Technology

The business and culture of our digital lives,
from the L.A. Times

Category: Television

Vizio's 21:9 aspect CinemaWide TV due in March at $3,499

Vizio's new 58-inch CinemaWide TV is set to hit retailers in March at a price of $3,499

Just in case your widescreen, high-definition TV isn't wide enough for you and you've got a few extra thousand dollars to spend, Vizio's new 58-inch CinemaWide TV is set to hit retailers next month at a price of $3,499.

With a price that will help shed Vizio's bargain-brand image a bit, the new set will feature a 21:9 aspect ratio that the Irvine-based electronics maker says is closer to the screen orientation found in a movie theater.

For the last few years, nearly all TVs have a been sold with a 16:9 aspect ratio. Most TV shows and sporting events are broadcast with a 16:9 image, and most video games have been produced with that aspect ratio as well.

So if you are watching TV on a CinemaWide set, you'll be almost guaranteed to see black bars running to the left and right of the picture, but Vizio says that screen real estate won't go to waste.

The CinemaWide sets will be able to upscale and stretch video to fit the entirety of the 21:9 screen, or the leftover space can be used to browse the display's VIA apps, such as Facebook and Twitter, the company said.

And if you're watching a widescreen movie, you might be able to watch without the "letterbox" black bars above and below the image, found when watching on a 16:9 set.

Rather than the standard 16:9 high-definition resolution of 1,920 x 1,080 pixels, the CinemaWide TV will feature a 2,560 x 1,080 pixel resolution. The CinemaWide sets will also be a line of LED-backlighted, 3-D TVs with four pairs of passive glasses thrown in at no added cost.

For now, Vizio is only listing the price and release window for the 58-inch CinemaWide TV, but 50-inch and 71-inch screen sizes are planned as well.

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-- Nathan Olivarez-Giles

Nathan Olivarez-Giles on Google+

Facebook.com/nateog

Twitter.com/nateog

Image: Vizio's CinemaWide 21:9 aspect ratio TV. Credit: Vizio

Frequency, Showyou bring order to online-video chaos

Frequency
Deloitte's annual survey of the media landscape, released early last month, reported that 9% of the people interviewed had canceled their pay TV subscriptions in favor of watching shows online, and another 11% were considering it. Those are big, scary numbers for cable and satellite TV operators, as well as for TV producers who haven't found a way yet to make online viewing as lucrative as the combination of advertising dollars and monthly subscriber fees they collect from the likes of Comcast and DirecTV.

But there's another phenomenon that should be more alarming to industry incumbents: the emergence of services that capably transform the chaotic jumble of online video into compelling channels of entertainment. Two good examples are Los Angeles-based Frequency, which makes apps for mobile devices, computers and connected TVs, and Showyou, an iPad and iPhone app from San Francisco-based Remixation.

Unlike Clicker, neither company pays attention to the broadcast or cable TV episodes that are online, nor do they offer an index to movies on demand (at least not yet). Instead, they aggregate clips and links from YouTube, Facebook and Twitter, among other sources, then organize them into feeds by genre and popularity. They also use social-media tools to create personalized feeds curated by one's Facebook friends, Twitter connections and other users of each app.

They have different strategies -- Frequency is trying to put its app on every device a person might use to watch video, while Showyou is focused primarily on iPads and iPhones -- and their apps have different looks -- Frequency presents multiple channels in separate scrollable columns, Showyou a single array that can be scrolled in two directions. But they have a similar effect, which is to present online video in the familiar, channel-based, lean-back context of television. It's interactive, sure, but without all the effort (or the keyboard).

Continue reading »

Apple's iBooks 2, iBooks Author: Bids to own publishing's future

Apple's new iBooks 2, iBooks Author and iTunes U apps are moves to capture the future of education and self-publishing

NEWS ANALYSIS: Alongside Apple stating that iBooks 2 and textbooks on the iPad would reinvent the textbook as we know it, the iPad-maker announced Thursday that it would also attempt to reinvent book-making by way of an app called iBooks Author.

The Apple-developed app, available as a free download from the Mac App Store, (ideally) makes it easy to make books for the iPad. But together, iBooks 2 and iBooks Author are moves to capture the future of education and self-publishing, and to continue to build on the success Apple had under the late Steve Jobs.

If you've ever used Apple's Keynote or Pages (or Microsoft's PowerPoint or Word) apps, then you should be able to hit the ground running in iBooks Author. There are templates for different types of book layouts, and adding the interactive 3-D models, photos, videos and diagrams that Apple demoed iBooks 2 textbooks on Thursday is as easy as clicking and dragging a built-in widget -- provided you've already produced the video, photos, diagrams and models you want to use.

