January 22, 2021

CES 2021: The Hottest Smart TV Announcements

24i’s Smart TV Lead Matthijs Langendijk summarizes all the Smart TV info you might have missed at this year’s Digital CES - including important news for app developers on Google TV and ATSC3.0, and a little touch of magic from LG.

Time flies when you’re in lockdown, doesn’t it? It feels like just yesterday when we were still able to have physical contact and enjoy the amazing technology on show at CES. Now everything is digital, including CES. Luckily, that didn’t affect the announcements made this year! So let’s dive straight into the latest and greatest of TV announcements that were made at CES 2021.

Goliath versus Goliath

Yes, I am fully aware that this is supposed to say ‘David versus Goliath’. However, in the world of television there really are two Goliaths that usually dominate: Samsung and LG. With both of these technology giants teasing and releasing various new cool innovations over recent years, they are always the ones to watch during CES. So what did they come up with this year?

Image credit to LG and Samsung, taken from t3.com

Confusing MicroLED names

Both LG and Samsung revealed several televisions with the newer MicroLED technology. Especially with LG being on the forefront of OLED televisions, this is an interesting turn of events. However, it doesn’t make things easier for the average consumer. LG calls their MicroLED line-up QNED, whereas Samsung has announced their Neo QLED models which also use MicroLED technology. It’s just confusing and not really helping the customer in choosing a television. That doesn’t take away from the fact that MicroLED is really awesome TV-tech, but it would help the customer to just see that in the naming. We now have: QLED, QNED and Neo QLED. Can you tell me the difference? Add OLED to that list and it gets even more confusing.

The King of OLED

Speaking of OLED, LG still bets big on that horse as well. One of their interesting new releases is part of the LG G1 series called ‘Evo’. This is basically the next phase in OLED, where the panel is re-engineered to improve light output. According to LG

The panel has been redesigned to include an extra layer and a stronger emissive material. These optimise the structure of the panel and refining the wavelengths of light. The result is brighter, punchier picture quality, and improved clarity of content.

Sadly though, OLED has always come at quite a high price point. LG is attempting to change that with the launch of their new ‘budget’ OLED line ‘A1’. This makes OLED available at a lower price point in sizes from 48 to a whopping 77 inch. You won’t get the new ‘Evo’ panels with this budget line, but it still offers OLED to the masses and might win people over from their QLED-offering competitors. Prices are yet unknown, so we’ll have to wait for the actual release to know more.

Going Green(er)

As well as bringing customers cool TV-tech like new 8K televisions and the Neo QLED Line I mentioned earlier, Samsung has also focused on a very hot topic: The Environment. We wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for mother nature, so we better treat her right. Or so thought Samsung, as they strengthened their credentials for creating and maintaining a sustainable future. From reducing energy consumption to even creating a TV-remote that can be powered by solar or indoor lighting, there is a real focus on doing better for the environment. It’s a welcoming message which we fully endorse at 24i and Amino.

Image credit to Samsung, taken from news.samsung.com

The Best of the Rest

I always feel bad when I’m writing a heading like the above. Yes, there are two massive Goliaths going up against each other in the TV-technology department. But there are a bunch more, albeit slightly smaller, manufacturers who do an amazing job as well. It would be a shame to skip them entirely, and even the heading might not entirely do them justice. But here are their announcements, nonetheless.

Panasonic: A Gamer’s Paradise

LG is normally regarded as the go-to for gamers when they want to use a television for gaming purposes, but Panasonic really decided to take a step forward to try and win some of the gamers over to their devices. Especially with the release of their top-of-the-line JZ2000 models (available in 65 and 55 inch) which is designed especially to cater to gamers. With an extremely low latency and input lag, it tries to provide an optimal experience for both amateur as well as professional gamers. And all that on an amazing OLED panel.

TCL: A little bit of everything

You want something big? TCL has got you covered with their amazing 85 inch XL collection, allowing you create an ultimate home theatre experience. They are available in both 4K and 8K. So, whatever your budget, you might just be able to get that home theatre. But, that’s not all. TCL is also very known for offering MicroLED televisions. And with the new year, they have added a new line of MicroLED offerings to the table. Remember when I talked about confusing names? TCL calls this new line ‘OD Zero’ (for zero optical depth), which adds yet another level of confusion for customers.

Image credit to TCL, taken from tcl.com

Sony: Going all out GoogleTV

Has the demise of AndroidTV already been set into motion? Because Sony has announced that all of their 2021 televisions will feature the new GoogleTV, opting not to use AndroidTV like they have in recent years. Combine that new, clean user interface of GoogleTV with an awesome OLED screen and you can have a great viewing experience.

