar. That’s an approach that’s popular at this year’s CES, with Chinese consumer electronics upstart Xiaomi doing the same thing for its new line of ultra-thin TVs.
|Xiaomi’s latest TVs have outsourced all the ports and smarts into the soundbar.Janko Roettgers / Variety|
LeEco isn’t quite there yet, but showed off a concept TV that also outsourced all of its innards into the soundbar, with an option to eventually replace either the display or the processing unit when you’re ready to upgrade. Essentially, TV sets could become modular, more akin to the way you’d buy a new desktop PC every few years without changing the screen, while someone else may actually want a bigger screen but keep their trusted old computer.
But while TV screens are getting thinner and thinner, some companies are working on screen-free futures altogether. Sony showed off a really impressive 4K laser projector dubbed the VPL-VZ1000ES that made you forget that you are not looking at a TV — and unlike the old man-cave projector that needed to be mounted across the room, this new generation of projectors is short-throw, which means it can be placed inches away from the projection target. Sadly, your bank account will know the difference between this and a regular TV right away: The VPL-VZ1000ES will cost $25,000.
|Hisense’s new $13,000 laser projector.Janko Roettgers / Variety|
Hisense is making a slightly more affordable laser projector that is going to retail for $13,000, and the company said that the device will eventually be able to power screens of up to 140 inches. Hisense also showed off the next generation of laser projectors with two color wheels, hinting at a glorious future where the best picture quality won’t require a display at all.
CES also has long been a place where TV manufacturers show off their latest smart TV features. But with streaming maturing, improvements at the big name companies seemed largely incremental. LG taught its webOS TVs a few new tricks, including 360-degree video, Samsung added Chromecast-like features to its 2017 TV lineup, and Amazon teamed up with a couple of budget brands to have its Fire TV platform directly integrated into TV sets.
|Get ready for instant messaging stickers to pop up on your TV screen.Janko Roettgers / Variety|
There was one feature that stood out at Xiaomi’s booth: The company is experimenting with bringing social features to TV sets, and will give consumers in China the ability to use their TV’s voice remote to essentially have instant messaging conversations with their friends while they watch a game, or anything else for that matter. Stealing a page from mobile-based messengers, consumers will even be able to send their buddies stickers that pop up on top of whatever you’re watching.
So even if you won’t be able to afford an ultra-thin or display-less TV set anytime soon, you can still experience television disappearing — behind a barrage of goofy stickers.