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What's Cooking in the HDTV World?

With the hubbub of 3D and Internet capabilities dying down, what can TV makers possibly cook up this year to reignite interest in the goggle box again? We are now transiting into the second quarter. And this is also a time when consumers can expect a flurry of new HDTVs to hit the stands soon given the predictable release cycles of HDTV makers. Samsung kick-started their campaign recently with their SEA & Oceania Forum 2012, where key updates were made to their LED edge-lit contingent as well as their plasma display panels.

Unlike Sony, who has chosen to return to basics by focusing on picture quality itself, their South Korean rivals have decided to take on the other cheek by focusing their efforts on user interaction instead. In essence, users will be able to control Samsung's new premium HDTVs via gesture and voice controls, thanks to the built-in camera and microphone applicable to the ES8000 and ES7500 LED series as well as the E8000 PDP range. For instance, a "Hi TV" voice command would trigger the TV's voice controls, while articulating the phrase "Volume Down" would reduce the volume accordingly. For motion controls, simply wave your hand in front of the TV to call up the onscreen cursor. Facial recognition is also part of Samung's new TV frontier. In other words, you may link your captured mugshot to your Smart Hub account instead of keying in the user ID and password manually with each login attempt.

Sharp Corp, on the other hand, will focus on churning out larger displays in the range of 60-inch to 70-inch sizes. This can be said for their upcoming Aquos 7 series edge-lit LED HDTVs. Home users can also expect an even bigger screen with the new Aquos 8 series, which will carry a monstrous 80-inch model complete with full-matrix LED backlights (or full-array backlights) and the additional yellow sub-pixel, otherwise known as 'Quattron' as far as their marketing efforts go. Sharp is a little late to the Smart TV party, but the new premium batches will finally carry the SmartCentral user interface with Internet-enabled attributes. Of course, whether these models would arrive on Asian shores still remains to be seen. Now, the struggling Japanese firm is expecting a 290 billion-yen net loss this fiscal year, as opposed to its earlier and more optimistic forecast of a 6 billion-yen profit. It'll be interesting to see if Sharp's fetish for big screens will ultimately work for or against their business ventures in the months ahead.

Panasonic will be sprucing up their Viera contingent too. The new Smart Viera line-up will feature flagship models, such as the WT50 edge-lit LED display and VT50 plasma display panel with notable emphasis on user interaction as well. Both models will be bundled with the Touch Pad Controller (pictured above). Think of it as something similar to a notebook's touchpad, one which enables you to browse the web browser and applications with the use of your finger; or thumb in this case. On top of this, Panny will be throwing in a Viera Remote App for Android and iOS phones. Like the Touch Pad Controller, users would be able to control the onscreen cursor in a similar fashion. On top of this, the app also gives users added options like a virtual keyboard and a game controller function. According to Panasonic, the Viera WT50, VT50, and GT50 series will come with the enhanced Viera Remote App Pro - an app which enables home viewers to stream broadcast content or video clips stored on USB drives to compatible mobile devices such as smartphones or tablets. 

Having said that, it is apparent that the major TV makers are stressing a whole lot on innovative and interactive measures. Take LG for instance. They've since renewed their Magic Remote with voice-enabled features on top of the device's native gesture controls. Unlike Samsung, however, LG's voice feature is designed more for web searches and voice inputs (in place of manual text entry). You may catch the Magic Remote in action here if you wish, but please be warned that it's a commercial which shows the remote performing flawlessly. So, will all of these fancy features work as we are told? I guess I'll find out when I finally get to review these gizmos in person. With such funky and interactive controls entering the HDTV landscape, I also can't help but wonder if the traditional remote's existence is in peril. What do you think? 

Andy Sim / Former Senior Tech Writer

Andy is a self-made geek with a penchant for good music and a hearty pint. His domain includes swanky TVs, notebooks and networking gizmos.

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