It was great to be back at CES, in-person, and it felt like the traditional spectacle we’ve all come to appreciate. The usual array of crazy inventive CES gadgets did not disappoint, though overall product announcements did feel a bit more muted than in the past. In fact, many product announcements focused on refining existing technologies and leveraging software improvements, as companies understandably focus resources on managing supply chains and other urgent needs versus research and development.
The new Las Vegas Convention Center West Hall displayed automotive and mobility products, a personal favorite. I found the innovation and crossover of advanced technology into both commercial and consumer vehicles remarkably interesting. CES has become one of the biggest auto shows, but I also saw plenty of other craft including boats and industrial vehicles. Sustainability efforts were on display throughout the show with many companies showcasing initiatives towards the front of their booths. The John Deere booth was one of my favorites of the show, featuring innovative technology that will allow farmers to reduce the use of herbicides and fertilizer, saving both money and the environment.
The new home automation standard, Matter, was another area of focus. Although the number of products available today is small and mostly focused on lighting products, a substantial number of product announcements promise growing implementation in 2023. Hub products with Matter support will also help connect legacy products with newer devices that support the standard. I found it interesting to see the number of lighting-related products promising to synchronize lighting effects to on-screen or audio content and could not help but smile remembering the early days of Philips’ Ambilight technology in their TV lineups from a decade ago (still available now!).
There was a mixed bag of product announcements from TV brands this year. While some announced full new lineups, others did not bring any TVs to the show. Most of the focus was on advancing the state-of-the-art display technologies, especially around OLED and mini-LED. But there were some potentially game changing shifts in the landscape that could reverberate throughout 2023 and beyond. Highlights below.
Smart TV platform battles heating up
One of the worst-kept secrets of the last few months was that Roku was looking to enter the TV market with their own first party TV hardware, but the timing and details were limited, and still are. Roku announced two series of TV sets, the Select and Plus series, with the latter using a more advanced remote. The lineup will be available in a range of sizes up to 75-inches and expected to be priced up to around $1,000, but clearly aimed at mainstream price points. Roku already partners with several TV brands and helps develop the platform that these brands use, which has a standard implementation for all companies using the Roku TV OS. Now, Roku will be sold alongside these partners, with some potential conflict though Roku stresses they are not trying to cannibalize sales, and instead are focused on improving the experience and complementing existing brands. For me, it will be extremely interesting to see how the introduction causes knock-on changes to distribution and brand strategies in 2023 and beyond.
Amazon launched their own brand of TV sets in 2021 and continues today alongside partner sets. Samsung, LG, and Vizio also sell sets with their own smart TV OS, which enables them to gather viewer data and sell advertising, proving much more valuable than the profit margins on the TV hardware itself. Sharp also announced that they were re-entering the U.S. TV market with a lineup of Roku TVs after years of absence. At first, distribution will be focused on smaller regional retailers in the U.S.
The final smart TV OS related announcement for the show has more to do with Europe than the U.S. but involves a U.S. company. Xperi merged with TiVo in 2019 and the company licenses many different technologies, including DTS which it acquired in 2016. Xperi developed and launched the TiVo OS smart TV platform a few years ago, including on a streaming media player called the TiVo Stream 4K, and announced at CES that they had signed an agreement with Vestel to adopt the TiVo OS in smart TVs. Vestel is one of the world’s largest OEMs for TVs and manufactures dozens of TVs for various brands, mostly in Europe. However, it is a strong sign that brands are looking for more options in the smart TV OS space.
Over the next five to ten years, the impact of platform companies on the TV market cannot be underestimated. Profitability has never been great on TV hardware, and it is worse now than it was a decade ago. But a review of Vizio’s earnings soon after going public demonstrated how much the value equation has shifted from the hardware to the platform. Growing the base of users will be a huge initiative for all players in the TV space for selling services, advertising, subscriptions, and more. New companies may yet jump into the fray, especially on the service provider side of the market.
The battle of the smart TV platform companies is heating up!