Apple has even built into iBook Author HTML5 and Javascript support for programmers looking to take their books beyond what the app can do itself; multi-touch interactions for pinch and zoom views of photos and swiping gestures are also included.

Want to see what your book looks like before you publish it to iBooks? Just connect your Mac to an iPad by way of a USB cable and you can preview the book on the tablet.

The aim of the iBooks Author app is to make it easy to get these impressive multimedia elements, as well as questionnaires and other educational materials, into a page of text and published as a book on the iPad as easy as possible -- whether you're a self-publisher looking to write your first book, a teacher whipping up something quick for a special class, or a publishing powerhouse like the textbook trifecta of McGraw-Hill, Pearson and Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.

Before his death, Jobs told biographer Walter Isaacson that he believed Apple could disrupt the $8-billion-a-year textbook industry. Jobs said in Isaacson's book, titled simply "Steve Jobs," that the iPad was the tool to make transformation in the textbook business a reality.

According to the book, Jobs' idea "was to hire great textbook writers to create digital versions, and make them a feature of the iPad. In addition, he held meetings with the major publishers, such as Pearson Education, about partnering with Apple."

Jobs told Isaacson "the process by which states certify textbooks is corrupt ... but if we can make the textbooks free, and they come with the iPad, then they don't have to be certified. The crappy economy at the state level will last for a decade, and we can give them an opportunity to circumvent that whole process and save money."

In announcing the iBooks 2 and iBooks Author products, Apple is beginning to bring a piece of Jobs' long-term vision to fruition. The company also noted Thursday that there are currently about 1.5 million iPads being used in schools and more than 20,000 education apps sitting in its iOS App Store.

But make no mistake, iBooks 2 and iBooks Author aren't just about textbooks. The two new apps are working together to entice students, teachers, educational institutions to embrace and buy the iPad in bigger numbers than they already have.

On Thursday, in announcing the new products, Apple made no mention of new discounts on iPads for students or schools -- though Apple has offered such discounts in the past on Macs and even created special versions of the iMac for schools. Apple even built the now-defunct eMac line specifically to sell to schools.

Apple wants us to ditch the paperback and hardcover textbooks in favor of an iPad and digital downloads, that much is obvious. But the company also wants the iPad and Macs to become to go-to devices for educational institutions and publishing houses.

Although Apple's iTunes is the world's most popular online music storefront, Amazon is the world's largest seller of e-books. By adding a level of interactivity to books that Amazon and others simply can't match, and by making it easier to publish a book and sell it in the iBooks app directly from iBooks Author, Apple has made a move to challenge Amazon and its Kindle e-reader and Kindle Touch tablet as the preferred platform for self-publishers and digital textbooks.

In a statement announcing iBooks 2 and iBooks Author, Apple said as much (without naming Amazon and other e-book rivals such as Google and Barnes & Noble).

"iBooks Author is also available today as a free download from the Mac App Store and lets anyone with a Mac create stunning iBooks textbooks, cookbooks, history books, picture books and more, and publish them to Apple's iBookstore," Apple said.

The apps are also a challenge to Adobe, a company Apple has been known to partner with and feud with from time to time. Adobe's Creative Suite, Digital Publishing Suite and Touch Apps, available on both Windows PCs and Macs, are some of the most popular tools used by publishing houses and self-publishers looking to create a book, whether an e-book or a book before it heads to print.

Though capable of producing many different types of content for a broader range of devices, Adobe's software can cost thousands of dollars, while Apple's iBooks Author app is free.

Apple on Thursday also released an iTunes U app, which allows teachers from kindergarten to the university level to stream video of their lectures and post class notes, handouts, reading lists, etc., all within the app.

Previously, iTunes U was a podcasting service for college professors who wanted to put up video or audio of their lectures. Now it is one more reason for a teacher to consider an iPad and a Mac as tools to reach students at any grade level. And like iBooks Author, the app is free.

In my opinion, Apple is one of the best companies out there at providing lower-cost products that pull consumers into an ecosystem of apps and gadgets. It's one of the reason the company has so many cult-like followers.

For many Apple fans, their first purchase was an iPod or iPhone. With those purchases comes buying apps, music, movies and TV shows from iTunes. And for many, later comes a MacBook or an iMac computer. This strategy is repeating itself with iBooks 2 and iBooks Author.

