7 TV trends to expect at CES 2017

For a week in early January, televisions run Vegas.

Sure there’s other stuff announced at the massive Consumer Electronics Show there: audio/video gear, phones, tablets, computers, streaming media devices, car tech, drones, action cameras, wearables, appliances and a whole pavilion worth of accessories. But TVs always seem to draw a big chunk of the buzz, and dominate the booths of the most important manufacturers there.

In 2017 I expect more of the same, with LG, Samsung and Sony grabbing attention for their big-screen debuts, while upstarts like TCL, Hisense and LeEco try to make TV waves too. I’ve been briefed by many of the major players already, and while I can’t tell you exactly what they’ll announce (yet), I can point toward some of the bigger trends. Here’s a taste.

4K for all

Non-4K TVs won’t go away entirely in 2017, but at CES in particular they’ll be rarer than $5-blackjack tables. Basically every TV on display, announced or talked about will have 4K resolution, from the massive-screened booth magnets to the 40-inch demo units used to show off another technology entirely. All those extra pixels (four times as many as standard 1080p TVs) don’t really cost much extra to manufacture anymore, and all but the cheapest TVs sold in 2017 will have 4K resolution.

HDR (and other confusing terms) everywhere

High dynamic range debuted last year in earnest, and this year it will follow the same path as 4K: into everything. I expect nearly every TV announced at the show to handle HDR content, whether in HDR10, Dolby Vision or both. HDR on a cheaper TV won’t necessarily mean a better picture, but don’t expect TV makers to tell you that. What they will do is bombard you with other new terms designed to promote superior image quality, from quantum dots to nits to percentage of DCI coverage to local dimming zones to mini-brands like SUHD and Super UHD.

OLED is the answer, how much cheaper is the question

In the last few years OLED technology has emerged as image quality champion. LG is the only manufacturer capable of mass-producing big-screen OLED TVs, and I don’t think that’s going to change anytime soon (even if Sony’s rumored OLED comes out, it will use an LG panel). Despite the lack of other OLEDs LG still has some competition from high-end LCDs, however, so in 2016 it dropped its prices lower than ever. Next year I expect those prices to drop further, but I have no idea how much.

How can Samsung compete against LG’s OLED?

Beyond its picture quality chops OLED also has plenty of wow factor, especially if LG brings its rumored wallpaper TV to market. Samsung is the world’s number one TV maker, but it needs to do more than show another fancy-named curved TV to steal LG’s thunder. I wouldn’t put it past Samsung to distract from pesky storylines re: exploding phones (and dangerous washing machines) by releasing some really cool concept TV, along the lines of the modular, bendable and/or supermassive displays of yore. QLED, anyone?

3D TV is dead. Is curved TV next?

In early 2016 Samsung basically killed off 3D TV by removing the feature entirely from all of its TVs. But the company has kept curved TVs afloat, while rival LG has pared them down (only one 2016 series of OLED was curved) and Sony, Vizio and everyone else said “hard pass.” Will the curve live for another year, and will anyone besides Samsung continue hawking it?

Chinese names get more aggressive

After a couple of years in the shadows, the big Chinese TV makers are set to make a splash in 2017. Expect major TV announcements from TCL, Hisense (here’s a taste) and LeEco, the company that bought Vizio, and maybe others. TCL (now the No. 4 brand in North America) and Hisense (which bought Sharp in 2015) are known primarily for budget models but could make a stronger higher-end play, with or without the Roku operating system. Meanwhile LeEco’s 85-inch behemoth is tailor-made for CES… could it go even bigger? I mean, what’s CES without at least a couple 100-inch TVs?

Plenty of hype and pretty pictures, and a few cool surprises

I’ve been going to CES since the days when press kits were made of actual paper (and you needed a Toshiba rolly bag to carry them all home). Over the years there’s one trend that’s becoming more and more apparent: Don’t expect many real details at the show. Prices? Availability? Yeah, right. Models beyond flagships and concept displays? Good luck. Information that’s not subject to change when the TV actually hits the market? HA! Heck, last year Samsung only showed one model of TV at CES, saving the real meat for mid-April.

The sets TV makers want us in the press to talk about, photograph and feature in videos are the flagship TVs and the crazy concept sets that might never see the light of day, but sure do look cool. And face it, aren’t those the ones you’d rather hear about anyway?

I’m looking forward to seeing the new TVs in person anyway, even if they’re preproduction samples or mock-ups, and I’m always surprised by a bunch of stuff I learn, even after all these years. TVs are still huge business, and CES is the motherlode of big screens. I’ll be there to cover the biggest ones, so stay tuned.