OLED, QD-OLED, QLED, Mini-LED, UST …
The plethora of display technology acronyms continues in 2023, with ongoing refinement and improvement. The focus this year is around improving brightness for OLED and increasing the number of dimming zones for mini-LED to narrow the performance gaps for each technology. The high-end premium TV market is incredibly competitive!
Samsung’s second generation of QD-OLED, introduced in a new 77-inch size as part of the 2023 S95C lineup was a crucial step forward into the larger size categories where super-premium shoppers are buying. Samsung Display, who manufactures the QD-OLED displays, is claiming 2,000 nits of peak brightness, which is comparable to some high-end mini-LED LCD panels and a major progression from OLEDs of just two to three years ago. There will also be a new tier of QD-OLED models from Samsung, the S90C, which will be positioned below the S95C, and includes the same 55-inch and 65-inch sizes from 2022, as well as the new 77-inch size. Samsung’s QLED lineup, including the neo QLED series with mini-LED backlights, will continue but details were not available. 8K was still a big focus at Samsung, with the neo QLED 8K models at the pinnacle of Samsung’s consumer lineup, but 8K was notably quieter at the other TV brands’ booths.
TCL and Hisense are still focused on quantum dot LED LCD TVs (QLEDs) with mini-LED backlights that offer excellent brightness, and now finer local dimming control (via more dimming zones) for improved contrast. Both Chinese TV makers showed more of a full new lineup of TVs for 2023, compared to their Korean and Japanese counterparts.
TCL shared booth space with their sister panel making company, CSOT, who demonstrated some advanced new display technologies, including a pair of inkjet-printed OLED TVs and completely thin mini-LED backlit LCD. TCL also reset their lineup nomenclature into S and Q series, across six product lineups. The four Q series LCD TV models all offer quantum dot technology (QLED) and by trickling down more premium technologies like Dolby Vision and higher refresh rates into lower series, TCL looks to target more sales mix in mid-range and premium price points. TCL is also updating their 98-inch model launched last year with mini-LED backlight and the new expanded range of dimming zones as part of the QM8 series.
Hisense announced a range of models across their ULED mini-LED product lines, but unlike TCL, they are focusing on ultra-short-throw (UST) projection Laser TV to transition into a full range of products spanning display sizes from 24-inch
to more than 100-inch. Hisense even demonstrated the first 8K Laser TV. The entry point into the ULED series, the U6, even gets mini-LEDs this year, but not nearly at the peak brightness capabilities of the higher tiers and is a 60Hz model. Stepping up in the ULED lineup gets 120Hz refresh and brighter LEDs with more dimming zones.
LG showcased a new lineup of OLED TVs with improved panel technology on the G3 series that will boost brightness. They also highlighted a new wireless OLED TV that uses a separate Zero Connect box for all the I/O and can wirelessly beam a 4K 120Hz signal to the TV within 30 feet, but it should be noted that there is still a power cord that needs connecting on the display itself. Finally, LG demonstrated a transparent OLED concept, that has already seen adoption in commercial applications, but an improvement in the transparency of the panel might make it more appealing in a home environment. Lifestyle TV form factors have been growing in diversity and adoption as brands try to make the TV less of an eyesore while not being used.
Where did all the TVs go?
TVs were notably absent this year from some booths. LG’s booth, which was OLED heavy, did not talk much about the rest of the LCD TV lineup. And the Sony booth, which highlighted a new electric car announcement in partnership with Honda, and the PlayStation VR2 headset. Aside from some TV models at a private Samsung event, Samsung’s main CES booth was primarily focused on the connected home and displaying all the use cases for the SmartThings platform. That said, it was great to see the attention paid to how an optimized smart home can save money by reducing energy usage and waste.
In the last three years, we have noticed that TV brands are transitioning fewer new models. Of TVs sold in 2019, 86% were either 2018 or 2019 models, so introduced in the current or previous year. In 2021, that dropped to 73%, and in 2022 (through November) it is just 54%. TV brands are focusing more on refreshing their mid and/or high-end models both to manage rising supply chain costs, but also to prioritize resources on managing challenging supply chains. As the TV brands manage a transition through a soft demand market, now is a good time to invest energy and resources into preparing new and innovative models for the inevitable upgrade cycle demand bump coming in a few years.