New dawn for next-generation displays

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Tablets gave way to TVs at this year’s International CES, as new screen technologies were fast-tracked to the show floor. Steve May reports

A glorious apex of innovation.” That’s how CEA president Gary Shapiro described the 2012 International CES. He also added, as if an afterthought, that this was the largest CES in the show’s 44-year history.

He was undoubtedly right on both counts. CES 2012 was, in no short measure, a foot-punishingly huge show: 3,100 exhibitors, 1.861 million net square feet of exhibit space and over 153,000 visitors.

Thankfully, we didn’t need to cover every corner to realise that one story alone was dominant this year: screens. Although mobile products made some noise, and both eco tech and appliances strived for significance, it was the big TV makers who monopolised the headlines with numerous innovatory technologies. Super-large screen LCD, OLED, 3D, 4K. In one guise or another, screen technology stole the headlines.

LG’s scene-stealing OLED

LG enjoyed widespread acclaim for its 55-inch 3D OLED debutant. The striking 55EM9600 offered subterranean black levels and vibrant colours. And with a contrast ratio said to be fifty times greater than the best LCD, it was no surprise to see the set hailed Best in Show by CNET before the event was done.

LG’s CE marketing director Stephen Gater told IER: “We were aware that our Korean competitors were going down a similar TV route, but we think our product speaks for itself. We’ve been talking about OLED for a number of years, but to finally see it in a very big screen size really makes you appreciate the picture quality you can get.” Gater was keen to stress that the 55EM9600 is not a prototype.

Samsung’s OLED proposition may not have been as advanced as that from LG, but its next generation high-end LED LCDs stole a march with their dual-core multi-tasking processors. Smart Interaction functionality with integrated camera and microphone should open the door to voice and gesture control, as well as facial recognition applications. Smart TV? It seems we haven’t even started.

The brand also previewed a Dual View display, which allows two viewers to watch different channels simultaneously on the same screen; a pair of Active Shutter glasses with attached ear buds allow the images to be seen separately. Is this really a consumer proposition with any appeal beyond two-player gaming? Only time will tell.

Meanwhile Haier displayed its Transparent Organic TV which can be viewed from either side, lending itself to applications such as in-store and window displays, or as an office device. The transparent panel is achieved through application of OLED technology.

Sony’s Crystal vision

Rather than back OLED, a technology it once pioneered, Sony has decided to forge its own path with Crystal LED. The brand says the proprietary self-emissive technology has the edge on OLED, boasting 3.5x the contrast, a wider colour gamut and a faster response time. Quite how far behind the competition Sony is remains to be seen.

Perhaps surprisingly, only two TV brands flew the autostereocopic (no-glasses) 3D flag at the CES: Sony (whose proposition was confined to 24- and 46in displays) and Toshiba, and neither appeared to wave it with much enthusiasm. Toshiba’s new 55in ZL2 is its most advanced TV to date.

A forward-looking development from Toshiba was its home energy management system (HEMS). Built around the home gateway server – the life design box – HEMS integrates and manages a smart meter, electric vehicles, a solar power generation systems as well as digital consumer products.

Super large screens

Elsewhere, Sharp identified an understandable niche in the market. It’s ramping up production of 60- to 85-inch models for its 100th anniversary year, following the successful introduction of a 70-inch screen into theUSmarket during 2010. SharpUSpresident John Herrington says that while there was healthy skepticism at the time, that set became a stateside top seller.

Herrington revealed that the brand is planning aUSmarketing campaign designed to challenge the idea that consumers need to sit further away from a super-large set. “We have done trials with consumers who overwhelmingly agree that a 70-inch Full HD TV watched at just 10 feet is a fantastic viewing experience.”

Due later this year is the LC-80LE844U, the world’s first 80-inch 3D LED TV. It will use Quad Pixel Plus II picture processing technology for the smoothest possible image. In theUK, the Sharp says it will stress the benefits of a large screen for sports, rather than movies, in line with its sponsorship of the UEFA European Cup.

All Sharp’s oversized screens will come from the brand’s 10th generation panel making facility in Japan, the most advanced panel fabrication facility in the world.