First, get students and teachers to use more iPads in school by offering affordable and engaging digital textbooks. With iBook textbooks capped at a price of $14.99, I have to wonder whether or not textbooks will become shorter and more narrow, and thus students and teachers we'll have to buy more of them. Second, make it easy for anybody to produce their own iBooks (textbooks or otherwise) and then sell those books in the iBooks app, luring in aspiring authors. When those students, teachers and authors go to download music or a movie, set up a cloud storage service or buy a laptop, a phone, a new tablet -- maybe someday a TV -- what brand will be at the top of minds? Apple.

iBooks, iBooks Author and iTunes U, together are a move to fend off Google, Amazon, Adobe and other competitors in determining the future of education, publishing and book reading. Together, the launch of these apps is an attempt to not only maintain but also expand Apple's current success into the company's post-Jobs future.

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-- Nathan Olivarez-Giles

Nathan Olivarez-Giles on Google+

Twitter.com/nateog

Photo: Apple's iBook Author app on an iMac, and an iBook and an iPad. Credit: Apple

CES 2012: Television makers push Google TV in Las Vegas

Vizio Google TV

When Google TV first launched a little more than a year ago, it had few hardware partners and failed to resonate with a wide consumer market. But the technology was back at the Consumer Electronics Show this year, with major tech companies promoting the software and saying its time had come. 

"You've got to reorient customers to look at TVs as an actual smart device, as a device just like a tablet or a PC or a phone," said Matthew McRae, chief technology officer at Vizio, during an interview with The Times. "It takes a little bit of time, but I think that bridge has been crossed."

At CES in Las Vegas this week, Vizio was showcasing its 65-inch, 55-inch and 47-inch V.I.A. Plus HDTVs with Theater 3D; the VBR430 Blu-ray player; and the VAP430 stream player -- all of which incorporate Google TV's 2.0 platform. V.I.A. stands for Vizio Internet Apps.

The V.I.A. Plus experience features an app-centric interface on every device, "making it easy for consumers to understand and navigate as they move between devices," the company said in a news release. Users can also access thousands of apps from the Android Market.

McRae said the company was encouraged by the advances in the second generation of Google TV, saying the earlier version of the software "missed on the simplicity front."

"When people sit down at a TV, it's got to be intuitive, it's got to be a few button clicks to whatever you're looking for," McRae said. "If you make it any more complex than that, they'll just give up.... So the user interface I think is actually more challenging to get right on a TV than it is on a tablet or PC."

The prospects for Google TV -- which combines traditional television, the Internet, apps and search capabilities -- are growing rapidly among developers, who are rolling out thousands of apps built specifically for televisions. 

Vizio was especially excited to show off its new VAP430 stream player with Google TV, a media player that turns any HDTV into an enhanced V.I.A. Plus smart TV. Vizio's stream player, a small black box about the size of a wallet, features built-in HDMI ports that let users connect existing components like gaming consoles or set-top boxes for unified access to all media sources through the V.I.A. Plus touchpad remote. It also supports 3-D content and 3-D streaming. Vizio stream player

Vizio officials said the stream player was expected to be released in the first half of the year, but declined to say how much the device would cost. Sales of stream players are poised to pass Blu-ray players in unit volume sales by 2013, Vizio said, making the devices the "perfect solution" for media multitaskers. 

LG is also showing off sets with Google TV software that will launch in the U.S. in the first half of 2012 and later for the rest of the world. Among LG's Google TV offerings will be a 55-inch model, and each Google TV set from LG will include a "magic remote" with a built-in keyboard.

Google TV will run on LG's TVs alongside its Smart TV platform unveiled last year. Since last year's CES, LG said it had added more than 1,200 apps to its Smart TV offerings.

Sony too heavily hyped its Google TV products at CES and said it was expanding its line of devices that included the software. 

The tech giant said it was rolling out two new set-top boxes powered by Google TV -- one connected Blu-ray disc player and one Network Media Player. Enhanced features include access to the Android Market as well as a redesigned remote control for improved functionality, new linkage with the Sony Entertainment Network platform and a new mobile device interface that allows consumers to use smartphones and tablets as a content source. 

"As a result more consumers will be able to enjoy multiple content sources from broadcast to streaming video and various apps through one easy-to-use seamless interface by connecting to any HDTV," Sony executive Kaz Hirai said during the company's CES news conference.

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-- Andrea Chang in Las Vegas

Upper photo: A Vizio HDTV shows off Google TV software, with live television and a panel of apps sharing space on the screen. Credit: Armand Emamdjomeh / Los Angeles Times

Lower photo: Vizio's VAP430 stream player with Google TV, a media player that turns any HDTV into an enhanced smart TV. Credit: Armand Emamdjomeh / Los Angeles Times

CES 2012: Sesame Street Kinect shows promise of TV voice, gesture control [Video]

At the 2012 Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, we saw a bit of a scramble by TV makers such as Samsung and LG to show off what they working on or releasing in the coming year that would allow us to control our TVs using voice, gesture and facial recognition.

