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The TVs: Smarter, curved, and in gorgeous 4K that finally clicks

Susie Ochs | Jan. 10, 2014
CES 2014 is packed with wearables (even for pets!) and incredibly cool car tech, but the show's bread and butter is still TVs--the bigger and more over-the-top the better. We scoured the press conferences and the sensory overload of Central Hall until our ears were ringing to identify the newest trends coming to your living room...if not this year, then eventually.

Why this might be 4K's year
Even though 4K was also touted as the next big thing at CES 2013, this year the whole thing seems to make a lot more sense. Content is coming, and not just from Netflix.

Users can create their own, thanks to a 4K camcorder from Sony and a 4K Lumix camera from Panasonic, each to sell for around $2,000. Panasonic's (frankly pretty dorky-looking) A100 head-mounted action cam will be going 4K too. Rovi's DivX 10.1 software will let you encode 4K video on your PC or Mac, even using non4K sources, like high-res GoPro cameras.

Amazon Instant is rolling out 4K content this year, and YouTube has some already. The World Cup this summer will be shown in 4K. Samsung is working with Comcast and DirecTV to stream 4K video to the company's smart TVs. Sony's Video Unlimted 4K service will add bring more movies and TV shows in 4K, and we were also impressed by the Nuvola NP1, a $299 streaming 4K set-top box that packs 100 hours of free 4K content and another 100 hours for rent, with more to come.

But even video that isn't in 4K will be upscaled by the 4K TVs, so watching HD content should be a better experience than, for example, looking at low-res graphics on a Retina display. Naturally, all the demo footage being shown on the show floor was native 4K, and when we asked to see examples of 1080p content being upscaled, well...the companies just weren't willing or able to comply. (Imagine that.)

In summary, HDTV is still the mainstream for now. If your 1080p TV works just fine, keep using it. But if you're shopping for a brand-new set in Q2 or Q3 of this year, 4K is getting more attractive all the time.

Grading on the curve
We admit it, before the show and even during the press conferences, we thought the curved 4K TVs were a silly idea, a show-off trick, an answer to a problem no one had. ("Yeah, this TV is nice, but it's so...flat.") But when we got to really examine them on the show floor, we were surprised by how great they looked. The actual curve is subtle enough that you forget about it after a bit, but the viewing experience is noticeably better.

In the press conferences, execs from LG, Panasonic, Sony, Sharp, and Samsung would use vague phrases like "a more cinematic experience," which didn't really explain why a TV needed to be curved.

But at the Hisense booth, a friendly rep gave us the eureka moment that helped our brains understand what our eyes already knew: With a flat screen, the edges of the screen are further away from your eyes than the center, but a curved screen is designed to correct that. You get a wider field of view, and it's easier to be immersed in what you're watching. PC gamers who have set up three monitors in a triptych (you know, with the outer two tilted in toward the center just right) will understand.


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