Every January, the world gets a look into the latest tech trends at CES, where companies from around the world showcase their most audacious, exciting and groundbreaking products. In the world of TV and home entertainment, this year Samsung, Sony, LG and other manufacturers debuted everything from new TV models, to new features, and even new product categories. The companies want us to believe that their products are blazing a new trail for the latest trends, yet every year, many of these so-called “trends” fail to take hold. I’m looking at you, 3D TVs.
So what are the biggest TV and home entertainment trends this year and will they actually stick? Are they for real or just a gimmick?
Claim: QD-OLED TVs are going to blow both OLED and QLED TVs out of the water
It’s not every day that we see a new TV display technology, but that’s exactly what happened this year. OLED TVs, which debuted in 2008, have long been considered the best in picture quality. They offer excellent contrast and deep blacks, but don’t get as bright as traditional LCD screens. QLED technology adds a layer of quantum dots to a traditional LCD screen, which helps to boost the color and brightness of the image
Samsung’s QD-OLED combines both technologies by putting quantum dots in an OLED display. Theoretically, this should result in a TV that has the deep blacks and high contrast that traditional OLEDs are known for, along with higher brightness and better color in bright areas — attributes that have long been a selling point of QLED. Samsung is hoping it’s created a TV that will offer the best picture quality on the market, beating current OLED TVs from LG.
The verdict: OVERREACTION. Look, QD-OLED certainly sounds promising, but there’s no way of knowing just how good it is until we test it. Both Sony and Samsung plan on releasing QD-OLED TVs at some point this year, though we don’t know when. It remains to be seen how much of a leap in picture quality this new tech will offer. There are plenty of TVs on the market that currently do an excellent job with both color and contrast. Considering this latest tech will almost certainly come with a premium price tag, It will take a fairly noticeable improvement in picture quality for me to recommend a QD-OLED over more-affordable OLEDs like the LG C2. QD-OLEDs may be a part of the future, but they won’t be a big part of 2022.
Claim: This is the year portable projectors go mainstream
Portable projectors have been around for a while, but they haven’t caught on as a practical way to watch movies and shows on the go. Compared to standard projectors, they tend to be dim and they often lack HD and 4K capabilities. They also sometimes come without the battery required to make them truly portable.
Samsung’s version is called The Freestyle, a cute portable HD projector that weighs less than 2 pounds, comes with a 180-degree cradle stand and can project content from 30 to 100 inches in size onto walls, screens or anywhere else. It comes with auto-focus and auto-leveling capabilities to automatically align its image to any surface. It can play music and includes 360-degree sound. On top of that, it features Samsung’s smart platform for streaming Netflix and other content. It has fun accessories that allow it to project cool patterns on different surfaces, and if Samsung’s promotional material is any indication, kids will want to bring it with them wherever they go.
Verdict: OVERREACTION. The Samsung Freestyle sure looks cool, but it comes with many of the compromises that sidelined its peers. The biggest problem is the Freestyle’s overall lack of portability. Sure, it’s small, but it still needs to plug into an outlet for power. Samsung will sell some accessories to try to alleviate this problem, but that means spending more money in addition to the $900 asking price. (For reference, our favorite portable projectors typically cost around $600.)
But even the accessories Samsung plans on selling might not help too much with portability. Samsung’s USB-C battery base doesn’t yet have information about cost or the length of the battery, and to make matters worse, the separate waterproof case doesn’t appear to have space for the projector and the battery stand. Though I’ve yet to try it in person, all of this makes it difficult for me to believe the Freestyle is prepared to succeed in most outdoor environments.
The Freestyle may be a strong step in the right direction for portable projectors, but its price and lack of features most likely mean that it lacks the juice to push the category into the mainstream.
Claim: Game modes offer gamers the best playing experience on a TV
TV manufacturers love gamers. The introduction of the PlayStation 5 and XBox Series X helped reignite console gaming and TV manufacturers have been catering their wares to the gamers in the family. This has resulted in new and increasingly robust gaming modes on their sets. Features now range from low input lag to high refresh rate, to split-screen YouTube video, to optimization for individual gaming genres. Game modes have been on TVs for a while, but they’ve only recently become robust enough to entice even the most discerning console gamers.
