TV news from consumer electronics show

TV news from consumer electronics show

Last week, we test drove the International Consumer Electronics Show. This week, we drive CES home.

The major nongadget action at this year's show in Las Vegas concerned TV, mainly 4K Ultra-High Definition TVs.

Sharp, desperate to find a market niche, debuted a mugwump TV with considerably better resolution than existing HDTV, but not 4K. The Quattron+ TVs will come in several screen sizes with prices ranging from about $2,300 to $5,000, which Sharp claims will come in substantially below the cost of a true 4K TV.

With the prices of 4K TVs falling like a rock, Quattron+ might be obsolete by the time it hits the shelves. Sharp manufactures a first-rate TV, and all reports rave about the picture quality of the Quattron+, but why compromise? Even ignoring the inexpensive budget brand 4K TVs, you'll be able to buy name-brand true 4K sets for prices only slightly more than what Sharp is quoting for the Quattron+.

Supplying 4K program sources challenges 4K TVs. Even though they impressively convert existing HD to 4K, finding genuine 4K programming is like finding flights at Willard Airport in bad weather.

One of the main issues is lack of agreement on a standard connector to feed 4K signals into the TV. A new HDMI connector exists, but it does not appear on last year's models and many of the new models.

Comcast circumvents this problem, announcing at CES that Samsung 4K TVs will incorporate the Xfinity 4K app. Paraphrasing the Comcast press release: Viewers with the new X1 set top box can launch an Xfinity TV 4K app directly on their TVs, allowing them to stream, via the Internet, a variety of 4K UHD movies and TV shows on-demand.

Additionally, Comcast is working with programmers, including NBCUniversal (which it owns), to provide a library of 4K UHD choices for the Xfinity TV 4K app.

Comcast announced no pricing, but you can be sure that Google's new 4K streaming format, VP9, also announced at CES, will cost less. VP9 halves the bandwidth necessary to stream 4K from sites such as YouTube.

Flexible, curved screen TVs debuted at CES. Curved models appeared last year. With the remote control, you can adjust the curvature of the LG 77-inch screen 4K organic light emitting diode (OLED) TV and the Samsung 85-inch TV.

Samsung's curved TVs range in screen size from 55 to 110 inches. While the manufacturers claim these curved sets provide a more immersive viewing experience, the cost remains prohibitive. Neither company announced marketing plans nor prices. Unless they can deliver these TVs at rational prices, they remain a curious novelty. While 4K TVs easily fit into the falling price trend of TVs, OLED TVs and curved standard LCD panels remain extremely difficult to manufacture.

Since Sony no longer manufactures (or co-manufactures) its own LCD panels, its CES introductions were more prosaic. Sony offered 4K "Wedge" TVs. Sony claims them "innovative structural design with a new, iconic Wedge form factor."

Supposedly this allows more room for better speakers and greater stability simplifying and streamlining their stands. Sony's premium sets incorporate new sophisticated LED backlighting for blacker blacks.

Roku, the company that established its reputation in inexpensive boxes that connect TVs to the Internet for streaming a wide range of Internet content. It currently claims 1,000 channels.

Roku felt threatened by so many companies incorporating similar technologies into their "smart" TVs as well as the new Google Chrome thumb drive. So it turned the tables by announcing its own TVs incorporating its technology.

Chinese companies TCL (the company that once built and marketed RCA TVs) and Hisense will manufacture the TVs. The six models range from 32 to 55 inches, but Roku announced no pricing. Roku's remote control halves the number of buttons of a conventional TV remote.

Next week, we'll sum up the remainder of CES introductions. Meanwhile, if you desire a giant curved screen, the Savoy or Carmike cinemas will be happy to oblige you.

Rich Warren, who lives in the Champaign area, is a longtime reviewer of consumer electronics. He can be emailed at hifiguy@mchsi.com.

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