Beauty and Brains
The latest generation of HDTVs combines interactive ‘smart’ features with drop-dead gorgeous picture quality.
Last year, TV makers tried to boost sales by adding another dimension to your viewing experience. 3D didn’t take off as they had hoped, but it’s here to stay as the industry searches for the Next Big Thing. This year, “smart TV” is the industry buzzword, with models featuring more user interactivity, greater connectivity to the Internet and larger, clearer screens. The field is crowded with smart TVs, but the following three stand out from the pack:
I think Sharp’s new monster 80-inch LED Smart 3D TV is the king of the 2012 HDTV lineup. Its massive size makes this behemoth more than just a television—it’s almost a window into another world. It has the high-end smart TV features you expect, including 3D, Wi-Fi and apps. But let’s be honest: The selling point is its gargantuan screen, with more than twice the viewing area of a 55-inch TV.
Sharp’s largest HDTV features Quattron technology, with a fourth yellow-colored sub-pixel category that Sharp says gives it a greater range of displayable colors. The picture on this set is so clear, so, ah, sharp and big that you’ll think for a brief moment that you’re experiencing a virtual reality. For those who want a true theater-style experience in their living room—and who can fit this leviathan screen in their home—the Sharp Aquos LC-80LE844U can be yours for $5,999.99.
Samsung’s 8000 LED series takes a cue from Microsoft’s Xbox Kinect and lets you control your big-screen by waving your hands. It also uses facial recognition to launch a customized “Smart Hub,” with apps like Netflix, Facebook, and even Skype video chat. And the remote includes a microphone that lets you navigate menus and launch apps with your voice.
Initial impressions have found the new voice and gesture features gimmicky and not always reliable. But Samsung’s latest premium lineup offers a glimpse of what likely will be standard features in all future HDTVs.
Starting next year, a Samsung 8000 LED series owner can keep up with the TV maker’s upgrades in performance and functionality by using a plug-in kit. The Smart Evolution Kit (price to be determined) will improve a set’s processing power much like adding RAM to a computer. The Samsung LED 8000 series is available in sizes of 46 inches ($2,999.99), 55 inches ($3,749.99), and 60 inches ($4,399.99).
For those who need the latest and greatest in display, I recommend the first-ever 55-inch OLED 3D TV from Samsung. OLED display technology can already be found on some smartphones, but Samsung’s new HDTV will be the first panel of its size.
Traditional LCD screens rely on backlights to illuminate the screen, but with OLED, each individual pixel emits its own light, leading to far superior picture quality, with brighter, more vibrant colors, darker blacks, and lower power consumption. Unfortunately, being an early adopter has its costs. The new set reportedly will cost an estimated $9,000 when it hits the U.S. market sometime this year.