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Displays are the secret superstars of CES

Displays are the secret superstars of CES


Screen me up, Scotty!

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Acer Predator Z301CT
Acer Predator Z301CT

Before the tech industry started putting AI and Alexa into everything, the clearest route to making a frumpy old device "smart" was to put a screen on it. How can fridges ever hope to be smart without a crisp copy of Windows 10 running on a 29-inch touchscreen? And what’s a smartwatch without a full-color readout of all your fitness triumphs and disasters? Even virtual reality, which untethers you from the desktop screen, relies heavily on advanced optics and display technologies to deliver the most immersive escapism possible.

Displays are, in my judgment, the central pillar underlying this entire whirlwind of new technology that we know as CES. They’re so obvious, so numerous, that we don’t stop to notice them — even while we’re constantly staring at them. So this is me stopping, for just a moment, and giving displays their due appreciation.

One of the novelties of CES 2017 for me is how amazing the "average" TV has become. Half a decade ago, a 50-inch 1080p TV would have been an aspirational item, whereas today we are walking through a thicket of even larger 4K TVs strewn across the Las Vegas Convention Center. We used to photograph the sides of TVs next to smartphones and be in awe of their thinness, now we pretty much take 4mm-thick TVs as a given. Oh, and bezels? They’ve been almost deleted from the face of the Earth, courtesy of Sony, Samsung, LG, and now even Xiaomi. We’re all at least a little bit guilty of taking these innovations, and the steady rate of constant progress driving them, for granted.

But my heart resides in the gaming realm of technology, and there we’ve seen a fresh wave of better, faster — want a 200Hz refresh rate? Acer has you covered — and larger monitors designed to make the most of your beefy graphics card. LG recently increased the size of the largest curved monitor to 38 inches, and after I got a chance to play on its 34-inch version, I’m already sold on the glories and benefits of curved screens for gaming. Curved monitors are terrible for working on spreadsheets, and curved TVs have been pretty much rejected by the world at this point, but purely for the purposes of gaming, they are my new pinnacle for the best experience to be had.

As ridiculous as Acer’s Predator 21 X "laptop" may be, it too deserves kudos for being the first curved-screen portable gaming machine in the world. It doesn’t embody the best design choices in the world, but it most certainly represents advanced engineering and deserves our respect as a technical feat, if not as a product for the rational consumer.

Professional content creators have much to look forward to in 2017 as well, with LG bringing a new 4K HDR monitor to CES — along with others raising the bar for color performance — though Dell certainly steals the show with its $4,999 8K monitor. The 32-inch UP3218K is simply stunning; I saw it in person this week and its sharpness is extraordinary. Not only that, but it also has a very consistent backlight (no light bleed to be found on dark images), teeny tiny bezels, and outstanding color fidelity. Photographers, 4K video producers, architects, and basically anyone else that makes a living from highly detailed work that requires great precision and resolution will at first lust after and eventually, once prices inevitably come down, buy one of these new 8K beauties.

And this is all without mentioning things like LG’s rollable OLED display or Panasonic’s transparent display from last year’s CES. Or the non-rectangle displays being developed for the automotive space, a glimpse of which we might have recently seen with Sharp’s smartphone display that actually has curved corners as well as curved sides.

Because they are so good nowadays, we take displays for granted. But let’s not forget that the most revolutionary thing about the original iPhone was how it broke away from the traditional keypad and tiny window of a screen toward a larger touchscreen. If you want to understand the innovations that will truly define our future, pay close attention to where display technology is headed. It’s the foundation upon which everything else is built, and it will remain that way at least until voice-based interfaces grow up.