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The TV set reinvented

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One of the highlights of the annual Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas last week was the dramatic strides made in TV technology, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK.

Every year, for a week in January, the future of TV is redefined in the middle of an American desert. That’s when the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) comes to Las Vegas, the unlikely entertainment capital in the middle of arid Nevada.

There may be a water shortage in this part of the world, but there is never a shortage of innovation. It was at CES that the era of the flat-panel TV was ushered in, where LED for the lounge first came to light, and where the Internet-connected TV was first publicly plugged in.

But at the show last week, rather than merely showing the next step up in the ever-moving race for a lead, TV took a leap into the future.

The charge was led by Samsung, which first launched LED sets at CES several years ago, and introduced the Smart TV last year. This year, it got a lot smarter. The new E8000 range includes built-in cameras with motion and voice control, as well as face recognition, allowing the user to control the TV in the same way that gamers have been controlling devices like the Microsoft Kinect.

That’s not what makes the devices Smart, however. It has more to do with what these TV sets have in common with smartphones: apps. Samsung now has a TV app store with more than 1 400 apps tailor-made for the large screens.

‚A TV only needs a handful of strong applications to be successful, because the prime purpose of the device is still watching TV,‚ said Justin Shaw, head of audio-visual products at Samsung Electronics SA, while at CES. ‚In South Africa we already have 250 apps available for Smart TV.‚

The TV apps also represent the beginning of a transition of the very role of the TV set.

‚We can’t assume the TV set will always have pride of place in home, but it is unique in that role at present,‚ says Shaw. ‚For now, it is our favourite shared screen and content for the TV must be created with that in mind.‚

Some of the early content includes fitness apps, kids’ apps and family-oriented apps for sharing content or chatting, via the TV, with others who have the same apps on their TVs in other locations. The apps have been downloaded almost 20-million times so far.

Even that, however, is not a revolution. The real leap into the future is the concept of Smart Evolution ‚ the idea of future-proofing the TV. A hardware and software kit in the TV set will manage future updates of firmware, the software that runs an appliance and usually cannot be altered.

‚People are investing in a high-end item, and they don’t want product to be outdated within a year,‚ says Shaw. ‚With a simple set-top box, the TV can automatically be reborn every year.‚

All of this comes at a time when it is widely expected that Apple will announce its own re-entry into the TV market, with a device that will be driven by extensive content options. That raises the stakes for market leaders like Samsung and LG, which will find themselves competing on both a design and content level. Apple is unlikely to overtake their screen technology, however.

At CES 2012, rivals like Panasonic, Sharp, and several other manufacturers unveiled TV sets using a new screen standard called 4K2K, a name that represents 4000 lines by 2000 lines on a TV screen, doubling current screen definition.

LG unveiled a large-screen TV using OLED ‚ organic LED, a super high-resolution screen technology first seen at the show in a tiny prototype four years ago. At the time, its cost prevented it even being used on a phone screen. Since then, OLED and its big brother, AMOLED, have become common on smartphones.

Samsung added Super OLED to the mix, showcasing a 55‚ device that raises the bar even further, with vivid picture quality on both 2D and 3D.

The new Smart TVs will arrive in South Africa in April and the Super OLED screen in the second half of 2012. For once, when the future arrives, we won’t be far behind.

* Arthur Goldstuck is editor-in-chief of Gadget and heads up World Wide Worx. Follow him on Twitter on @art2gee

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