With its irresistible eight megapixel images, we all know Ultra HD TV is coming, but won't be affordable for yonks. So what else is going on in the world of TVs?
By adding apps, more TV tuners and second screens, upcoming new TVs with a host of useful features could change the way we watch TV.
As well as impressively practical innovations that recognise the importance of tablets and smartphones, the TV manufacturers are also prepping some more far-out prototypes that use water, lasers and even the flailing arms of us poor viewers in the name of entertainment. Roll-on the future of TV.
Is 3D TV dead?
3D has been a flop, and judging by most TV manufacturers' refusal to even mention it when talking about their new 2013 products, it will hence be a forgotten (though largely default) feature.
The problem, of course, is those nasty 3D specs, but their days are numbered. Toshiba's ZL2 is, frankly, merely proof of concept, but Philips has been getting closer to a glasses-free 3D solution if its demo at CES 2013 is anything to go by.
Philips' effort is an auto-stereoscopic Multiview Ultra HD TV, with 10 to 12 'views', or corridors, where rather impressive 3D images can be seen. Outside of those corridors, however, it's blur and mess - you have to stay still. For those limited sweet-spots to merge together to form one continuous 3D image could take as many as 100 separate views on a 70-inch+ TV. That will take time for manufacturers to perfect, though expect Philips to say something about its effort at September's IFA 2013 exhibition in Berlin.
What is the Samsung Smart Evolution kit?
Providing further proof that TVs are now all about user interfaces, not hardware, Samsung has decided to bite the bullet and make all its priciest smart TVs upgradeable. Its Evolution Kit, which will be available each March, will effectively make an existing Samsung TV into the latest and greatest version. It's not just about software, either, with Samsung promising hardware enhancements, such as extra CPU, memory and GPU improvements, as well as a refresh to the newest smart TV interface. Hardware-wise it's just a small black box that fits into a slot on the back of the TV.
Upgradeable TVs mean fewer thrown out, for sure, but we're not yet convinced this is purely an act of environmental altruism. We expect the Smart Evolution Kit to cost a few hundred quid each, so the cynic inside of us says that free firmware updates could dwindle as the year wears on in an effort to persuade existing Samsung TV owners to spend-out on an annual upgrade.
Should I get a TV with two HD tuners?
Until TVs get three HD tuners and a hard disk recorder inside they can't challenge the likes of TiVo. But the set-top box will become less and less relevant in 2013 with the arrival of twin HD tuner TVs from Panasonic. Available on its DT60 and WT60 range of LED TVs as well as its VT60 and ZT60 plasmas, the twin tuners enable you to the record one channel while you watch another (though only to an external hard disk attached via USB) as well as picture-in-picture viewing of two channels simultaneously.
Another feature is that an entire tuner is able to port itself to another smart Viera TV on the same network; using tried-and-tested DLNA, you simply select the TV upstairs as the source, and connect to it. That could be useful if you get dodgy reception in the basement, for instance. Philips will offer a similar multi-room viewing feature via a software update to its upcoming PFL8008 Series TVs.
In 2014 we'd lay money on at least three, and possibly four, Freeview HD tuners appearing in some sets - now that really would be a reason to buy a new TV.
Note that while TVs continue to load on Freeview HD tuners, those with built-in YouView are conspicuous by their absence.
Can I use my iPad as a second screen?
It's not lost on TV makers that many of us can't keep our hands off our smartphone and/or tablet while we watch TV. If used with one of its twin tuner TVs, Panasonic's latest iOS and Android app enables you to watch one channel on the TV, and the other on a tablet or smartphone.
Sony has a new app called SideView that knows what you're watching and enables you to browse the EPG and find out more information on cast, crew and related content while the show goes on. Other brands, such as Philips and LG, are using a feature called Wi-Fi Miracast that - you guessed it - mirrors on a TV what's playing on a tablet or smartphone.
Does my TV have NFC?
Forget pairing codes, Wi-Fi passwords and cables - we're about to link gadgets just by touching them together using NFC. A kind of low-power Bluetooth that's already in many Android smartphones and is destined to change the way we travel and pay for things when out and about, NFC is also starting to enter our homes - and it's first port of call is on TVs and audio systems.
