Our time at CES 2023 might be over, but it’s still worth highlighting some standouts at the show. One of those that’s gotten quite a bit of attention is from an upstart company called Displace. LG’s brand-new Signature OLED M eliminates every wire except for the power cord, but Displace is trying to nix that one, too. In Las Vegas, the company demonstrated a completely wireless 55-inch 4K OLED TV that runs off four hot-swappable batteries. This is a dream that has existed since the earliest days of The Verge.
Are we seeing an imperfect sneak peek of the future, or is this a solution in search of a problem? Is the Displace another classic example of CES vaporware? Will it actually ever ship? All I know for now is that it seems to make good on the everything-wireless concept — with one potentially pricey gamble.
A single Displace TV costs $3,000. For that money, you get the display — from what I could tell, it’s a typical LG Display 4K OLED panel — four batteries (with a charging station), and a base hub that’s responsible for wirelessly transmitting all of your entertainment to the 55-inch screen. (The base station wasn’t being shown at Displace’s CES booth, but reps said it will use Wi-Fi 6E for a robust connection when communicating with the TV.)
According to the company, you’ll be able to link four TVs together for a 110-inch 8K picture. A four-TV bundle is expected to run $9,000, so you’d be getting the last one for free — and putting a whole hell of a lot of trust in Displace’s vision without much by the way of details. This can also be done, supposedly, with 16 Displace units for an enormous 220-inch 16K image. You’d have bezels cutting through the picture, so I’m not sure who this would appeal to beyond business and trade show clients. But man, just think of having to charge all of those batteries on a regular basis.
Displace says the actual TV unit weighs under 20 pounds, and that’s light enough to make the idea of moving it from room to room (or even to different viewing positions in the same room) seem manageable. As for how it attaches to a wall, Displace uses a novel vacuum suction system to hold the OLED TV in place.
When pressed against a flat surface for a few seconds, the system detects that you want to stick the TV in that spot and whirs up the vacuum mechanism. Once it’s adhered, you can just let go and it won’t go anywhere. I saw this demoed firsthand several times at Displace’s CES booth — and the reps weren’t shy about tugging on the Displace to show how firmly affixed it was. But not all surfaces are a great match. I was told that brick probably won’t work since it’s porous.
At the top of the Displace TV is a built-in webcam that’s used to detect Kinect-like hand gesture controls. This will be the primary way — apparently the only way — of navigating and interacting with the TV, complete with gestures for “throwing” content from one Displace TV to another. But it strikes me as a gigantic risk. Do we never learn?
Major TV manufacturers with boundless resources have never been able to pull this off in a way that prevails over the traditional handheld remote. Maybe Displace would’ve been better served going the simpler route: between the all-wireless approach and gesture controls, it starts to feel like an overwhelming amount of ambition for a debut product.
And what about battery life? Displace says that when all four batteries are fully charged, you can expect six hours of viewing time a day for 30 days or roughly 7.5 days of nonstop viewing. I’ve already seen some skepticism around these estimates considering the size of the battery modules shown at CES. But Displace is still finalizing the design and capacity of those batteries, so the final units could end up looking slightly different. (For this reason, Displace didn’t share any estimates of how long it’ll take to juice up the battery packs.) The booth rep did tell me that if the TV gets to a point where it’s only relying on a single battery pack, its brightness will take a hit — so it’s best to have two of the four in there holding some level of charge at all times.
Oh, and here’s one important tidbit I haven’t mentioned yet: if you manage to drain all four batteries while the Displace is still on the wall, it could potentially fall to the ground since the “active-loop vacuum technology” also relies on battery power. That’s not the sort of thing that most of us have ever had to worry about with our TVs before. I was told that there are several on-screen warnings before the batteries become fully depleted and the Displace reaches that falls-off-the-wall point. If you’re bingeing a Netflix series, you’ll see those prompts and be able to avoid disaster. But if you go on vacation and forget to take your TV down, well...
I don’t like being pessimistic about startups trying new things. I still try to get excited about fresh ideas at CES — even if I’d never recommend them to most people. Displace only plans to ship 100 TVs for this first go-round, and the company says all deposits are “fully-refundable.” So it’s not exactly shooting for the moon here. But there are so many unknowns about the software, base station, wireless performance outside of controlled environments, and all those gestures. You’d hope something like this would at least support AirPlay 2 and Google Cast.
Fundamentally, I’m not sure who the Displace is for right now. Is the presence of wires really that bothersome? For people who answer yes, companies like Samsung have already neatened things up with good ideas like the One Connect box. Batteries don’t necessarily strike me as the better answer and could add new anxieties about charge status and the strength of that vacuum connection. Those issues aside, we’re left with the same bandwidth and latency concerns that I raised with the flashy new LG Signature TV. Maybe Displace is targeting those people who often remind you that they “don’t own a TV” for aesthetic reasons; this one can just be stowed in a closet when not in use.
It’s all very unproven at the moment, and the current state of technology isn’t ready for a fully wireless TV. But Displace is at least giving you a tease of what might be coming down the pike whenever wireless networking and home theater standards reach a point where the concept is more feasible. I won’t be preordering this rough outline of that dream, and neither should you. But the Displace was the most CES thing that I came across at CES. After a few years away from the Las Vegas show floor, it was just the kind of far-out gimmick that I came to see.
Photography by Chris Welch / The Verge