What’s new for TVs in 2012: OLED, video on demand, and the Apple TV

We pick out some trends in the Australian TV market over the next year

What's new for TVs in 2012: OLED, video on demand, and the Apple TV

2011 was an interesting, if uninspiring year, for the global and Australian television markets: more 3D TVs (and fewer 3D broadcasts), more video and movies on demand, more superfluous features, and not a great deal else. We’re tipping 2012 to be at least a little more interesting, with a few interesting developments for Web-enabled TVs as well as some exciting new screen technology.

Lower prices

Over the last few years, we’ve seen a massive drop in TV prices: a TV that cost $5000 in 2009 could cost as little as $1000 around Christmas this year, with a much-improved feature-set. There’s a point where prices will settle, of course — you won’t see a 50in plasma for much less than $500 at the absolute lowest, for example. Manufacturing and shipping costs make up the majority of this cost where research and development have already been absorbed. But nonetheless, we’d confidently expect prices to drop a couple of hundred dollars in 2012 for the majority of LCD, LED and plasma televisions.

The way that TV manufacturers will keep raking in the money is with new technologies and new features — 3D and ‘smart TV’ being the big money-winners of 2010 and 2011. If prices stay the same or rise, it’ll be because each TV is capable of supposedly bigger or better things. Whether you use those features is a different question — but since it’s effectively impossible to buy a TV from 2011 when you’re in 2012 (you can thank the run-out sales and the never-ending onward march of consumer technology), you’ll just have to deal with it.

Our advice is to not worry too much about the price of whatever TV you've got your eye on: prices are low enough that there won't be any drastic reductions, and playing stores off against their competitors should ensure you can get the best price possible with a little effort.

New technology

In 2012, we should hopefully see further maturation of OLED technology. The only OLED TV that’s made it to market so far in Australia was 2009’s Sony XEL-1, a 11in model that cost $7000. Word on the street is that at least LG and Samsung will have working OLED models at CES 2012, so it’s entirely possible that we’ll see them on Australian store shelves by the middle-to-end of next year — the London Olympics in July and August being a good incentive for retailers. OLED TVs are the current pinnacle of TV screen technology, with ‘infinite’ contrast, excellent refresh rates and therefore very clear pictures, theoretically low power consumption, and excellent colour rendition (if the problems with blue colours are solved). Expect stocks to be limited and prices to be high, though.

LED televisions will likely continue to become more prevalent and less expensive, hopefully pushing traditional fluorescent-backlit LCD screens out of the market (although not completely — the tech is cheap enough that it’ll still be the de facto standard for bargain-basement small TVs). In the last year, edge-lit LED TVs have largely supplanted back-lit models, thanks to tricky ‘local dimming’ features that allow screen areas to be dynamically dimmed in the same way as a back-lit LED or plasma TV — so we don’t expect any new LED back-lit models. Local dimming tech should become cheaper and appear in more panels, but we expect it will still be used as a major differentiator between ‘cheap’ and ‘premium’ LED TVs.

It’s also a safe bet that we’ll see TV sizes increase. This is another concrete trend — we’d say where a 42in TV was considered large in 2009, 50in was the go-to size in 2010, and the last year has seen plenty of popular models released around 55in. We doubt TVs can practicably get much larger than 55in in most Australian homes, but there’s plenty of evidence that TVs larger than the current 65in maximum will be available next year. We’d conservatively guess at a few 70in models being released, but anything much larger would be surprising (this is ignoring the current 103in and 85in professional models available from Panasonic and others, which aren’t consumer products and aren’t technically TVs).

Glasses-free 3D is another area we think there will be cautious but minor development. We’re not sure about seeing any glasses-free 3D models released over here next year, but if one is we think it’ll be a moderately-sized model from LG and we doubt there’ll be much fanfare around its launch. It’s a difficult (and no doubt expensive) tech to get right on large screens, which Australians are enamoured with thanks to our large houses and large families.

Similarly, 4K TVs are on the horizon, but only just. We doubt we’ll see a 4K TV set released in Australia next year. Toshiba’s much-vaunted Cell TV never made it to Australia back in 2009, and given the less-than-dazzling up-take of 1080p Full HD Blu-ray players and movies we don’t think Australia is ready for yet another format and resolution war. If any 4K TVs come to Australia, we think it will be at the absolute end of next year with appropriately high price tags.

Next page: Video on demand, Google TV and the mysterious Apple TV.

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