At CES, TV manufacturers show new models despite soft market for HD sets

Once again at this year’s Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, high-definition television sets are everywhere. There is a widening variety of Internet-connected HD sets, more new 3D sets and sets with brighter, bigger screens.

Whether there will be buyers for these new models is the big question. Last year, the answer was no and prices continue to fall. Retailers and manufacturers are in trouble. But set makers keep trying, this year introducing new voice- and motion-controlled interfaces (some mimicking Apple’s popular app display architecture) and social media links to attract new buyers.

After losing money on the first Google TV, Google has recruited LG Electronics, Samsung Electronics, Sony and Vizio to try again. Each will try to interest customers in second-generation Google TV control of the home TV set through both outboard devices and the television sets themselves. Logitech, who lost more than $100 million on the first Google TV effort, said “no thanks” this time around.

Google 2.0, the new version, is supposed to be more user friendly. And there are now more than 150 apps built specifically for Google TV with “thousands more Android apps from the mobile world available to deepen your living room TV experience,” a Google executive said.

Two chipmakers, Marvell and MediaTek of Taiwan, are developing processors for the Google TV platform after Intel, an original Google TV partner, dropped out.

It’s Sony that stayed with Google, picking up the Google TV 2.0 banner at the CES show. Sony’s GS7 comes complete with the same touch pad-equipped, motion sensitive remote the Blu-ray player has, and provides access to all the same Google TV apps. In addition, it has a picture-in-picture mode that allows users to surf the web while watching TV.

LG’s Google TVs will work with its “Magic Remote,” which adds a host of new ways to cruise around movies and shows: voice recognition, gesture control, a spin wheel and buttons. Some at CES think LG is offering too much control.

Samsung’s inTouch technology brings “apps” like Skype and a browser to its TV sets. The company is using Android 2.3, with Wi-Fi, HDMI and a three-megapixel camera to enable apps like Skype, YouTube and a web browser in the set. Controlled by a QWERTY remote, it will priced for $199 when available in March.

On the image quality front, both LG and Samsung introduced 55-inch 3D OLED sets with very thin displays. LG’s OLED is 0.19 inch thick, while Samsung’s 0.3 inch. Pricing and availability were not available. Sony has apparently moved on from OLED technology, choosing to highlight its new 55-inch Crystal LED prototype.

Sony’s display relies on “ultrafine” LEDs mounted to each RGB color, equivalent to the number of pixels, which are all affixed directly to the front of the display. Sony claims 3.5 times contrast, 1.4 times the color gamut and 10 times faster response time than LCDs.

LG covered all the bases, including introducing an 84-inch monster HDTV as well as an ultra-definition 4K display, which packed four times the pixels as a 1080p set. Sharp introduced its first 80-inch Quattron 3DTV and Toshiba showed a 55-inch 3DTV with 4K resolution requiring no glasses. Toshiba’s set, however, is priced over $10,000.

Nuance’s Dragon TV offers voice recognition platform for connected televisions. The speech recognition company launched a new platform that focuses on bringing its technology to Internet TVs. It can be used to build customized voice and touch apps that run on televisions, set-top boxes, phones and tablets.

The technology will allow the viewer to use their voice to conduct searches, send messages and access other features, and mobile devices can be used to act as a remote to control the TV. Nuance’s new platform is available now for OEMs, developers and operators. It supports Linux, Android and iOS as well as all major TV, set-top box and remote control standards.

Finally, trading tradition for technology, the BBC launched its news app for Sony-connected TVs, joining the ranks of its other offerings made for Samsung and Panasonic displays (there were many new ones on display). Also, the BBC said it will launch a fourth HTML-based variant designed to access all Virgin Media’s TiVo boxes.