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TVs get bigger, bolder, smarter at CES

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Rob Lever

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Consumer Electronics Show 2013

Ultra-HD televisions, phablets and water-resistant phones - these are the highlights of the Consumer Electronics Show 2013 in Las Vegas. 

TV makers showing off their new wares at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) will seek to dazzle consumers with bigger, bolder displays, and smarter technologies for consumers who want television to be a "multi-screen" experience.

Companies such as Samsung, Sony, LG, Sharp and Panasonic showing at CES in Las Vegas this week are making a new push for so-called "ultra-HD" of 4K, which can provide stunning, lifelike images at a steep price.

Size is on the rise, with many consumers looking at screen measuring 60 inches or bigger, especially in the US, according to the industry.

"For US consumers, bigger is absolutely better," said John Herrington of the US division of Japan's Sharp, one of biggest sellers of jumbo TVs in the American market.

Sharp is selling TVs with displays up to 84 inches using its high-definition display technology called IGZO, using indium gallium zinc oxide.

South Korea's Samsung meanwhile unveiled a new television that lets two people watch two different shows at the same time.

The F9500 television is the first in the world to offer this feature, dubbed "multi-view," using screen technology called "organic light-emitting diode" or OLED.

Joe Stinziano, a senior Samsung official in the US, emphasised at a press conference that "it's only possible in OLED due to the very fast speed" at which images can move across the screen with the technology.

Viewers must wear special 3D glasses, which come with personal speakers built in to deliver the audio, in stereo, directly to them.

But "ultra HD" and other new televisions remain slow to capture the market because of their prices upwards of $US10,000, according to a forecast released by the Consumer Electronic Association which showed the segment capturing just five per cent of the US market by 2016.

TV makers are still making aggressive moves to get consumers on new TVs, including addressing the issue of a lack of content available in the new format.

Sony, for example, announced plans to launch a 4K video service in the US this year, and also unveiled plans for more affordable TVs at 55 and 65 inches in addition to its 84-inch set. Panasonic unveiled a prototype 56-inch OLED screen, only an inch bigger than ones unveiled by Samsung and LG on Tuesday. 

LG said it was the first to launch an OLED set and said it would be selling one in the US market, at a retail price of around $US12,000 for a 55-inch model.

Considered the future of consumer electronics displays, the OLED technology is more energy-efficient and offers higher-contrast images than liquid crystal display, and is so thin that future mobile devices will be able to fold like paper.

The panels use an organic chemical compound as a key material which emits light in response to an electric current.

Both Samsung and its rival LG unveiled 55-inch OLED TVs a year ago at CES, and this year they advanced their technology with a curved panel, which allows the distance between the user and TV screen to be the same from any angle.

"OLED TV will usher in a whole new era of home entertainment," said Jay Vandenbree, senior vice president, LG USA.

"With its lifelike colour, infinite contrast ratio and slim profile, LG OLED delivers an outstanding viewing experience; it's undoubtedly a premium product worthy of its premium price."

Yet analysts say consumers are focused on other features of new TVs, including the ability to stream content from their mobile devices to the big screen or vice-versa.

"We are living in an app-dominated world, whether it's on your smartphone, tablet or television," said Kevin Tillmann, senior research analyst at CEA.

"Consumers want access to their apps at all times and they will use whatever device, TVs included, that offer the best and most convenient user experience."

CEA found more than one in five US adults owns a smart app-enabled HDTV and 90 per cent use the apps available on their displays in some capacity.

"To me, content synchronisation is where the magic is. People use an average of five or six devices, and now you can seamlessly have that across these," said Danielle Levitas, consumer tech analyst at IDC.

Levitas said a new initiative being pushed by cable firms is known as "TV everywhere," which enables consumers to take their subscriptions to other devices or even on the road.

"Because of how content is licensed a lot of those experiences are limited to the home," she said. "People want to get that content on a tablet in a remote location, or in a hotel room."

AFP/Reuters