Many technology pundits and analysts have said these sorts of announcements, which also took place at last year's CES, are in response to rumors that Apple is working on an "iTV" that will offer a new way of controlling a TV and maybe even how we pay for or watch channels and TV shows.

But as many video-game lovers out there know, TV voice recognition, gesture controls and facial recognition are already here in the form of Microsoft's Kinect motion-sensing camera, which is an accessory to the Xbox 360 home gaming console.

However, Kinect is just getting started, and currently has a small number of apps. And it's still a device that sells for about $150 and requires an Xbox 360, which starts at $200. Make no mistake, there will be a cost of entry to the future of TV.

At the 2012 Consumer Electronics Show TV makers such as Samsung and LG showed off TVs with voice, gesture and facial-recognition control, but such controls are already here in the form of Microsoft's Kinect motion-sensing cameraAt CES 2012, Microsoft showed off a bit of what the future may hold for Kinect, the Xbox and TV with demonstrations of its latest Kinect-enabled app for the Xbox, called Sesame Street Kinect (you can see our demonstration of the app in a video atop this article).

Sesame Street Kinect is what it sounds like, episodes of the long-running children's program tailored to use the Kinect camera. And what Kinect can do is really impressive.

Since 1969, children around the world have sat in front of TVs repeating back the alphabet, colors, words and numbers to characters on Sesame Street (I did it when I was a child). Until Sesame Street Kinect, which is set to release later this year at an unannounced price, the characters on the screen couldn't respond to the viewer's actions. Now, to a limited extent, they can.

The demonstration we saw featured the Grover, Elmo and Cookie Monster characters prompting viewers to interact by either saying certain words or moving in certain ways.

For example, we took part in a demonstration in which Grover drops a box of coconuts and asks that the viewer pick them up and throw them back to him.

I At the 2012 Consumer Electronics Show TV makers such as Samsung and LG showed off TVs with voice, gesture and facial-recognition control, but such controls are already here in the form of Microsoft's Kinect motion-sensing cameraf the viewer stands up and moves in the way that they would throw an imaginary coconut (don't throw a real coconut unless your trying to break your TV) then Grover catches each one in his box, even reacting to how hard the Kinect interprets the viewer's throw to be.

The experience was a lot of fun for a room of four adults, and I imagine kids will enjoy this sort of thing too. Jose Pinero, am Xbox spokesman, said a similarly interactive app from National Geographic is coming this year as well.

Although Microsoft has sold more than 66 million Xbox consoles and more than 18 million Kinect cameras, the tech giant realizes it has something bigger than just video games on its hands with Kinect.

Both Kinect and Xbox Live are headed to Windows 8 later this year. Hopefully, that will mean more interactive "two-way TV" apps like Sesame Street Kinect, and more apps related to media outlets such as ESPN and National Geographic.

There are also rumors that the company is working to get Kinect built directly into TVs, which would very likely place Xbox Live and Kinect in direct competition with Google TV and Apple's expected entry into the TV market. That's a living-room showdown I'd like to see.

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-- Nathan Olivarez-Giles in Las Vegas

Nathan Olivarez-Giles on Google+

Twitter.com/nateog

Photos: Sesame Street Kinect in action. Credit: Armand Emamdjomeh / Los Angeles Times

CES 2012: Two approaches to indie movies for connected TVs, devices

FilmFresh

This post has been corrected, as indicated below.

Netflix, CinemaNow and Vudu seem ubiquitous on the smart TV sets and set-top boxes on display at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas this week, but they're not the only companies bringing films on demand to the TV, tablets and smartphones. Among the others trying to drum up business here have been two smaller, evolving competitors, Film Fresh and Bigstar, each of which brings something unique to the mix.

Film Fresh began as an outlet for downloadable international films, which it made available for sale or rental. It eventually added films for sale from selected Hollywood studios -- Sony, Warner Bros. and Lionsgate -- because "we learned that you can't sell the long tail without the short-tail films," said founder Rick Bolton. "You need familiar films."

This week Film Fresh relaunched its site, switching to a more widely compatible format (dropping DivX in favor of Windows Media) that's more acceptable to the bigger studios. The switch enables Film Fresh to make those studios' movies available for rent, not just for purchase, and it opens a pathway to more devices. It plans to launch on Android tablets in a few weeks, followed eventually by Apple devices. It also opened a store this week on Facebook.