Buy one of LG's new Cinema 3D Smart TVs and you'll be able to pair your Android smartphone or tablet with it using 'NFC SmartShare' just by touching it on the TV's corner (as well as with its fridges, washing machines and robot vacuum cleaners), while Samsung has put NFC in its new DA-F60 Portable Wireless Bluetooth Speaker to make pairing with a smartphone or tablet just a tap away.
NFC isn't much good for streaming loads of data - the actual wireless streaming of music is done over Wi-Fi - but it's perfect for making the initial link. Expect the next generation of Wi-Fi routers to have NFC, too; asking your friends for their Wi-Fi password will never be a problem again.
Can I copy files from a TV to a tablet?
This year sees another step-on from common DLNA and UPnP-based networking features on smart TVs with the birth of a new joined-up way of getting digital files - such as photos, videos and music - from your PC, tablet or smartphone to a TV.
Everyone's at it, with Panasonic's Swipe 'n' Share feature on its new smart TVs for 2013 promising two-way file-sharing. As well as being able to push a video file from an iPad to a Panasonic TV (most brands now allow this through the latest incarnations of their iOS and Android Remote Control apps), anything stored on a USB flash drive in the TV's side can be physically fetched by an iPad and copied.
Whether that extends to recordings made to a USB stick from the TV's built-in Freeview HD tuner isn't yet clear, but it's a sign that tablet owners are at last starting to get some serious attention.
Should I buy a Laser TV?
Using laser light to create a brighter image in daylight is what LG's HECTO Laser TV does, though whether it's an important advance in TV tech or merely a side-step is debatable.
It uses a 100-inch screen that's no thicker than a few credit cards, but in reality this is an ultra short-throw projector, not a TV; the main HECTO unit is basically a small black box that sits just 56cm from the wall. It's mightily impressive close-up - especially since it has smart TV apps, a TV tuner, LG's Magic Remote pointer, and a beefy soundbar underneath - but the images do look a touch soft.
Perhaps LG needs to push its Laser TV beyond Full HD to Ultra HD resolution before HECTO can be a big player in home cinema, but the benefits are obvious; all home cinema kit can be stored at the front of the room instead of at the back under the projector, as is normal for televisions. We're thinking trendy boardrooms and the yachts of oil barons as suitable homes for the US$10,000-priced HECTO.
What is a Water TV?
Is your water HD-ready? OK, so laser TV is just extra-bright projection at close quarters, but water as a display technology is something genuinely new. Ironically debuting at CES in the deserts of the Las Vegas valley in January, Russian company Displair has developed a TV that uses a spray of water as its surface.
From a unit not dissimilar in size to LG's Laser TV, Displair's aqua-based AV idea is actually just as reliant on air as wind and rain; air and light are pushed upwards around a film of water droplets (cloud TV, anyone?) to form a virtual screen that's capable of both high definition images and interactive touchscreen features.
We could be getting misty-eyed about Displair's ideas as soon as this summer, though making this technology affordable will be a matter for trickle-down economics. For now, a waterproof TV from Aquavision is your best bet for the bathroom.
Can I get Sky, Virgin or YouView via a smart TV app?
Say goodbye to the set-top box. It's not happened yet, but how long can it be until subscribing to Sky, BT or Virgin Media is simply a case of firing up an app on a smart TV? It already happens with Sky Player's availability on the Xbox360 and Now TV on YouView, and with Lovefilm and Netflix on virtually all smart TVs the need to subscribe to multiple TV channel-toting contract-based TV deals is fast diminishing.
All that needs to happen now is a partnership between the TV manufacturers and pay TV service providers, a task that would be made much easier if a set of industry-standard protocols was put in place to govern smart TV app development.
Accessing catch-up TV is already cloud-based, so why can't recordings also be stored there, too? Bye bye TiVo, YouView and Sky+HD?
Can I talk to my TV?
Around for a couple of years in embryonic form as Kinect-style clip-on devices, 2013 will see the humble remote control dip in popularity as new smart TVs open their eyes and ears. Panasonic's latest smart TVs have cameras that pop up each time you enter the room, visually identify you using face recognition, and load your own customised home screen. Basic instructions can then be barked into the remote, which stores a microphone.
Similar alternative control comes from Samsung, whose latest TVs have an impressively wide vocabulary for operation and web searching, though navigating by hand gestures is still in its early stages, and not very good yet. Expect these systems to get better every year as microphones become more accurate, numerous and better at knocking out ambient sound, and cameras reach higher resolutions.