Learnings from CES 2009: Eight Trends for LCD HDTVs

Learnings from CES 2009: Eight Trends for LCD HDTVs

At CES journalists often wind up attending one press conference after another, which can be a useful way to spot dominant, recurrent themes and trends that indicate where the industry as a whole—or a given class of products—is headed. With the thought in mind, I thought I might jot down some notes on eight major LCD HDTV development trends I identified at CES 2009. Here goes…

LCD HDTV Trends for 2009…and beyond

Trend No. 1: When it comes to frame rates, 240Hz is the new 120Hz.

Last year, hoping to solve the acknowledged LCD problem of motion blur, many manufacturers introduced systems that upped frame refresh rates from 60Hz to 120Hz, and this year many manufacturers are doubling those rates again—to 240Hz (at least for top-tier models). Can you really see a difference? Yes (though the only question in my mind is whether 240Hz goes far enough, given how great today’s best plasma sets look when displaying objects in motion).

Trend No. 2: LED backlighting systems with local zone dimming are the hot ticket.

To help give LCD sets the kind of black and deep gray performance that today’s best plasma sets already enjoy, LCD TV makers are turning to LED backlighting systems with local zone dimming (local zone dimming implies that a processor previews each frame, applying more illumination in zones where the image calls for bright lighting, such as views of the daytime sky, and less illumination in zones where the image is relatively dark, such as the interior of a candle-lit wine cellar.  Expect manufacturers to claim bragging rights depending on the number of zones their systems use (more are thought to be better).

Trend No.3: Internet connectivity—sometimes via WiFi—is a must.

More and more sets (both LCD and plasma) are coming with built-in wired (and sometimes wireless) Internet connectivity. The reason: As you’ll see below, we’re in the midst of a “sea change” where almost all manufacturers offer internet content access services and plainly expect us to start using our TVs as “media access hubs.”

Trend No. 4: IP TV access services and DLNA compliance are becoming the norms.

Manufacturer after manufacturer announced IP TV content access services, most of which incorporate Yahoo! TV Widgets (stock quotes, weather, news, Flickr, etc.), some access to free content (e.g., YouTube, etc.), and—in many though not all cases—access to paid online movie download content partners (e.g., NetFlix, Amazon HD-On-Demand, etc.). Another element in the content delivery/access puzzle is DLNA (Digital Living Network Alliance) compliance, which enables TV to access video (or audio) content stored on PCs in the home or other DLNA-compliant servers.

It’s a brave new world out there—one where TVs will, more than ever before, become “source components” or “media hubs” in their own right.

Trend No. 5: Wireless HD connections are increasingly common.

More than a few manufacturers are offering wireless HD connectivity for their LCD sets, meaning the TVs can function (and connect to home theater systems) with no signal cables at all. Given the inherent simplicity of wired HDMI connections, some might question whether wireless HD is really necessary, but it appears the technology has really struck a resonant chord with consumers.

Another pragmatic reason for going to wireless HD connections, though, is that we may soon see the advent two-piece TVs, where the TV might consist of a hyper-thin display panel wirelessly connected to an outboard tuner-I/O-video processor box.

Trend No. 6A: Aesthetically-minded consumers love the “ultra thin” look.

We identified two styling trends among LCD TV makers. The first is the ongoing push for slender—in some cases mind-bendingly thin—TV sets. Taken to its logical conclusion, this trend may well lead to a scenario where two-piece TV’s become commonplace. Essentially, there would be  an ultra-thin display panel (or monitor, if you will) that wirelessly connects to an outboard box that incorporates tuner functions, powerful video processing functions, A/V inputs and outputs, and network connectivity features.

An example of the two-piece approach, illustrated under Trend No. 8, below, would be Toshiba's proposed "Cell TV," which features a wireless HD display panel and a separate "brain box" that Toshiba calls the "Cell Platform." 

Trend No. 6B: Aesthetically-minded consumers appreciate TV bezels with a touch of color.

The second styling motif we identified is a trend toward adding deliberate touches of color and/or shading to spice up the look of TV bezels, which have traditionally been black, silver, or gray.  

One good example would be the color scheme of Sharp’s BD-series TVs, where the lower edges of the TVs’ black bezels morph into deep metallic blue. Other Sharp models use the same visual technique, but do color shifts from black to champagne gold, or even from black to a deep metallic copper color. It's a very appealing visual treatment that often has passers by doing double-takes when they first see the TVs.

Another variation on the theme would be Toshiba’s “Deep Lagoon” design, where the black bezel frame color does a gradual "fadeaway" on all four sides, giving the perimeter of the TV frame a almost 3D look. 

Trend No. 7: Everybody’s going “Green.”

Every manufacturer, it seems, has a “green” story to tell, with initiatives taking three forms. First, almost all manufacturers are working build TVs that consume less power. Second, some manufacturers are looking to reduce the amount of power consumed in manufacturing TV in the first place. Third, manufacturers are focusing on recycling, both in terms of using recyclable material in new products and setting up recycling centers/systems to process older TVs (and other electronics components) that are being take out of service. The bottom line: heightened concern for the environment is on everyone’s mind.

Trend No. 8: The “Next Big Thing” may be upscaling to 3840 x 2160 resolution levels.

 Just when you thought “High Definition” couldn’t get much higher, manufacturers are beginning to show proof-of-concept technology demos and even prototype products geared toward upscaling HD content to even higher, 3840 x 2160, resolution levels. Interesting. 

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