Jan. 5, 2012 at 9:23 AM ET
By Gary Merson
With 2011 now in the history books, and the Consumer Electronics Show next week, it’s time again to look forward to new HD home theater products. We’ve collected all our inside industry clues and trends to make 12 predictions for the HDTVs this year.
2012 will be the most significant year in TV display technology in 15 years. In 1997, Fujitsu introduced the world’s first large-screen flat-panel display, a 42-inch 480p plasma TV. In 2012, LG and Samsung will introduce the revolutionary OLED HDTV technology in the 55-inch screen size. OLED can produce high-definition images that outperform the best LED LCDs and plasmas.
The most significant improvement is in contrast, which happens to be the most important characteristic for top image quality. Unlike any current plasma or LED LCD, the OLED can completely shut off light emissions on a per-pixel basis. The result, in theory, is an infinite contrast ratio. However, marketing guys like numbers, so you will see them in 80,000,000:1 range or higher. This improvement will be immediately noticeable in a dark viewing environment, but not in stores such as Best Buy that are lit up like Christmas trees.
In addition to perfect jet-black blacks against bright whites and vibrant colors, the OLEDs have other fine performance attributes. Motion blur is non-existent due to a response time measured in fractions of a microsecond (millionths of a second). By comparison, LED LCDs are measured in the number of milliseconds (thousandths of a second).
OLEDs are emissive displays, like plasmas and CRTs. Because of this, OLEDs have a near perfect 180-degree viewing angle without the color shift or contrast reduction seen on every LCD and LED LCD.
OLEDs have the thinnest form factor of any display technology. Look for depths of 4mm (3/16th of an inch) or less. That does create one problem — no room for the required power supply, tuner, and TV circuitry — so expect a separate box for inputs, switching and probably speakers.
OLED is by far the greenest TV ever designed. We expect power consumption to be around one-half of the current large-screen LED LCDs, perhaps using as little power as a 50-watt light bulb.
We predict LG and Samsung will ship 55-inch 3-D ready product in the U.S. in 2012. According to industry sources, Panasonic is converting one of its LCD plants into an OLED panel factory, although we are not certain its products will arrive in 2012. Sharp and Sony are also developing large-screen OLED, though we don’t yet know when they will arrive on our shores.
Bigger is better
According to a recent survey by NPD DisplaySearch, U.S. consumers prefer bigger screens to smaller Internet streaming or 3-D capable TVs. We predict the industry will respond with many 70-inch and larger sets for 2012. LG just announced an 84-incher (pictured below), and we expect even bigger, perhaps hitting or breaking the 90-inch class. A wide variety of vendors will offer TVs with 70-inch or larger screens, including some of the lesser-name brands like Vizioand Westinghouse. Others will join in along with the top-tier, name-brand companies.
Evolution of connected TV
While all the top-selling brands are currently offering Internet-connected TVs with streaming and apps, the rumored Apple iTV will launch in 2012, and will take smart TVs to the next level. HD Guru predicts Apple will provide the biggest and widest selection of TV programming, giving consumers the first real opportunity to “cut the cable.”
The missing link on smart TVs has been limited selection of TV programs that mimic the networks' current fare. We see this product as the launching pad for streaming services that directly compete against cable and satellite.
We also predict cable companies will respond by charging consumers an additional “pay per bit” fee on top of the cost of Internet service if one should drop their cable service.
Though Apple won't launch anything at the Consumer Electronics Show, it's worth noting that others will already be scrambling to anticipate it with their own evolved products.
Newfangled remote controls
Look for remotes from a number of TV makers that will use voice, gestures, motion or other ways to better control the display device. LG has already announced its Magic Motion remote will incorporate voice control in select 2012 models.
And of course, because of Siri on the iPhone 4S, we expect the Apple iTV to take TV control functions where no set has gone before.
That's a number you will want to remember. A number of the major TV makers will begin to offer large-screen TVs with resolutions four times that of HDTV: 3840 x 2160, otherwise known as 4K. Standard and high definition will be internally upconverted to 4K resolution.
However, based on demonstrations we’ve seen, we have big doubts about whether most consumers will see a significant difference, especially if the screen is less than 80 inches diagonal. But for projectors, 4K may start to make sense sooner rather than later.
The number of 3-D disc titles will grow by well over 100 percent in 2012, with the arrival of more movies and new 3-D-based content. Expect to see more 3-D sports programs, including the first NFL games and limited amounts of the Summer Olympics. More content will become available via Internet streaming as well. We predict the sports will renew interest in the format.
First-generation glassless 3-D will arrive. We expect it will include eye tracking, allowing a limited number of viewers to sit anywhere in the room and see the 3-D effect. These sets will be top-of-the line LED LCDs, with 4K screens, Internet streaming and a long list of features.
Full-resolution passive 3-D
LG is on board, and we expect three or more other companies to offer 4K HDTVs that include passive 3-D technology. These use the same lightweight cheap glasses as you get in many movie theaters. Passive 3-D HDTVs by definition have to cut their resolution in half to deliver the stereoscopic view, so current models have just half the vertical resolution of active 3-D TVs. But TVs with 4K resolution will be able to deliver Full HD resolution with the passive 3-D.
We expect these TVs to be in the 60-inch and larger category.
Google TV, take 3
If you don’t succeed, try, try, again. The third iteration of Google TV will gain good reviews from reporters and consumers as a number major set makers begin to offer HDTVs that use its Internet platform. The TV makers will remain leery, given Google TVs poor track record in Sony TVs, the Sony Blu-ray player and the Logitech Revue, all of which failed in the marketplace in 2011. All TV companies offering the Google platform will sell it as a separate line of products, rather than across the board, to hedge their bets.
Another major TV brand will exit the business
2011 will go down as the year TV makers lost more money than ever before. We’ve already seen serious consolidation and dropouts with JVC selling its TV brand name to Taiwanese company AmTRAN in 2011. Sony’s recent announcement of the sale of its share of their joint LCD panel plant venture to partner Samsung is only the beginning. We predict at least one major TV brand will pull the plug on the U.S. market in 2012, either with a complete exit, or by selling its name to a Chinese TV manufacturer.
Best Buy will change the way it sells TVs
Best Buy’s formula of large stores and non-commissioned TV salesman has resulted in it increasingly becoming Amazon’s showroom. This cannot and will not continue ... but not as you might think. We boldly predict Best Buy will get rid of its TV sales staff and follow the Wal-Mart model of “grab-and-go.” Consumers grab the TV, pay and go out the exit door. Salesman will become stock clerks as Best Buy changes into a more competitive warehouse/online retailer model, mainly by revamping the TV department into a self-service type of operation. A number of its larger stores will be divided up or closed to cut costs in an effort to return to profitability.
Small and medium screen HDTV prices will stabilize
The days of price erosion in the under-40-inch category will end as market demand picks up and the world economy stabilizes. TV makers can no longer afford to lose a billion or more dollars a year. The larger screens will continue to get cheaper with 60-inch models selling for the price of 2011 50-to-55-inch models, 70-inch product going for the price of 2011 60-to-65-inch product, etc.
All three remaining plasma makers (LG, Panasonic and Samsung) will continue to support the format with more emphasis on the larger screen models and product improvements as OLED sets will be very expensive for the next couple of years.
How soon until these predictions come true? For some, you have only to wait a few days, because the Consumer Electronics Show kicks off this Sunday, and HD Guru, along with msnbc.com's tech editors, will be there to cover it.
More from HD Guru: