Preview: IFA 2014

4K, Curved Screens and Lifestyle Audio products are set to dominate the headlines again

by Mark Hodgkinson Aug 25, 2014 at 11:00 AM

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    Preview: IFA 2014
    IFA has always been seen as a sideshow to the 'main event' of CES but last year's show in Berlin bucked that trend.
    The shifting sands of the domestic TV market saw a number of new 4K TVs announced, as well as a smattering of OLED. IFA 2013 was also the launching pad for the HDMI 2.0 spec and the confirmation that curved screens are here to stay. But what of this year’s event, which kicks off with the press day on 3rd September and closes its doors a week later on the 10th?

    Curves: we’re sure to see plenty more of these as the TV manufacturers clamour to present products that truly look different to the rest of the pack. Technically, we don’t really see the point but certainly in screen sizes over 65-inches, it’s an interesting effect that doesn’t really distract. Samsung and LG have been at the forefront of this movement but Sony, for one, will be another bringing contoured TVs to Berlin and we wouldn’t be surprised to see others follow suit. We also expect we’ll see more ‘bend on demand’ TVs, too, where a press on the remote control will engage the built-in motors which produce a curved screen from what was once a flatty.

    Ultra HD, 4K, call it what you will – and the manufacturers can’t even seem to agree, will of course be everywhere you look in Berlin. It almost seems like old news now but it’s not yet a mainstream proposition and IFA 2014 is set to be another key staging post in the Resolution Revolution as the industry seeks to drive home the benefits, to the consumer at large. To this end, we’d expect to see both bigger and smaller UHD TVs at IFA 2014. Currently the smallest 4K TV on the market is in a 40-inch screen size but we wouldn’t be shocked if this were taken lower to aid penetration of the market. Whether you’ll seen any benefit from all those extra pixels in a smaller TV is a discussion for another time.
    You want curves? There will be curves!

    Media companies, network operators and the electronics industry are already heavily involved with the development of Ultra HD and numerous forums and technical demonstrations at IFA will be dealing with the production and distribution of UHD content, while international video-on- demand platforms are getting ready to offer movies in Ultra HD.

    Of course, the World being what it is, you don’t have to wait for the industry to get its act together as you can already create your own videos in 4K with a range of high quality SLR cameras that are already available. IFA 2014 is set to present a number of other Ultra HD recording devices, from action cameras and traditional camcorders with Ultra HD capability to compact system cameras.

    We can’t let an event preview go by without the mention of a 4K Blu-ray announcement, however forlorn a hope that increasingly seems. We know the technological production difficulties have been overcome, the Blu-ray Disc Association (BDA) has said it is discussing an extension to the current spec to include 4K resolutions and they are looking to finalise things by the end of 2014, so IFA would be the perfect time to announce it. But, somehow, we don’t think it will happen in Berlin and the word is that the film studios are more interested in digital distribution methods, to combat the threat of piracy a disc format would bring. Without studio support, 4K Blu-ray is as good as dead in the water so we have to hope on a U-Turn from the studios. In the meantime, we expect announcements of more Ultra HD media players with HDMI 2.0 and HDCP 2.2 support to fill the gap and cater for the emerging 4K streaming services.
    4K Blu-ray? Your guess is as good as ours.
    Smart TVs were the last ‘next big thing’ before Ultra HD became the darling of the industry but, unlike 3D, there is some evidence that they are finally catching on and if more of the manufacturers can emulate the speed and intuitiveness of LG’s webOS (sorry, Smart+) platform they are sure to gain further traction. Naturally LG reps will be on hand to press Magic Remotes in to the palms of passers-by but we also expect to see developments from other quarters.

    IFA 2011 saw the announcement of the Smart TV alliance, which defines specifications for accessing the internet using smart TV sets. This means, at least in theory, that providers who want their content to be available on sets from a range of different makers only have to develop an app just the once. LG was at the heart of this movement, and it’s partly what webOS is about, also, but the co-founders of the alliance – Philips/TP Vision, seem to be moving in another direction with Android TVs. We’re hoping to get a UK launch date for the PUS9809 during the proceedings.

    Given the developments of the last 12 months, it seems unlikely that we’ll see many OLED TV announcements from anyone other than LG. We were hoping that the death of plasma would mean the likes of Panasonic and Samsung trotting out a range of OLEDs but it seems the myriad challenges faced in production have yet to be fully overcome. We’ll cross our fingers and hope that someone will join LG at the vanguard but we won’t be holding our breath whilst doing so.

    The big moves in the audio market continue to come in ‘lifestyle’ and portable products. Soundbars and soundbases are still an enormous growth area, although the vast number of manufacturers providing products to fill the demand means it’s got to slow down at some point. Whether we’ll see any new takes on the soundbar concept remains to be seen but we’ll bet our bottom dollar we’ll see yet more manufacturers enter the fray.
    Soundbars, headphones, wireless and Hi-Res set to dominate the audio news
    Bluetooth, airplay and wireless speaker systems are another huge area of growth and often a genuinely better alternative to a price-equivalent soundbar package, whilst offering most of the same mod cons. Of the ‘mainstream’ CE manufacturers, we really only have Philips offering this kind of solution and we’re hoping that more of the big boys join in but one thing is certain, there will be masses of headphone and earphone products to take a look at, as the mobile device market continues to flourish. We’d also expect to see further announcements in the multi-room audio system sector as the majors’ seek a piece of the Sonos pie.

    High End sound quality will also be an important factor at IFA 2014, with an increasing number of products supporting high definition sound formats, capable of playing recorded music that has been coded at very high bit rates. The market places for downloading hi-res audio files continue to grow and Sony, for one, will be pushing their range of capable products but we expect to see more manufacturers joining the party with announcements in Berlin.

    The connected, or smart, home has been an ongoing theme at IFA – and CES – for what seems like years now. Each and every manufacturer involved in production of both white goods and AV Kit has a vision on how this should work. CE devices interconnected with home appliances, the heating system or the lights are set to acquire even greater importance as the years pass by as we seek to maximise efficiency and minimise energy wastage. It might not make for great press conferences or headlines but the Smart Home is something we should take very seriously. We just hope, down the line, that some standards allowing interoperability between devices from different manufacturers will emerge to make it a simpler idea. Who knows, perhaps IFA 2014 will see some movement there? OK, there’s no chance of that!

    So there we have some of our hopes and expectations. What are yours?

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