The company also added a nifty mood-based recommendation engine called "Film Finder" (pictured above). The first set of suggestions comes from the company's staff of film buffs, and the rest are generated by technology from The Filter. The recommendations help users navigate the company's library of nearly 6,000 films, most of which are titles you'd never see promoted on a bus or in a theatrical trailer. "For us, the holy grail is discovery," Bolton explained, adding that Film Finder is designed to give the site a "corner video store vibe."

With CinemaNow owned by Best Buy, Blockbuster owned by DISH and Vudu owned by Wal-Mart, Film Fresh is promoting itself to device makers as the Switzerland of online film retailers. "We're the last independent film download service with independents and Hollywood content," Bolton said. Miami-based Bigstar, meanwhile, is offering unlimited movie streaming for a monthly fee of just under $5 -- the Netflix model, only cheaper.

It can afford to do that, founder Xavi Dalmau said, because it works only with indie film studios and distributors that are willing to forgo guarantees and advances. Instead, the site pays its 150 content partners half the revenue it collects from subscribers. (Most of its more than 4,000 titles are included in the subscription price, but a few hundred are available only on a pay-per-view basis.)

Bigstar has only about 5,000 paying members at this point, despite having attracted 300,000 potential subscribers over its history. It's had much more success winning a place on connected TVs and set-top boxes; it is or soon will be available on TVs by Samsung, Sony, Toshiba and Vizio, Roku players, iPads and devices that run the Android operating system.

As a result, only about 10% of the site's streams are delivered to Web browsers. "Our top platform is the iPad and the iPhone," Dalmau said, adding that the segment with the fastest growing usage is connected TVs. And unlike many of its competitors, Bigstar has the rights to stream most of its movies globally.

"We felt that the independent world was a way for us to prove our model," he said. The company hopes to gradually add deals with bigger studios, but not for blockbusters. The hits don't fit into a business model built around $4.99-a-month subscriptions. Instead, Bigstar is focused on overlooked titles -- for example, indie movies that make a splash at film festivals but don't go on to a wide release. That's a common fate for festival fare, most of which never makes it to the multiplex, Dalmau said.

"All along we wanted to make the platform to give it to the filmmakers to be able to show the great movies that they make, year in and year out. A curated library has always been one of our goals. We spent a lot of time figuring out what to put in and what not to."

The privately held company's not making money yet, Dalmau said, but it hasn't been trying to. Instead, it's been building its platform and acquiring content, albeit "without spending the millions and hundreds of millions of dollars" on major Hollywood fare. With a huge supply of long-tail films gathering dust in archives, along with unheralded foreign films, documentaries and shorts, "there's a lot out there that we can get our hands on that we feel people want to watch," Dalmau said.

[For the record, 1:10 p.m. Jan. 12: The original version of this post stated that Film Fresh had just been added to Roku's set-top boxes. The company says it is talks with Roku with the goal of having its app on the device later this year.]

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-- Jon Healey

Healey writes editorials for The Times' Opinion Manufacturing Division. Follow him @jcahealey

Credit: Film Fresh

CES 2012: Former Laker Robert Horry talks tech, basketball

Like many celebrities, Robert Horry is at the Consumer Electronics Show this week to help promote a tech company. Problem is, when we sat down with him Tuesday to chat about Haier America, basketball's Big Shot Rob conceded he hadn't yet seen the appliance brand's latest products. 

In fact, he says he's not much of a techie.

"I try to keep my life as simple as possible," he said. "[If] I get all this high-tech, I'm going to buy more stuff and more stuff."

No matter. The affable former Laker, who won three of his seven championships with the team, was happy to talk generally about the brand, which is a sponsor for the NBA, and his hopes for his partnership with the company: "Haier has a lot of good products, and I'm just trying to get in good with the family so they can remodel my kitchen," he joked.

He was also eager to chat about his basketball days, saying he still keeps in touch with Kobe Bryant and Derek Fisher. Although he's a Lakers fan, he said he sees challenges ahead for the team this year, including "a lot of young cats on their team," tough competition from the Oklahoma City Thunder and Miami Heat, and leftover issues from the trade drama at the start of the season. 

"I just think sometimes, with the way the season started out with them and all the turmoil and the guys being traded and them trading guys and trades not going through, you put a wall up as a player," he said. "Even though you go out there and play, it's still not the same because in the back of your mind, you always got that fear of being traded, so you don't play as well." 

These days, Horry works as a sports commentator and lives in Houston -- though he noted that "everybody thinks I live in L.A."

"L.A. is just too expensive for me," he said. "That's one thing about me: I'm from the South and I'm cheap."

