At a gadget show staged on the displays of computers, tablets and phones, screens of a much bigger sort occupied plenty of bandwidth.
The pandemic that forced the annual CES to adopt an online-only format also left the living room a safe space and made televisions more vital to cooped-up Americans.
“It’s become this hub of everything we do because we cannot bloody leave the house,” said Carolina Milanesi, an analyst with Creative Strategies.
In December, NPD Group reported that TV sales to date in 2020 topped 2019’s sales to that point by 19%. CES 2021 exhibitors answered this demand as usual: by trying to find features to persuade you to replace the TV they sold you before.
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In screen size, 80 may be the new 50. With Americans buying bigger TVs – NPD found 65-in. and larger TVs growing from 13% of sales in 2018 to 21% in 2020 – manufacturers now aim to make 80-inch displays mainstream.
Said TCL product-development director Aaron Dew during that firm’s presentation: “We believe that 2021 will be a big year for even bigger screens” – meaning 85 inches and up.
Viewers may find more to like in display-tech upgrades that provide more precise backlighting and more realistic High Dynamic Range (HDR) contrast.
“As people increasingly watch streaming TV shows created in HDR formats like Dolby Vision, the ability for small areas of the screen to be much brighter can really make the content more realistic and immersive,” emailed Avi Greengart, founder and lead analyst at Techsponential.
Shoppers in smaller abodes that can’t even fit a 60-inch TV, meanwhile, enjoy lower prices on smaller sets. “Now it’s anything that’s up to 55 that tends to be reasonable,” Milanesi commented.
TV vendors want your big-screen buy to include 8K resolution, with four times the pixels of 4K sets that themselves have four times HD’s pixels. The Consumer Technology Association, the Arlington, Va., trade group that produces CES, predicts 8K shipments to retailers will hit 1.7 million in 2021, up 300% over 2020.
But with 8K content limited to some YouTube videos, games on the Xbox Series X and (eventually) the PlayStation 5, and 8K video shot on such smartphones as the new Galaxy S21 – and with data caps like Comcast’s now-nationwide limits deterring 8K streaming – the forecast there remains poor.
Instead, TV makers emphasize better software to enhance 4K and even HD material to 8K resolution – although on smaller sets, many viewers won’t see the difference between 4K and 8K anyway.
A less-obvious issue with 8K sets: They’re electricity hogs.
“Today’s 8K TVs typically use up to twice the amount of power as similar-sized 4K TVs,” emailed Noah Horowitz, director of the Center for Energy Efficiency Standards at the Natural Resources Defense Council, citing manufacturer specifications.
Greengart remains a skeptic of this category: “This is a case where the manufacturing technology is ready, so vendors are hoping that consumers will pay a premium for a bigger number.”
For cord cutters, the best CES news may lurk in spec sheets for some TVs noting support for NextGen TV, a new standard for broadcast TV now in 20-plus cities that should reach more than half of U.S. households by year-end.
NextGen (also called ATSC 3.0 after the Advanced Television Systems Committee that developed it and the older ATSC 1.0 digital standard, which remains on the air at all NextGen stations) can deliver 4K to antennas. It’s already providing HDTV with upgraded contrast, sound – and reception.
“It’s less impacted by noise, interference,” said Dave Folsom, chief technology officer at Peal TV, a group of broadcasters backing NextGen.
Stations, in turn, should appreciate NextGen’s ability to route targeted ads, matching the “addressable” capability of cable-TV ads.
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TVs look ever more like computers – Samsung showed how its sets let you move a Google Duo video call from phone to TV by tapping the phone to the set – but manufacturers don’t seem tuned into privacy concerns anywhere close to how Apple has.
Privacy did not get a shout-out from major TV vendors this year. Samsung, which devoted part of last year’s CES to outlining better privacy features, declined to talk about that topic this week.
“Privacy has not been a big theme this year,” Greengart said, “Instead we are seeing more smart TVs use platforms from companies like Google and Roku that are expressly designed to profit from your viewing habits.”