Earlier this year, we saw a lot of cool new products at CES 2016, including a Segway robot, a competitor to Google Glass, and even innovations to virtual reality. However, we also saw noticed several other reveals that showed us where home entertainment will be heading.
So if you have a home entertainment center of your own — or plan on setting one up some time this year — then you’ll want to pay close attention. Not that you have to buy into these ideas, but they’re trending for a reason and you should try taking advantage of them as best you can.
1. Media in 4K
The first commercially-available 4K camera came out in 2003, but the technology didn’t really hit consumer radars until 2010 when YouTube began supporting 4K uploads. Even so, we have often recommended against buying 4K devices because 4K content is so rare to find.
If you’re not really sure what 4K is, it’s just another term for 2160p resolution. It has twice the horizontal and vertical resolution as 1080p HD, which is why you’ll also hear 4K referred to as Ultra HD 4K. They all mean the same thing: a screen that can display at least 3840 x 2160 pixels.
In 2015, we said 4K TVs were a waste of money. In 2016, we’re saying that 4K might finally be worth considering. Services like Netflix and YouTube are moving toward it, and even if you’re stuck with 1080p content, it can be adequately upscaled.
By the end of 2016, 4K will be a common media standard.
2. Ultra HD Blu-Ray
Speaking of Ultra HD 4K, it was announced back in 2014 that future iterations of Blu-ray discs would support resolutions up to 4K at frame rates up to 60 frames per second. Now it’s finally happening: the first Ultra HD Blu-ray discs were released in March 2016.
What’s so good about this? The resolution and frame rate are nice, but the real kickers are the extra features like larger storage capacities (up to 100 GB), an improved video codec, a wider color gamut, and support for high dynamic range.
To cut a long story short, it’ll pave the way for better video and audio quality. The downside is that you’ll need a Blu-ray player that supports it and a television set that can display it, which means a hit to your wallet to upgrade your devices.
3. OLED TVs & HDR
Back in the 1990s and 2000s, plasma TVs were the “big thing” in home entertainment, but they have since fallen out of favor. In 2016, OLED TVs will be the spiritual successor to those plasma TVs, mainly because OLED technology provides the truest colors available today.
You’ll still be able to buy other kinds of TVs, of course, but CES 2016 proved that the picture quality of a top-end OLED simply can’t be beaten by regular LCD and LED screens. You want the best? It’s OLED or bust.
Not only that, but starting in 2016, all of the best TVs will support high dynamic range (HDR), which simply means that brighter whites and darker blacks can be shown at the same time — and that means better contrast, fuller colors, and improved image quality overall.
4. Standard Specifications
One of the worst things about buying a TV is that there are so many specifications to agonize over: screen size, resolution, contrast, ports, and all the little things here and there, like support for 3D. It gets murkier depending on what you’re using the TV for too.
For example, over the past few years, consumers have often been confused about the difference between HD Ready and Full HD. It gets worse when you realize the terms mean something different in the United States as opposed to Europe.
Fortunately, the UHD Alliance has come up with the Ultra HD Premium standard, which is a set of guidelines that must be met before a TV can be stamped as “good for Ultra HD” — and that means that TV shopping shouldn’t be as much of a headache in 2016.
5. Smart Devices
A smart device is any device that supports Internet connectivity (e.g. smartphones and smartwatches are just phones and watches that can connect to the Internet). In 2016, smart home devices will grow more popular, and this trend will spill over into home entertainment.
Fully smart homes are still in the infant stage, of course, but look to products like the Sonos PLAYBAR Wireless TV Speaker, the Philips Hue Smart Lighting Starter Kit, and the Roku 4 Streaming Media Player. Combine them with services like IFTTT and you can end up doing some cool stuff.
That being said, you should never buy a smart TV unless you have no choice and can’t buy a non-smart model. TVs simply don’t benefit from being smartened in the way that other devices do.
6. Original TV Series & Movies
Speaking of smart devices like the Roku, expect to see improvements to streaming media devices like the Chromecast, Apple TV, Nvidia Shield, and others. But more than that, expect to see a lot of new content come from streaming services like Netflix, Amazon, and YouTube.
Don’t believe me? Netflix is launching at least 13 new original series this year, YouTube is producing all kinds of series and movies for YouTube Red, and Amazon is building its own library with shows like Transparent and Man in the High Castle.
This all makes sense when you realize that users are abandoning cable in droves and flocking over to streaming services because they’re cheaper and more convenient. And while there are some technical issues you may have to overcome, cord cutting is well worth the time and trouble required.
7. Virtual Reality
Ever since the Oculus Rift development kits were sent out, the hype for virtual reality has grown exponentially. Seriously, the Oculus Rift is amazing, and if these example VR simulations don’t get you excited, nothing ever will.
What’s more exciting is that Oculus Rift is no longer the only player. You’ve got competitors like the HTC Vive and Playstation VR for full-blown experiences, but you’ve also got Google Cardboard as a budget alternative.
2015 will forever be known as the year that birthed virtual reality, and there’s nowhere to go but up from here. VR gaming is the most obvious application, but VR movies and VR “hangouts” aren’t outside the realm of possibility either.
What Trends Do You Predict?
Some of these developments are going to be really awesome, especially once manufacturers and content producers and consumers all embrace these new features and standards for what they are: the next step in home entertainment.
To be clear, we aren’t necessarily saying that you need to be an early adopter — which is a bad idea more often than not — but you should still be aware of what’s trending. Knowing about these innovations now could help you make better decisions next year or the year after.
Which of these trends are you most excited about? Which ones do you believe will flop? Are there any other trends we missed that you think will be huge in 2016? Please share your thoughts with us in the comments below!