I recently got back from the Consumer Electronics Association’s annual trade show in Las Vegas, called CES. At the show, CE manufacturers from all over the globe come together to display their new and upcoming products. This year, as in most years, there were a ton of new TVs on the floor, all sporting the latest and greatest new technologies. The changes in TVs over the years have been subtle: they are still screens that we sit in front of for entertainment, but over the past few years those incremental changes have morphed the TV into something quite different than it was even ten years ago. People are inevitably starting to ask if there is a difference between TVs and computers.
A computer? Really? Sure! Hear me out.
The most obvious parallel between TVs and computers is the evolution of the Smart TV. Over the past several years, streaming content has become such a normal part of our viewing habits that TV manufacturers began building WiFi capabilities into their new TVs. Many Smart TVs can now be used to stream programming from sites like Netflix, Amazon Prime, and YouTube, or download and view content from the cloud. Viewers can also use TVs to buy apps, surf the web, and even chat over Skype using a built-in camera. Pretty much any entertainment-related activity you can do on your computer can also be done on your TV.
Another comparison can be made over the use of mobile connections. Many TVs are now equipped with the ability to send or receive content straight from a smartphone or tablet with the swipe of a finger. Are you watching a show on your TV and need to go to another room? Just swipe the content to your tablet and take it with you! Maybe you found a funny YouTube video on your phone and want to share it with the room. Just flick it up to your TV and watch it instantly! At the very least, many smartphones and tablets are now able to act as remote controls for your TV, which can be helpful for browsing when the interface includes a keyboard.
I’m old enough to remember when computer screens were pretty small, and not as colorful as they are today. Now, they can be the size of a small TV and look just as good! But if you think computer screens have gotten bigger, TVs have gotten WAY bigger. By the end of 2013, retailers were showcasing more TVs sized 60-inches and above than they have in the past. The trend continued at CES, where manufacturers displayed TVs with sizes ranging from 55-inches all the way to 120-inches.
Remember all that talk about “retina displays” on smartphones and tablets? The same revolution is happening in the TV world as well, with the arrival of Ultra HD. The new resolution offers four times the number of pixels as the current full HD set, for unparalleled detail. (If you really want to learn more about Ultra HD, check out my previous blog post!) In the beginning of 2013, only a few manufacturers had an Ultra HD model on the market, and more trickled out throughout the year. But we’re going to see a lot more of the sets in 2014, as more TV brands offer Ultra HDTVs, at a variety of price points.
Desktop computers have undergone some form factor changes over the past couple of years for the first time in, well, as long as I can remember. Desktops are no longer confined to the boxy tower and tiny monitor. Now, many models are sold as all-in-ones that do away with the tower. Screens are also able to bend and swivel and be positioned in a variety of ways, for unlimited uses. The introduction of touch-screen capabilities helped make a lot of these changes possible.
TVs have also undergone a transition of sorts. You used to need a sturdy table or cabinet to hold the heavy TVs of the past, but for many years now, TVs have come in the form of flat panel displays that can be hung on the wall. At CES, many TV manufacturers took the form factor changes even farther and offered curved screens and even TV screens that bend at the touch of a button. The curve is supposed to give the viewer a more immersive experience, kind of like an IMAX movie, but on a much smaller scale. Will the new curved screens take off with consumers? It’s too early to tell. Samsung and LG both released curved models in 2013, but they are not yet widely spread.
So…are TVs morphing into computers? Maybe it’s the computers that are becoming more like TVs? Either way, the trend is definitely heading towards more control over content by viewers and more connectivity within the home overall. Pretty soon, desktop computers will be an old relic taking up space in your apartment while your TV and mobile device take care of all your “computing” needs. I am excited about the direction TVs are taking, and can’t wait until they come equipped with even more future technologies, like 3D printers that can serve up the dinner I just saw on that cooking show, or holographic image generators so a Skype session with family can be even more interactive. I’m getting ahead of myself, but anything is possible and I can’t wait to see what the TV manufacturers come up with next!