By Duncan McLeod
The giant Consumer Electronics Show (CES) kicked off in Las Vegas this week, with Korean rivals Samsung and LG unveiling new “smart” television technology that shows clearly how the battle over online media and applications is spreading from computers, phones and tablets and onto big-screen TVs.
It’s now considered only a matter of time — perhaps months or even weeks — before Apple unveils its first foray into flat-panel TVs. The Californian company is strongly rumoured to be planning one or more large-screen devices, possibly running the same iOS operating system that powers its iPhone and iPad devices and connected to a wide array of online apps, movies and television shows.
Speculation has intensified after the late Steve Jobs revealed to his biographer, Walter Isaacson, that he’d “like to create an integrated television set that is completely easy to use … [and which will]be seamlessly synched with all your devices and with iCloud”. iCloud is Apple’s online cloud computing resource, where customers can store and stream apps and content.
Jobs told Isaacson he had “finally cracked it” and the Apple product would have the “simplest user interface you could imagine”.
Unlike the iPhone, which rebooted the smartphone market, leaving rivals gasping to catch up, Apple is entering a market that is already dominated by Korean manufacturers, especially Samsung Electronics, whose “smart TVs” offer an array of apps and streaming and downloadable content.
At CES this week, both Samsung and LG Electronics debuted new smart TVs as they moved to establish their dominance in the fast-growing market.
Samsung, in particular, wowed audiences at CES with its new gesture- and voice-controlled smart TVs that dispense with the need to use a remote control. Similar to Microsoft’s Xbox Kinect gesture-based gaming technology, new high-end Samsung TVs will feature a camera and microphone, allowing users to flick through menus and apps on their TVs simply by speaking commands or gesturing.
Crucially, the company is also publishing its “application programming interfaces” so third-party developers can build gesture and voice-based apps for its new-generation TVs.
Its new products, such as its LED-backlit ES8000 range — available in sizes of up to 75 inches — will feature dual-core processors typically found in smartphones and tablet computers allowing consumers to flick seamlessly between apps like games and broadcast television content and on-demand streaming services like Netflix (not yet available in SA). TVs are fast becoming like computers, and all the power that entails.
In a move that will preempt whatever Apple decides to do in this space, Samsung has also announced plans to “break down the walls” between TVs and devices such as smartphones and tablets. For example, its new TVs can be controlled fully from its Galaxy range of smartphones and tablets and content downloaded on the TV can be viewed on handheld devices and vice versa.
Samsung and LG have taken the wraps off their first big-screen, 55-inch “organic light- emitting diode” (OLED) sets. OLED is the next big leap forward in television technology, offering super-thin (sub-5mm) displays with almost nonexistent bezels and breathtaking resolution and picture quality.
OLED technology represents the biggest change in TV display technology since the move from cathode-ray tubes to high-definition flat panels over the past decade. Prices are still exorbitant (don’t expect to get one for much less than R80 000 this year), but will plummet as demand soars.
With Apple still to reveal its game plan, the battle over your living room is just getting started.
- Duncan McLeod is editor of TechCentral; this column is also published in Financial Mail
- Read more columns by McLeod