NEW YORK – In the last decade, TVs got thin and flat. Then they got more pixels, first 720p and then 1080p HD. Since then, it's been all about size — bigger screens and smaller prices — not about features like Internet connectivity.
That's the view of Steve Koenig, director of industry analysis at the Consumer Electronics Association (CEA), the organization that puts on CES (Consumer Electronics Show) every January.
"What's been keeping these boxes [TVs] flowing … has not been connected [capability], has not been super-thin bezels, has not been 3D," Koenig said in a presentation this week in New York. "What it's been is ever-lower prices."
The price drops have been dramatic. In 2009, for example, a 32-inch LCD TV cost about $500. In 2012, the same money bought a 42-inch set. In 2009, that 42-inch set cost about $1,000; by 2012, the same $1,000 would buy a 55-inch TV.
"People are stepping up," said Konig. "As they can afford more, they are buying more." On the other end of the size spectrum, U.S. consumers aren't bothering as much with smaller TVs (less than 30 inches), because they have a different small screen. Instead of watching small TVs across the room, consumers are looking at the tablets in their laps, he said.
In comparison to price and screen size, other features barely register. Smart TVs — those with apps and an Internet connection — are becoming more popular. CEA estimates that by the end of the year, 36 percent of TVs sold will be Internet enabled. But that may be because an Internet connection is becoming a common feature rather than because people are demanding it.
In a recent survey by Reticle Research, the feature that people most wanted in a TV wasn't an app like Netflix or Pandora, but rather the ability to beam video from their phone or tablet to the TV screen — making the TV more a big monitor than a "smart" device. (So far, the easiest way to beam content is to use the $99 Apple TV set-top box, but sending video works only from other Apple gadgets such as iPhones, iPads or MacBooks.) [See also: Is Netflix the New HBO? ]
That preference for beaming video makes sense, said analyst Ross Rubin from Reticle. People have a lot of content on their handhelds, and the touch screens make it easy to control apps, he said. The handheld is where the innovation and excitement are. People are developing cool apps for mobile devices, not for TVs.
The main contribution of a TV is to take whatever you're watching and show it on a bigger screen. And as prices keep dropping, there seems to be no limit to how big people want to go.