Horry said he goes to a lot of Houston Rockets games now that he's retired and has free time. "I try to keep my face in there just in case one day I want to try to venture into the coaching realm or the GM realm or something of that nature," he said. "I'm waiting for my son to turn 13 and go to high school, and then I want to get back into it."

But back to tech: Horry, who has attended CES a number of times in the past, said he loves coming to the show to see what new products are coming out. "My favorite part is going to booths and coming home with a bag of stuff," he said.

One device he won't be going home with: a 3-D television. 

"I can't watch 3-D. It gives me a headache," he said. "I just saw a guy with a 3-D camera and that was cool, but after looking at it for 2, 3 seconds, my head started to hurt."

But Horry said he loves watching television shows -- "The Closer" is a top choice -- and has three Apple TVs in his home. As expected, he said Haier's TVs "are great." His favorite model?

"The big ones," he said. "The thing about them is they're slim and you can put them anywhere. Right now, I'm working on getting one to put in my bathroom. Sometimes you like to sit back and take a nice bubble bath and watch NBA TV."

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-- Andrea Chang in Las Vegas

CES 2012: Samsung TVs add gesture, voice control; Sharp previews 8K

Samsung's LED 8000 Smart TV with voice, gesture and facial regognition. Credit: Samsung

On Tuesday, here on the Technology blog, we summed up a few of the TV-related highlights of the 2012 Consumer Electronics Show from LG, Vizio and Sony. But make no mistake, Sharp and Samsung made some news of their own.

Sharp

As noted by my colleague Jon Healey and myself, 4K TVs have been a major trend at CES in Las Vegas this year. The promise of 4K TVs is a display that offers up to four times higher the resolution of today's highest resolution high-definition TVs, which currently top out at 1080p.

A bit confused by all the terms? No problem -- 1080p refers to TVs with a resolution of 1,920 x 1,080 pixels with the 1,080 counting the number of lines of resolution on the vertical side of the TV. The newer 4K standard refers to displays with about 4,000 lines of resolution counted on the horizontal side of a screen.

Sharp, however, took the resolution jump further than its rivals and introduced a prototype 8K TV this year, which it says will offer double the resolution of a 4K TV set, or a resolution of about 16 times higher than a 1080p TV. Sharp's 8K TV is currently planned for retail, but the prototype at CES did come in a whopping 85-inch screen size. The screen resolution of the Sharp prototype does fall short of an actual 8,000 mark, despite the name, with a 7,680 x 4,320 resolution display being used.

Huge TVs are something Sharp has been into for the last few years, choosing to concentrate on the higher-end of the TV market. This year it also showed off an 80-inch LCD TV, with LED backlighting, that will playback 3-D video (viewable with 3-D glasses of course). Sharp said its 80-inch was equal to about the size of nine 32-inch TVs, or about 266 smartphones laid out next to each other.

The TV maker also said it was committed to its LCD TV business and plans to introduce 17 new LCD TVs over the next 90 days.

But not all of those 17 new TVs will be big-screen heavyweight sets. As noted by my colleague David Sarno, Sharp also introduced its line of Aquos Freestyle TVs at CES this year. The Aquos Freestyle is a series of TVs that are built thin and light and can actually be picked up and moved around a home.

The idea is maybe you'd want to take the TV out in the back yard for a couple hours, or maybe into another room for a bit for a party or other good reason.

As reported by Sarno, "Sharp's Aquos Freestyle flat-screens get their signal wirelessly, and as the models demonstrated by parading them down the showroom runway, they are light enough to be carried around the home, whether to the balcony, the kitchen or the powder room."

Portable? Yes. Mobile? Not really. The Aquos Freestyle sets were shown off in 20-inch, 31.5-inch, 40-inch and 60-inch sizes.

Samsung

Like Sharp, Korean electronics giant Samsung had some prototypes to show off at CES too, including a 55-inch TV that it described as "Super OLED."

OLED, or organic light emitting diodes, are more energy efficient, thinner and provide better black-levels when compared with standard current LEDs used in TVs today. OLED is also more expensive to produce than LED backlighting. And just about every TV maker throws out claims at CES that its display, which is also 3-D capable, provides the best picture -- Samsung's stance is no different with its Super OLED sets, promising in a statement that its prototype display offers "the ultimate in vividness, speed and thinness, with true-to-life picture quality, enhanced color accuracy and motion picture quality even in the fastest scenes."

Samsung also announced an update to its high-end Smart TV line, which runs apps such as Netflix on its TVs, that it says will allow users to control their sets with voice and motion control and facial-recognition technology.