4K crackers

LG, Sharp, Sony and Panasonic all had prototype 4K resolution screens at CES. But while other brands went big, Panasonic surprised everyone by unveiling the world’s smallest 4K IPS panel.

The 20inch display is just 3.5mm thin but has a resolution of 3840 x 2160 and a pitch of 216ppi (regular Full HD panels offer 69ppi). Any doubts that you need a really large panel to appreciate the benefits of 4K resolution were quashed by this little wonder. The screen delivered astounding clarity, with even tiny text visible. The brand said it intends to sell it through its B2B division.

Google TV

The second iteration of Google TV made a surprisingly low key debut at the 2012 CES. Given the anticipation building around the arrival of Apple into the TV space, you’d be forgiven for thinking that existing vendors would be looking for shelter under the Android banner. But it was not the case.

Sony promised the platform as a set top box, NSZ-GP7, and integrated into a Blu-ray player, the NSZ-GP9. Both can access apps optimised for TV from the Android Market.  Viewers can use the box to watch online content from major networks, stream live channels, Tweet and Facebook friends, or search the web. 

LG took a different tack, previewing a Google-powered TV, although it seemed to be doing its utmost to hide the fact from view. LG’s Stephen Gater doesn’t expect it to become a reality in theUKuntil 2013. He says there are complicated content rights to sort out.

Headphones

There was no shortage of headphones at CES, with wireless models the new hot ticket. Audiophiles could be forgiven for looking twice at Sennheiser’s new RS220 wireless phones. The brand claim these offer the best wireless phone audio quality available, comparable to its lauded 600 series models.

Philips showcased its Fidelio premium headphones (L1 and M1) made for iPhone/iPod/iPad which are not only tuned by the Philips Golden Ears panel to deliver exceptional sound detail but also made from premium materials including fine leather. The manufacturer also unveiled its CitiScape headphone collection for urbanites (pictured here is the Uptown model), inspired by styles of New York, London, Paris and Tokyo, sporting a distinctive design and its new MusicSeal – a double layer wall inside the ear shell excluding city background noise. Meanwhile, celebrity-powered ‘phones seemed to be gaining favour. 50 Cent waded in with his SMS Audio cable-free cans, while rapper Ludacris countered with his own Soul line.

Appliances at CES

While appliances have been a growing attraction at IFA, they’ve never played a significant role at CES – until now. 2012 saw the first real incursion of white goods into CES territory. LG, Samsung, Panasonic and Haier all turned stand space over to next-gen white goods, although there was little on display that we haven’t already seen inEurope.

Generating most of the media buzz was LG, with its three door LFX31935 refrigerator with Blast Chiller. Its ability to make a 120z canned beverage ice cold in five minutes (as opposed to 40 mins in a regular fridge), and a bottle of wine in eight, clearly fired the imagination of all who saw it. The secret to this system is a dedicated air-supply duct that does not impact on the overall temperature within the unit.

The show also witnessed a veritable invasion of vacuum cleaning robots, plus a rather novel window cleaning Ecovac ‘bot from AGaiT which does a passable impersonation of Tom Cruise clinging to the exterior of the Dubai Burj Khalifa in MI:4.

Panasonic bonded

Panasonic had a strong presence in  the main hall at the LVCC with a gargantuan 3D stage, which it used to promote the London Olympics. This also provided a platform for a trio of Bond directors to recount anecdotes from the long-running movie franchise, following the announcement that Fox would be releasing all the 007 movies in one boxset as part of Bond’s 50th anniversary. Considering the prominence given to the Bond Blu-rays and Panasonic’s long running relationship with Fox Home Entertainment (home of Avatar and Star Wars) it doesn’t take an MI5 agent to work out that a bundled promotion with Bond Blu-rays is on the cards for 2012. Naturally, PanasonicUKrefused to be drawn on the subject.

The brand also used its booth to stress the growing diversity of its portfolio.UKmarketing director Andrew Denham told IER: “This year we’re bringing together everything under the SmartVIERA banner – eco, ease of use, picture performance, connectivity and of course IPTV functionality. Smart doesn’t just mean connected, it’s the whole bundle, the whole package.”

As part of its app-drive, the company also signed up the new look MySpace. However, it’s unclear if the MySpace TV service will land in theUK. Justin Timberlake was on-hand to announce the deal.

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