CES was more than just a Grand Canyon filled with eye candy—the sci-fi-beautiful TVs we saw are real, and you're gonna want them. But OLED? 8k? Crystal Display? What's all this mean? We'll explain the pretty new things.
It's worth keeping in mind that many of the super extreme ultra HDTVs on the horizon were only in prototype form when we cast our lusty gaze upon them. But they're still on the horizon. We might not know all of the nitty gritty (price? what price?) on things that are years and years away, but there's nothing stopping us from getting our hearts racing over the underlying awesomeness of new tv tech. So close your eyes, open your hearts, and let the pixels flow to your soul.
Of all the new hype nouns, you've probably heard the most about OLED. And for good reason: you'll actually be able to own one this year. That, and the fact that they look absolutely stunning. Like, I actually paused and possibly held my mouth open a little bit whenever I saw them last week. As did most of us, ergo an OLED snatching our Best TV of CES prize.
But what makes OLED so great? It creates its own light. OLED stands for Organic Light Emitting Diode—and it's that first word that makes all the difference. Unlike an LCD display, which requires a source of light so that you can see what's happening on the screen, an OLED TV uses a layer or organic materials that light up on their own when electricity is applied—no external source needed. Think of it as a firefly, or one of those terrifying glow fish that live at the ocean's floor. Only in your TV! More technically speaking, it's the same principle that makes your digital watch or bedside alarm clock light up.
So what do you get when every single pixel on a TV creates its own light? Super-accurate, super-bright colours that aren't washed out or darkened by a backlight. Super-deep blacks—again, no backlight means actual darkness. Viewing angle also ceases to be an issue, as does girth, as OLED panels are thinner than a pen.
The downside, as you might have guessed, is cost. As with any gorgeous new technology, it will not arrive without gently reaming your wallet. Samsung and LG, the two OLED frontrunners at the moment, haven't uttered a peep about how much their respective 55-inch sets will cost this year. Which means they'll be a lot. How much is a lot? We aren't sure yet. But Samsung's current top of the line 55-inch LCD TV runs at about £4,000. Expect a significant bump.
Sony, too cool for school per usual, didn't attend this year's OLED prom. Instead, it trotted out its own hot invention: crystal display. It sure sounds fancy! But what is it?
The LCD TV in your living room works by creating pixels out of individual transistors, and all of the pixels together are lit up by an array of backlights. The TV is illuminated like a lantern—without the backlight, the pixels are dark. A decent LCD TV of our modern age uses a colourless LED backlight to illuminate the screen from behind. Got it? Good.
But, say, don't LEDs come in colours? My Christmas tree says yes! So what Sony's done is to stop separating pixels and lights entirely. The company snapped its fingers and proclaimed, Screw pixels lit up by LEDs—let's use LEDs as pixels. That means every red, green, and blue dot on a Crystal Display is actually a tiny LED—an entire screen built of backlights, if you want to think of it that way. Six million of them. Think of Crystal Display as a giant, beautiful Lite-Brite.
With each pixel creating its own light—much like an OLED screen—you experience a lot of the same benefits mentioned above. Colours are significantly brighter and more clear, colour contrast and black levels are terrific, and viewing angle is as good as you'd ever want it to be (unless you prefer to watch your TV from behind?).
Crystal Display has its downsides too; mostly that it's still experimental at this point. Without any OLED talk, it's fair to assume Sony is going to run with CD as its next-gen TV tech, but they've said nothing about when we can expect to see one of these things on a shelf, and for how much. Sometime within the next year or so is realistic, if Sony wants to keep early adopters from defecting to OLED. Either way, this will be a rich man's set for some time. Sorry. Make friends with rich people!
4k just sounds pretty cool, right? 4k. Luckily it also means something nice. But unlike OLED and Crystal, 4k isn't a new screen technology. Rather, it's a new HD format—bigger, bolder, better.
How much bigger? 4k gets its name by rounding up a (typically) 3,840 x 2,560 resolution to 4000. That's roughly the equivalent of four 1080p TVs smushed together. And that's... a lot of HD.
Now, why does this matter? Right now, it doesn't much. There's nothing to watch in 4k resolution, and the benefits at this point are only really noticeable when it comes to viewing distance. Basically, if you're closer up to your 4k TV watching a 4k movie (in the year 4k?), you won't notice individual pixels as much. Sharper picture, smoother image.
This is a significant change, arguably more so even than OLED or Crystal Display. A move from 1080p to 4k means TV channels, video games, and movies all upgrading as well. Nothing currently on the market can take advantage of 4k—no disc can fill a vessel that large with pretty pixels. But remember, this is exactly what happened during the shift from standard def to HD, and between 720p and 1080p. It's a change that takes time and money, sure, but it's an inevitable one. 1080p's days are numbered.
Ditto everything for 4k, only with some multiplication thrown in. Contemplate a 7,680 × 4,320 display—that's 33 million pixels, or 16 1080p TVs smushed together. That's A LOT OF PIXELS. But this is about more than the damn pixels—an 8k image creates a visual tipping point, presenting an image more resplendently sharp and astoundingly realistic than anything you've ever laid eyes on. Those 33 million pixels create an image so super-realistic that it pulls you in more than any 3D screen has so far. And viewing distance? Hah! Sit with this thing pressed up against your nose and you'll still see detail.
But remember that multiplication rub? That'll go for 8k's timeline and pricing too. It'll be at least as far off from 4k ubiquity as 4k ubiquity is from us now. We're talking at least half a decade, and probably more.
But the important thing is that this sci-fi stuff here? It's real. It's coming. It's easily the most beautiful digital image ever created for your personal life. And that is sure as hell worth the wait.