"For example, users can turn the TV on or off, activate selected apps or search for content in the web browser simply by speaking in any of the 20 to 30 languages that are supported by the technology," Samsung said in a statement. "With a wave of their hand, they can browse and choose a link or content via the web browser."

A built-in camera in the top-of-the-line Smart TV sets "recognizes movement in the foreground and two unidirectional array microphones recognize voice at an incredibly accurate rate. Noise cancellation technology helps separate any background noise from the users commands."

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-- Nathan Olivarez-Giles

Nathan Olivarez-Giles on Google+

Twitter.com/nateog

Image: Samsung's LED 8000 Smart TV, which features built-in cameras and microphones for voice, gesture and facial recognition. Credit: Samsung

CES 2012: 4K TV sets make their debut, minus the hoopla

84-INCH_3D_UDTV_03

With surprisingly little fanfare, the major consumer electronics manufacturers introduced a new category of television at the Consumer Electronics Show this year: 4K TV sets, which cram four times as much picture information onto the screen as the best of the current high-definition models. That's a little over 8 million pixels, compared to about 2 million in a 1080P HDTV set.

LG showed off an 84-inch "ultra definition" LCD set (pictured above). Sony, which already has a 4K projector on the market, said it would continue to develop 4K TVs and promised Blu-ray disc players that upconvert HDTV to 4K. And Sharp took the wraps off not only a 4K LCD TV, but also an 8K prototype. No details were available on prices or release dates, although most manufacturers said they'd have 4K sets in stores this year.

The LG and Sharp sets offered stunningly good pictures, presenting a precisely defined yet silky smooth canvas of images. Yet with so many consumers more than happy with 1080P (and 720P, a less intensive level of high definition), why bother?  4K TV doesn't change the viewing experience as fundamentally as the shift from analog to HDTV, or from 2D to 3D. And although 3D sets are selling well, it's not clear that consumers are buying them because they want something better than HDTV -- they may just see it as a way to future-proof their sizable investment in a flat-panel set.

To some degree, 4K is a natural reaction to the rapid decline in TV prices. Manufacturers are under pressure to offer new capabilities every year in order to push prices back up, at least at the high end of the market. LG spokesman John Taylor added a more practical consideration: On a very big screen, 1080P doesn't provide enough resolution.

4K probably won't come to 42-inch sets because it's not needed in that size, Taylor said. But over time, U.S. consumers have gravitated toward ever-larger sets, attracted by thinner and lighter designs and plunging prices. So while 42 inches may be the sweet spot now for many buyers, especially those who grew up on 25-inch analog sets, the demand for bigger displays is likely to grow.

The nontrivial problem for 4K, though, is that there's nothing to watch in that format. As bad as the shortage of 3D programming has been for home viewers, the supply of 3D dwarfs the availability of 4K material. That helps explain why the new 4K sets received so little attention during the manufacturers' press blitz Monday, even though they will be making their debut in 2012.

"There is no 4K broadcasting," noted Panasonic's chief technology officer, Eisuke Tsuyuzaki. And given that the quality of 4K is equivalent to a pristine copy of a 35mm film print, piracy-conscious studios may think twice before agreeing to let any truly valuable content be broadcast in that format, Tsuyuzaki said.

He envisioned a demand for a few thousand 4K displays for medical use (for example, assisting surgeons) and in computer graphics and design. But for the living room? "It's going to be a while," he said. "It's not a technical issue.... The biggest issue is the content."

Then again, TV stations don't broadcast in 1080P, either. That format is limited mainly to Blu-ray discs and video-on-demand services. So if upconverted broadcasts have been good enough for 1080P, perhaps that will be enough to justify the purchase of a 4K set -- for those whose homes are big enough to fit one in.

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-- Jon Healey in Las Vegas

Healey writes editorials for The Times' Opinion Manufacturing Division. Follow him at @jcahealey.

Photo: A model poses with a new 4K TV from LG. Credit: LG

CES 2012: LG TVs go big, Vizio goes wide and Sony goes ape

LG press conference. Credit: LG

As always, the 2012 Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas has been filled with new TVs and home entertainment product announcements.

In fact, there have been so many announcements that it might be tough to keep up with them all if you're actually looking to CES to help you decide what your next TV set will be.

No worry, we're here to help sift through the noise. We'll have more on TVs and Google TV products coming, but here are some of the highlights from LG, Vizio and Sony thus far.

LG

As we reported ahead of CES, LG had big-screen plans for this year's Vegas show with a new 55-inch OLED TV that is just 4 millimeters thick and an 84-inch LED-backlit LCD TV with 4K-display resolution.