Skyworth: TV at the center of your home

For many homes, the television set has really become the center of our living space. We more often than not have dinner next to the television, spend most of our evening watching television and (before Covid) may even have socialized  with our friends around the television. Skyworth wants to go one step further, making it as easy as possible for you to address and control any other device in your home from the comfort of the couch. With integrated Google Assistant, it is their goal to allow you to adjust your lights and air conditioning as well as the TV itself - making the TV an even bigger aspect of your home.

ATSC3.0: NextGenTV gains momentum

CES 2021 has been a particularly good virtual conference for ATSC3.0, commonly referred to as ‘NextGenTV’. The NextGenTV standard aims to, well, standardise everything broadcast-related. From applications in HTML, CSS and JavaScript to broadcasting and ip-tv technology, it’s all included. And the good part is that an additional 20 or more model types will now support the functionality. Momentum is clearly increasing for NextGenTV and 2021 might just become the turning point for this emerging standard.

Philips, Hisense & Vizio: Notable absentees

Admittedly, for many people, Philips (or TP Vision) will not be the biggest absentee when it comes to announcements at CES. I guess because the brand is originating from my home country (The Netherlands), they still hold a warm place in my heart. But sadly I wasn’t able to include them in this blog, unlike the previous iterations I’ve written. We’ll however definitely see more from Philips/TP Vision when the year progresses. The same goes for Hisense and Vizio, who claimed not to attend CES. It is expected that they will show their models closer to their respective release dates.

For the app developers: what do I need to know?

The release of new televisions each year can require the revamping of TV applications to follow the latest standards. This happened when Android TV made its introduction to the market and when Roku made its entry. It’s now happening with Google TV. The big benefit of Google TV is, of course, that it’s based on Android TV, so I don’t expect too much fuss when more brands start to make the transition, like Sony and TCL have already done.

The Goliaths at Samsung and LG are still betting on their own, custom operating systems. Samsung’s Tizen will go through another, slightly improved iteration, but the base functionality remains the same. You can still implement the Samsung Preview bar for easy access into your application, you can still leverage the Tizen APIs and the apps remain roughly unchanged. The same applies to LG, where they are still working hard on their WebOS operating system. For 2021, LG did decide to revamp the user interface, which should provide users even better access into their apps. LG also introduced something cool onto their new TV-remotes, which I’ll get to in a minute.

In short: will you still need to create apps for multiple operating systems? I’m afraid the answer remains: yes. The TV-operating system market is getting settled nicely with a focus on the four big ones: Roku, AndroidTV/GoogleTV/FireTV, Samsung Tizen and LG WebOS. That gets you a long way, but there are other, smaller platforms out there to consider too, depending on which devices you want to reach. Judging from what we saw at CES 2021 and in previous years, that is a situation that’s unlikely to change for years to come.

A final mention worthy of noting is definitely ATSC3.0/NextGenTV. With the standard gaining more momentum in 2021, it might just mean that this is going to become the fifth big platform in the list of operating systems to support. If you want to be an early adopter, a pioneer in showing the power of this standard, 2021 is definitely the year to start adapting your application to work with NextGenTV.

Something cool to finish with

I’ll admit, this is probably something that you’ll either hate or love. LG has added some functionality to their remotes, that I didn’t know I wanted until they announced it. Have you ever felt the need to share something from your phone onto your television? Well, LG has made that super easy with their new NFC integration into their remote, called Magic Tap. All you have to do is tap your phone against your remote (please don’t do it too hard!) and the content is immediately shared from your phone onto your television!

Image credit to LG, taken from lg.com

This is a particularly interesting feature for apps like Netflix or Youtube of course. What easier way could you wish for to pick a series or movie from the handheld comfort of your phone, only to have it displaying on the TV in a matter of seconds? It’ll be very interesting to see the options that LG makes available for app developers, as this is destined to become a very user friendly feature that we’ll not be able to live without. I can’t wait to try it out!

In conclusion

For a show that was being held digitally for the first time, CES has been quite interesting. We’ve seen a lot of new televisions being presented from most of the manufacturers. But as most of these devices will only be released somewhere around the end of Q1/beginning of Q2 mark, you still have to wait a little bit before you can start playing with them. It does give app developers the opportunity to prepare their apps for the newer devices, for example by starting to work on an ATSC3.0 app, or making sure your app is ready for Google TV. All in all, it has been a great event and gives a good look into what we can expect from the upcoming year of television.

If you have any questions about televisions, or need some help in navigating your way around the television ecosystem, don’t hesitate to reach out. Always happy to help you get your apps onto the devices that your users know and love!

Matthijs Langendijk, SmartTV Lead at 24i 

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