January 12, 2023

Smart TV news from CES 2023: Roku, wireless TVs and more

It’s that time of year again! The dust is starting to settle on CES 2023, so here’s our annual round-up of some of the big television announcements we’ve seen. As usual, we’re turning to 24i’s Smart TV guru, Matthijs Langendijk for his expert insight into what’s new in the world of SmartTV, which innovations we can expect to enjoy in our homes sometime soon, and what was the biggest standout from CES 2023 for the field of video streaming.

Roku enters the TV market in its own right

Arguably the biggest announcement in terms of impact on the market has to be Roku’s plan to launch its own range of TVs.  Until now, they have relied on their own streaming sticks and third-party televisions that rock Roku’s OS but are made by brands like TCL, Hisense, and Sharp. With this announcement at CES, Roku is joining the likes of Samsung and LG; taking full control over both the physical TVs and the OS running on them.

As Roku isn’t available in every country yet, they do have some catching up to do in order to fully compete with Samsung and LG. But they are already a strong competitor in the United States and with end-to-end control of the TV now in place, I don’t think it will be long before Roku is one of the top contenders in many more countries - even those where they don’t currently have a presence.

Wireless TV is all the rage

Not just one, but two companies announced wireless (or what I like to call “wireless-adjacent” - bear with me and I’ll explain the difference) televisions. Let’s start with a new name in the field - startup DisplaceTV has demoed its truly wireless television. This TV doesn’t have any wires at all, and also doesn’t come with any big boxes required (like Samsung’s ‘The Frame’) for the operating system. You just stick it on the wall, and they claim it’ll last for up to a month on an average of 6 hours of daily usage. You get 4 batteries included with your purchase and when they run out you charge them up in a separate dock. The TV does run its own operating system, which means the number of apps on it might be limited at the start.

Image credit: DisplaceTV

Second, we have that “wireless-adjacent” approach from LG. Their new ‘Signature OLED-M’ model comes with a standalone box for the operating system that, contrary to Samsung’s ‘The Frame’, doesn’t require any cables to be connected to the TV for functionality or connectivity. It’s all wireless and can be placed anywhere in the room. But the reason I’m calling it wireless-adjacent is the power cable for the screen. While the DisplaceTV runs on batteries, you’ll still need to plug in a power cable for LG’s television to work.

Small Smart TV improvements, no big changes

For many years now, I’ve written about the bigger changes at CES. The introduction of 4K and later 8K, rollable screens, HDR, QD-OLED etc. have all been highlighted or introduced at CES over the years. This year, however, there honestly isn’t much significantly new to write about — at least nothing I feel that’s really game-changing technology-wise. So here are some of the smaller changes and improvements:

  • Samsung introduced several new Micro-LED, QLED, and OLED models (seemingly dropping the QD-OLED moniker, albeit for TVs that still use the technology). Similar to other brands we’ve seen these past months, it has added support for the global Matter standard to connect your smart home to your TV. If you haven’t heard of Matter before, it enables you to configure Smart Home settings so that, for example, your lights dim and your curtains close automatically if you start watching a movie in certain apps. 
  • LG has refreshed its models with many improvements, all destined to enhance the viewing experience in some way, shape, or form. They have also updated their WebOS operating system with a new home screen (only available on new models), for better and easier access to apps and user profiles.
  • Hisense showcased their brightest-ever mini-LED QLED TV (named ULED X), with a peak brightness of 2500 nits. As ever, Hisense continues to use its own VIDAA OS, next to models with Google TV, competing directly with the likes of LG, Samsung, and now Roku.
  • TCL announced and subsequently retracted its plans to release its first QD-OLED televisions, next to refreshing its lineup of mini-LED and QLED models.
  • Panasonic updated its televisions with its new MZ200 series, consisting of improvements to its OLED panels; as well as adding exciting new features for games under the name of ‘True Game Mode’.
  • Skyworth displayed refreshed OLED, Mini-LED, and QLED models. It also demoed its custom Coolita OS SmartTV operating system, further contributing to the fragmented TV market.
  • Xperi says it plans to launch TVs powered by the TiVo operating system, with Vestel being one of the brands launching televisions somewhere this spring.
  • Foxxum revealed five inaugural partners sporting their newly introduced Foxxum OS 4, including the likes of JVC and Sharp.

Some brands (namely Sony and Philips/TPVision) were notably absent at CES2023, likely favoring an event of their own somewhere later in the year.

FAST channels, and… lights?

While most of the announcements at CES are about hardware, we’ve also seen some cool software introductions and announcements being made.

Samsung announced they now offer over 1800 FAST channels globally through their Samsung TV Plus offering. That’s quite the range of channels, which does open up the question of whether FAST should be about quality rather than just quantity.

Another announcement, funnily enough also from Samsung, is the addition of an app that allows end-users to connect their TV to Philips Hue lights. These lights then change color based on the video that is shown on-screen - regardless of the app you’re using to watch it. This technology is, at the time of writing, only available for specific Samsung models introduced in 2022, but that might change in the future.

Image credit: Signify

Speaking of lights, if you are interested in a different approach to getting smart lights to change color based on the picture on your TV, Nanoleaf introduced a new RGB light strip that syncs to the TV with a small camera that you put in front of the screen. As it doesn’t require an app on the TV, this can work with any brand and model you’d like. It will be curious to see what works better though, an app deeply integrated into the TV, or an external camera trying to grab the colors from the screen.

Both these launches and the Samsung announcement I mentioned earlier show the appetite for further integration of SmartTV with other IoT devices. Given that the Matter standard is gaining traction, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see more of these integrations reaching the market in the coming year. We’ll then see how attractive they are to consumers.

Impact for Smart TV developers

As always, CES is a good indicator of what’s going to change for developers that work with Smart TVs. It is, however, a repeat of last year — life is not going to be easy. If anything, developing for SmartTV is becoming increasingly difficult. The main reason continues to be the fragmented OS market. Let me just demonstrate with a list of different operating systems we’ve seen at CES 2023:

  • Tizen
  • WebOS
  • AndroidTV
  • GoogleTV
  • Roku OS
  • VIDAA OS
  • Coolita OS
  • TiVo OS
  • Foxxum OS 4
  • DisplaceTV’s custom OS (unknown)

The list goes on and on. It’s not easy for Smart TV developers, and it seems that things have become even harder with the announcements made at CES 2023. Yes, most of these platforms are web-based, which is definitely a great benefit. However, you’ll still need physical examples of all of these devices with different operating systems to test on — you can never be sure if everything works as expected without proper testing. The world of Smart TVs remains ever so fragmented.

Conclusion

I’ll have to admit, for me, CES 2023 has been rather boring if we specifically look at hardware changes and improvements. There are no real big advances that will leave a lasting impact on the market, rather just iterations of already existing technology. The only real points for revolution I can give are to the wireless TVs from the likes of DisplaceTV and LG.

What definitely is interesting is the software on these TVs. Besides Roku launching its own TV lineup, the fact that we’ve gained another operating system or two means these continue to be interesting times for Smart TV app developers. It doesn’t look like there’s any consolidation going to happen any time soon, meaning we’ll continue to see big Smart TV testing labs with many different brands and operating systems. The dream of ‘one app supports all’ continues to be a long way off for Smart TV developers.

By Matthijs Langendijk, App Tech Strategy Lead at 24i

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