These days, it’s rare for a TV to be used for nothing other than watching TV. From online TV boxes to streaming apps, the TV set is already home to a diverse range of entertainment platforms – and it's barely getting started.
All the latest trends in TV sets were on display at this year’s IFA consumer electronics trade fair in Berlin. While the sales figures for televisions, satellite receivers and TV boxes are falling, the range of digital channels is growing. And the technology of the sets coming on the market has improved enormously.
Even better quality – even for old content
Manufacturers have been saying it for years, but the picture is actually getting better and better on modern televisions. According to Sebastian Kloess, consultant for consumer electronics at the IT association Bitkom, picture improvement is currently one of the most important topics in the industry.
The displays now show deep black night skies, bright and clear colours and great contrasts. Manufacturers are using machine learning to make these improvements. "The device knows what signals I get and how I can use them optimally," explains Kloess.
That means that modern 4K screens can display good-quality image material even if it actually has a lower resolution or was not filmed with extended colour and contrast space, so called high-dynamic resolution (HDR).
4K is the present, 8K is the future
While 4K televisions have only just established themselves, 8K sets are already on the way. 4K stands for a resolution of 8 megapixels (3840 to 2160 pixels) and 8K is 33.2 megapixels.
The first – still very expensive – devices were released last year, and there will be more this year. "For most people, 8K won't be interesting until a little later," says Kloess.
Up to now there hasn’t been much material in this higher resolution. And while the screens can get bigger, the rooms in which they are located can’t. Therefore, for a pixel-free image, more pixels have to be placed on the displays.
Samsung has unveiled the first examples of its use of artificial intelligence on TVs, which extrapolates any video image to amazingly detailed 8K videos. The system relies a dataset with countless images to create a high-resolution TV image from the original data in real time.
The first 8K broadcasts are expected to be of the Olympic Games in Tokyo in 2020, with further content sure to follow. Nobody really knows quite yet when 8K will become the norm on TV.
Is that a picture frame or a TV?
Televisions can already double as a picture frame or a sculpture, and the trend for TV sets that actually don’t look like TV sets is continuing.
The latest example is the transparent display, with Panasonic unveiling a TV set with a see-through OLED display where the necessary hardware is concealed in a wooden frame.
However, it’s not year clear when the device will be available or how much it will cost. These kind of designer devices are, of course, aimed at those willing to spend four-digit dollar sums – in other words, not the average buyer.
40 channels? No, 40 providers
TV stations, Netflix, Prime, Disney+, Apple TV: The list of possible sources for TV shows is getting longer and longer.
And while fewer and fewer satellite receivers, Blu-ray players or TV set-top boxes are being sold, the number of streaming sites is growing.
With Disney and Warner, two new heavyweights are about to offer their own content, while Apple is also constantly upgrading its film and series offerings.
Streaming buttons and smart software
Streaming services are also being included on remote controls. Whereas there used to just be a Netflix button, there are now models with three or more buttons for streaming providers.
And the software is also changing to help customers keep track of all the channels. Samsung's TV software, for example, treats each individual source in the same way as it used to treat a TV channel.
When you turn on the TV, you end up with the last programme you watched – regardless of whether it was a TV channel, a console, a TV box or a streaming service.
Amazon's streaming portal Fire TV – available on boxes, sticks and recently also on soundbars and TVs – searches all the available apps and streaming services for the desired content, and not just from Amazon. Samsung's Smart Hub offers a similar service.
And, of course, there’s also voice control via digital assistants. The Fire TV Edition from Amazon, unveiled on sets from brands like Grundig, can be controlled almost completely by the Alexa language assistant.
Gaming on the TV
The TV set has long been a popular alternative to games consoles for showing video games. By 2020, it may become even more important for gamers, due to Cloud Gaming and specifically Google Stadia.
With this service, you only stream the video image of a game, the computing work is done by powerful computers in large data centres. All you need is Google's Chromecast Ultra streaming stick and a controller – some games cost extra.
However, slow Internet connections might still be a hurdle, as Google requires between 10 and 25 megabits per second (Mbit/s) for stable gameplay. – dpa