Clay Maynard: CES event is ‘Super Bowl of technology'
The 2013 International CES was held in Las Vegas last month — and it did not disappoint. According to Karen Chupka, senior VP of the International CES and corporate business strategy, this was the "Super Bowl of technology."
There were over 3,250 exhibitors unveiling about 20,000 new products that occupied 37 football fields of indoor exhibit space. With an estimated 156,000 industry professionals in attendance, including 35,000 from more than 170 foreign countries, it has become the biggest show of its type in the world.
Previously, it was simply called the Consumer Electronics Show (CES), but this year, with the tremendous influx of mostly Asian technology companies, it is now called the International CES.
There were many new and exciting product announcements this year, but the ones that always attract a large share of attention every year are the latest HDTVs. This year's eye-catching demos were no exception, with organic light-emitting diode (OLED) 2K and 4K displays.
Over the past decade, most of us have tossed our old tube-type TVs for slimmer energy-saving flat-screen HDTVs, and some of them have 3D capability. Now, the TV industry is on the verge of yet another technology leap.
To first briefly recap how we got here, at the turn of the century (year 2000), very expensive plasma flat-screen HDTVs were entering the market. Since then, their prices have dropped dramatically. Plasma colors, brightness and black levels are still considered by many technology experts to be among the best in the industry and a real bargain at today's low prices.
When liquid crystal display (LCD) sets with various types of backlighting hit the market, it seemed that plasma was dead. However, LCD sets had a couple of problems they had to overcome like grayish black levels and motion-smear that reduced the 3D experience. Local dimming with light-emitting diodes (LEDs) was introduced to improve the LCD black levels, while higher refresh rates (240 Hz and above) were introduced to lessen the LCD motion-smear problem. However, none of these fixes produced perfect video displays.
At the CES last year, Sony demonstrated the first 55-inch Crystal LED display which wowed the world with what seemed like the perfect HDTV. It used millions of micro-LEDs to produce a direct self-emitting LED display without using any LCD mask, and it demonstrated perfect motion, black levels, 3D and a 180-degree viewing angle, but there was no confirmed price or release date. See www.pcworld.com/article/247717/sony_shows_off_55_inch_crystal_led_hdtv.html.
Sony representatives hoped that Crystal LED TVs would be on the market by the end of 2012, but that did not happen. This year, they said Crystal LED TVs are still in development; now Sony is concentrating on the OLED market first, and they have pooled their OLED technology with Panasonic in order to compete with the OLED sets from LG and Samsung expected out this year.
It looks like OLEDs are the next big thing, but they are not going to be cheap. The South Korean company LG said their 55-inch OLED will be on the market by the end of March for an estimated price of $12,000. As usual, competition should quickly bring these initial prices down and cause plasma and LED/LCD sets to go even lower.
Many things make OLED displays different from today's LCD/LED displays. OLEDs are more like Crystal LED displays in that the pixels emit their own light without the need for LCD backlighting. So blacks are completely black, colors are true, and motion-smear is eliminated.
However, OLEDs have a limitation to overcome that does not exist in Sony's Crystal displays. Their lifespan is believed to be about half that of LED/LCD displays. It presently looks like OLEDs would not reach their half-brightness levels for at least 16 years of normal viewing and should be better in the sets coming to market.
The capability of OLEDs and Crystal displays to have high-density pixels opens the door for another new technology called 4K HDTV (3,840 by 2,160 pixels). The 4K ultra-HDTVs have four times the pixels of 2K or 1080P HDTVs (1080P and 2K have 1,920 by 1,080 pixels).
Much of the movie industry has already switched to 4K 3D technologies because higher pixel densities are especially important in supporting the anticipated much-larger displays of the future.
2013 should be an exciting year for those who are waiting for the next big thing in HDTVs, and OLEDs should be here in time for next year's Super Bowl.
Oh, well, we'll just have to make-do with our existing HDTVs today to watch the 49ers win Super Bowl XLVII.
Clay Maynard of Yuba City is a technology consultant and past chairman of the San Francisco Bay Area Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers Vehicular Technology. Email him at ConsumerTechTalk@comcast.net.