Video Hits and Misses of CES 2011  
Home Theater Feature Articles Video Related Articles
Written by Dick Ward   
Monday, 10 January 2011

It’s time to wrap up the 2011 Consumer Electronics Show with a look at what worked and what didn’t.  Find out how smart devices fared, what's become of Google TV and whether 2011 will finally be the year of the 3D TV.

3D – HIT

3D has been on the 'Miss' side of this list for the last two years, but I'm finally ready to say that it's here to stay.  Individual technologies have improved, the quality of the experience is better and prices just keep dropping.

I’ve been a 3D skeptic ever since it started showing up at CES, but this year I’m starting to turn around.  Not just because the tech is getting better, but because there's just so much 3D around.  There's enough out there that it no longer feels like a niche product.  There are 3D games and movies of course, but the most essential piece of tech may be the one that lets consumers make their own 3D.

Sony’s Bloggie 3D  - a $250 3D camcorder – is a brilliant move and one of many that the company made.  It almost got silly at the press conference, since nearly everything Sony announced for 2011 is equipped with 3D capabilities.  That kind of coverage is vital to the future of the technology though. If anyone’s going to get 3D into homes, it’s going to be Sony.

Passive 3D – HIT

Two companies – LG and Vizio – came out strong with passive 3D televisions that showed off the capabilities of this technology.  The folks at Samsung my balk, but passive 3D tech provides a great picture without the hassle of active shutter glasses.

The biggest problem inherent in passive 3D tech is the loss of resolution that comes by dividing a picture in half.  It’s a real issue for some, but most people didn’t seem to notice the lowered quality.  It could be that resolution isn’t as noticeable in 3D or it could simply be that it’s difficult to the difference because of a lack of exposure to 3D tech.

I had a chance with specialty 3D glasses from companies like Oakley and I was surprised to see that they actually did enhance my viewing experience.  That’s another big advantage that passive tech has.  You can pick up premium eyewear and use it both at home and at the theater.

Glasses-Free 3D – HIT

I’m calling this one a hit, since glasses-free sets could be found everywhere at the show and with greatly improved quality over last year’s. They’re nowhere near perfect – neither are the other 3D technologies – but the improved picture and viewing angles is a proof of concept, and something I have incredibly high hopes for.

 Most were prototypes, and even the best of them was off unless I was standing directly in the sweet spot.  Toshiba’s 3D sets looked great until I moved slightly in either direction and then they became a mess.  It’s something that can be iterated upon though, and improved.

One potential solution is head-tracking, which is already being implemented into a glasses-free 3D laptop by Toshiba.  The built-in webcam identifies where you are and adjusts the effect to give you the best possible picture.  If this could be baked into a larger scale glasses-free set and adjusted to work with multiple heads, we could see a very cool 3D future.

Tablets and Smartphones – MISS

Judged by their own merits both tablets and smartphone products were great this year, but as home theater devices they were a big miss.  I expected a lot more in terms of integration from the tablet and smartphone market.  There was some, sure, but for the most part phones did phone things and tablets did tablet things.  There should have been a great deal crossover but it just didn’t happen.

Samsung revealed during their roundtable that there are plans in place to allow both tablets and smartphones to function as touchscreen remotes for their televisions, much like the existing touchscreen from Samsung, which allows you to watch the same signal as the one from your TV, or a different one if you desire.

From the sound of things, we’ll be getting the latest in Android tablets later this year, which should provide developers with the tools they need to take advantage of that functionality.


Smart TVs – HIT

In the past, the television industry approached internet connected televisions with some trepidation.  User interfaces were blocky, viewing solutions were barely adequate and content was extremely limited.  It all just screamed “I’m a low budget add-on to satisfy a trend in consumer demand!”

This year things are much improved, almost certainly thanks to Google TV and the Boxee Box which showed that consumers really do want connected sets.  Every company had new sets to display and most had new content partners and built-in wireless internet.  No more messing around with USB dongles.

The interfaces have improved hugely as well, and are as much style as function.  They incorporate live TV windows to show you what you’re currently watching, as well as plenty of easy access to frequently used functions.

Apps - MISS

Some television developers keep pushing iPhone style applications as the future of TV and I still haven’t seen anything to indicate that. In a market that’s wide open for innovation and inventiveness, devs keep recycling the same product again and again.

Nowhere was this lack of creativity more evident than in Samsung’s press conference, which showcased some of the most popular apps available for the TVs.  These included a workout  program, a social media sharing program and a version of Pictionary that requires the use of a touchscreen.  There’s nothing there that I would even consider using.

Google TV – MISS

Google TV has all but disappeared since its massive initial launch.  The once promising platform had almost no presence in the press conferences on Wednesday save one mention from Sony, who simply said that they have it, but did not announce any new Google TV products.

The folks at Samsung didn’t mention any Google TV products in their press conference, but did have a Google TV enabled Blu-ray player on display.  In their roundtable discussion, Samsung confirmed that both a Google TV Blu-ray  player and set-top box were on the way.  There’s nothing in the cards as far as a Google TV enabled TV is concerned.

21:9 Displays – HIT

We were distraught when the 21:9 cinema-wide display was announced last year by Philips.  Not because we don’t like it, but because we absolutely love it and there was no plan for a US release.  Thankfully, that’s changed.

Even more interesting is the announcement of a line of 21:9 televisions by Vizio.  The company has been making some big changes in recent years and the release of premium sets is a huge step forward.  
The particular sets on display from Vizio were hand-made prototypes, and as such were less than optimal to say the least. Their representative assured me that the flaws I saw on the prototypes would not be in the final product.

OLED – MISS

As with the last few years, OLED was a miss.  Actually, it would be more accurate to say that it was missing.  OLED made its presence known in the cell phone market, but where TVs are concerned there was very little new.

OLEDs were on display from all the usual suspects, but gone were the promises of availability in the near future.  Every large OLED display was simply a prototype, designed to show off the panel’s advanced 3D capabilities and incredibly clear picture.

It’s getting to the point where we’re ready to write of OLED as something that’s not going to happen.  It’s pretty and it’s exciting, but LED backlit LCD displays keep getting better, as do plasmas.  The difference between LCD and OLED isn’t as noticeable as it was five years ago, and consumer demand will undoubtedly decrease as well.

 

What were your hits and misses of CES in regards to video?  





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