For those who don't know, 4K resolution is what many in the TV industry believe will be the next bump up in high-definition standards for TVs and Web video. Current top-of-the-line HD TV sets available to consumers now are either 1080p or 720p -- each number indicating the number of vertical pixel lines of resolution the HD sets can handle. The term 4K resolution identifies displays with about 4,000 horizontal lines of resolution. There isn't a ton of 4K video content out yet (most HD TV channels are 720p), but many filmmakers are moving toward shooting in 4K with newer digital cameras.

As promised, LG unveiled both the 55-inch and 84-inch sets at CES this year, each set falling into what LG is calling its Cinema 3D series of TVs, which will range in size between 55 and 84 inches and feature a super-thin bezel when they hit the market later this year. I saw both sets in person here at CES and they looked big, bright and clear.

Of course, how a TV looks on the showroom floor and how it looks in the living room can vary. But LG, as well as many other TV makers, seems to be producing thinner and lighter TVs with increasingly more detailed and accurate pictures displayed on screen.

LG Google TVAnother announcement from LG this year was wider implementation of its Magic Remote, which was shown off at CES in 2011 too. As my colleague David Sarno noted in his reporting on CES, the Magic Remote acts much like the Wii remote used by Nintendo's Wii video game console.

With the motion-sensing Magic Remote in hand, a user can navigate on-screen TV menus, settings and even channel changes with a combination of gestures and button presses.

LG is also showing off Google TV sets that will launch in the U.S. in the first half of 2012 and later for the rest of the world. Among LG's Google TV offerings will be a 55-inch model, and each Google TV set from LG will come with a Magic Remote with a built-in keyboard.

Google TV will run on LG's TVs alongside its Smart TV platform unveiled last year. Since 2011's CES, LG said it has added more than 1,200 apps to its Smart TV offerings.

Just as it was last year, 3-D is a major theme at CES this year, and LG also said that about 50% of its 2012 TV line would be made up of 3-D TVs. But like Vizio, and unlike many other TV rivals, LG's 3-D TVs won't use active-shutter 3-D glasses. Instead, LG's and Vizio's 3-D TVs will work with passive 3-D glasses that are more like the glasses often found in movie theaters.

Vizio

Irvine-based Vizio also showed off a newer, wider vision for home TVs. Dubbed Cinema Wide, Vizio is releasing a line of new TVs with a 21:9 aspect ratio. Nearly all TVs currently being sold have a 16:9 aspect ratio.

Vizio Cinema Wide TVSo, what'll this mean when you're actually watching TV on a Cinema Wide display? When watching a movie in a wide-screen format, no more "letterbox" black bars above and below the image.

However, if you're watching TV on a Cinema Wide set, you're almost guaranteed to see black bars running to the left and right of the screen, since most TV shows and sporting events nowadays are broadcast in a 16:9 aspect ratio.

Vizio says it will release its Cinema Wide sets (which will also be 3-D TVs) in both 50-inch and 58-inch sizes in the first six months of the year, with a 71-inch size to follow later.

The bargain-priced TV maker is also releasing a lineup of Google TV products including TVs running the Google TV software, Google TV Blu-Ray player and a set-top box called the Stream Player that will enable Google TV to run on any HD TV.  Sony HX850

Sony

In 2012, Sony's Bravia line of TVs will be divided into three series -- BX for entry-level models, EX at the mid range and HX at the top.

The high-end HX line will be made up of LED-backlit LCDs with 3-D and built-in Wi-Fi for Skype and Sony apps. The even higher-end HX850 series will also feature screens made of Coring's Gorilla Glass, which is easy to clean and scratch resistant, as well as thin and light. The HX series will be available in 46-inch and 55-inch sizes, each with a 1080p resolution.

The EX line won't have Gorilla Glass or 3-D, but these TVs will have built-in Wi-Fi and Sony apps and will be available in 40-inch, 46-inch and 55-inch sizes, each with a 1080p resolution.

The entry-level BX line from Sony will be made up of some pretty basic TVs. The BX450 series,will offer 1080p resolution in 46-inch and 40-inch sizes while the BX330 series will consist of one 31.5-inch set with a resolution of 720p, the lowest resolution that can still be classified as high definition.

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-- Nathan Olivarez-Giles on Google+

Twitter.com/nateog

Top photo: LG's press conference at CES 2012 in Las Vegas on Jan. 9. Credit: LG

Second image from top: LG's Google TV Smart TV set. Credit: LG

Third image from top: Vizio's Cinema Wide TV. Credit: Vizio

Bottom image: Sony's HX850 TV at an angle. Credit: Sony

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