Year in tech: highs and lows of 2012


Are we seeing the beginning of the end of the x86 era?

OLED and 4K

But these are challenging times for tech companies, not only in computing, but in home entertainment, too. Many tech brands – Japanese ones in particular – are struggling just to keep their heads above the rising tides of financial ruin.

The endless conveyor belt of new products in home entertainment is truly impressive, especially when you consider that we're living in an age of such financial hardship.

The big stories this year revolved around OLED TVs, with Samsung and LG both launching amazing new 55-inch products, and Ultra HD, aka 4K. Ultra HD TVs have four times the number of pixels as regular full HD TVs, making them capable of producing fantastically sharp pictures and also enabling passive 3D tech to operate at a full HD resolution.

Ultra HD as an emerging theme is helped on by the fact that movie studios are now starting to shoot films at 4K resolutions, creating buzz and triggering visible marketing. Of the two televisual themes of 2012, it certainly seems as though OLED is the one that's fast falling out of favour.

Despite the tech producing the best, brightest pictures, yield rates in factories are so low that they're prohibitively expensive to buy and sell. It's been a long time now and no one has figured out the answer, so it could be that OLED goes the way of Canon and Toshiba's SED tech and dies a death.

One possible alternative is Sony's Crystal LED tech which it also launched at CES earlier this year, but that again, while super-impressive, is prohibitively expensive. And so while those two OLED monsters from Samsung and LG, announced in January, are still nowhere to be seen, 84-inch Ultra HD TVs from several brands are going on sale in time for Christmas. All you need to do is save up £25,000 and you'll be able to buy one.

The TV is fast becoming the central hub of entertainment and communication in the home, with Smart TV finally starting to come through as a feature people actually use. The reality is, though, that the high price of the best products continue to keep them out of most of our hands.

Ultra HD

The Toshiba 55ZL2 was the first Ultra HD consumer TV announced. It uses the extra resolution to create glasses-free 3D

What happened to Blu-ray?

Since 2006, Blu-ray has had more marketing money thrown at it than any other home ents tech. But in 2012, Blu-ray seems to have hit its peak in terms of market saturation of devices and also in terms of innovation.

Instead, the interesting story in the world of content delivery has taken place deep in the digital ether. In 2012, Netflix became available outside the USA for the first time and launched a worldwide invasion, starting with the UK. A deal was first struck with Sony to get Netflix available on PS3, and smartphone apps,

Philips set-top boxes and other compatible products followed in their hundreds. Netflix chose the right time to offer its TV and Movie streaming services to a wider audience – at the same time, Amazon announced that streaming overtook DVD rentals in terms of usage within its Lovefilm service for the first time. Streaming is where it's at. And other services like Rdio and Spotify have come on leaps and bounds, too.

Streaming battle

The streaming battle is hotting up

The year in gaming

2012 was also an important year for gaming hardware. We've seen new consoles launch shaped like PlayStation Vitas, Nintendo 3DS XLs, super-slim Sony PS3s, Nintendo Wii Us and in Canada Nintendo has also launched a super-cheap Nintendo Wii Mini.

Most of this new gear was received warmly. The PS Vita was not without its flaws but demonstrated its power and mobile gaming class.

The Nintendo 3DS XL was more or less the console that the disappointing 3DS should have been and thus was also embraced by the gaming world.

However, the super-slim PS3, made out of cheaper materials and containing a cheaper drive tray was a bit more disappointing. "It wasn't cheap enough", was the main complaint.

The Wii U also received a mixed reaction when it landed in November. Its hardware was said to be only just on a par with the 6-year old PS3 and 7-year old Xbox 360. Its games are just not as accessible as the original Wii games - an opinion mirrored far and wide. The Wii U's fortunes will surely make great reading moving into 2013.