Verdict: NOT AN OVERREACTION. Game modes are great and just keep getting better. Last year, LG set a high bar for game modes on its C1 and G1 OLED TV models. They offer 4K gaming up to 120 fps, along with a variable refresh rate, an automatic low-latency mode and an enhanced audio return channel. You can easily change settings in-game and toggle between Nvidia G-Sync and AMD Freesync.
Samsung redesigned its game mode this year, creating a hub that plops all game-related content into one easy-to-use place. This includes game mode settings along with access to cloud gaming and consoles. You also have the ability to split-screen YouTube videos and games at the same time. That could be helpful for people like me, who need gaming tutorials in order to make progress.
Whether you’re a casual gamer or someone who takes console gaming seriously, this is the real thing. Game modes on TVs have become some of the best and easiest ways to play video games in your living room.
Claim: Small screen OLED TVs will take over bedrooms and other secondary spaces
While OLEDs are the current TV gold standard, not everyone can find one in their size and budget. Traditionally, manufacturers have focused on producing living room-sized OLED displays that come with an equally hefty price tag.
This year, LG introduced a much smaller version of its signature OLED screen. The 42-inch C2 Series TV is the smallest OLED on the market and is the perfect size for bedrooms, offices and other secondary spaces. I think it’s fair to say that many people, myself included, use smaller TVs just as much as their larger counterparts — especially for gaming. I use a small TV in my bedroom to game at night and I’d love it if that TV offered the same features and technology as my large living room set. If my experience is any indication, there could be a robust market for small screen OLEDs.
Verdict: OVERREACTION. Sure, I’m lusting after this small-screen LG, but I don’t think I could ever afford one. We don’t know how much it will cost yet, but it won’t be cheap. The 48-inch LG C1 model is still over $1,200 and, though a 42-inch version might be less, it won’t be significantly less. Most people don’t have that much money to spend on their primary TV, let alone a secondary set. I’m sure there are plenty of people who can afford to splurge on a small OLED TV and it looks like this new LG certainly has a lot to offer. But the price of these TVs will have to come down significantly in order to facilitate an OLED bedroom takeover.
Claim: This is the year that video chatting on your TV will take off
Working from home is now a mainstay in modern life, which means that video chat is more useful and necessary than ever before. TV manufacturers are hoping their products can be the center of both work and play. Amazon’s first generation of Amazon-branded TVs, the Fire TV Omni series, includes support for Zoom, as does the Fire TV Cube. Both require you install a compatible webcam onto your TV, but the process should be fairly straightforward. Meanwhile some Google TVs and newer Samsung models work with optional webcams for video chat via Google Duo, and at CES Sony introduced a Bravia Cam that comes bundled with its highest-end models.
We’ve been using video chat programs on screens of all shapes and sizes for years now, but haven’t yet made the perhaps obvious transition to chatting on the largest screen in our house. There are lots of ways to watch movies remotely with friends and family, but they center on computers and tablets, not TVs. Zoom and Google Duo on big screens should pave the way for other TV manufacturers to get serious about video chatting on the television.
Verdict: OVERREACTION. Smaller screens are better for video chatting because they’re easy to adjust and physically closer to our faces. I don’t want the person I’m chatting with to see my whole body. I want them to see my face and that’s it. People sit farther away from televisions sets, which means cameras would see more of the room and the people in it. This seems like a recipe for some awkward interactions: “Yes, that is my cat scratching the couch. No, I am not wearing ‘real pants,’ these are pajamas.”
Video chat works best when the participants can focus on each others’ faces without the distraction of their surroundings. Cameras on relatively distant TV sets bring in too much of the outside world. Perhaps TV manufacturers realize this and that’s why we haven’t seen many webcam-ready sets. I doubt this is a trend that’ll take off this year, or ever. Not until TV makers can figure out a way to better, uh, zoom in on our faces, at least.
We’ll have to wait and see if any of these trends hold more water than I predicted, or if another new piece of TV hardware or software tech comes along to make them all seem even less relevant. The first new TVs of 2022 will start hitting shelves in spring, with reviews at CNET soon to follow, so we might not have long to wait.