LAS VEGAS (AP) — Does anyone just watch TV anymore? The dramatic shift toward online and mobile viewing is driving television set makers to design as much for streaming video as for watching broadcast or cable channels.
Traditional TV is far from dead, but these days viewers care less about watching shows live and even prefer saving certain series to watch all at once in an evening or weekend of binge-watching.
Broadcast networks and hundreds of cable channels share viewer attention with thousands of online services, including amateurs creating their own series on You-Tube. Already, Netflix has outbid traditional channels for hits such as "House of Cards." And Dish this week announced it will sell online access to a bundle of channels including live sports network ESPN for just $20 a month.
Online video will account for a third of all video viewing in 2020, up from about 10 percent in 2013, predicts the Diffusion Group, a research firm that specializes in Internet video.
So how to keep the television set, that focal point of the American living room for decades, relevant? Design for online video.
At the International CES gadget show this week in Las Vegas, TV makers unveiled new models with 4K resolution, or four times the clarity offered by today's high-definition TVs. They are pushing the features even though not a single TV channel is yet available in 4K. But Internet services such as Netflix, Amazon and M-Go are starting to offer 4K video.
Sony this week has promised to create more 4K content to watch on those sets. Four popular shows from its entertainment division — "The Goldbergs," "The Blacklist," "Masters of Sex" and "The Night Shift" — will soon be available in 4K, and it's working with partners including Netflix and YouTube to deliver more 4K streaming video. Sony also launched an alliance with other TV makers, content providers and distributors to create technical standards for high-quality 4K video.
"It's going to be the first format primarily driven by streaming," said Jim Funk, a senior vice president at Roku Inc., which makes streaming TV devices.
Beyond 4K, Sony also introduced new TVs, including an LCD set only 0.2-inch thick. Sharp developed an engineering trick to make its high-end set look even sharper. Samsung unveiled its newest television, the SUHD, which is 2.5 times brighter than and boasts 64 times the color expression of conventional TVs.
LG is pushing organic LED screens with richer colors and pure black — the kind typically limited to smaller displays such as phones because of price.
And Internet connectivity is becoming standard in sets, the way all TVs are color now. LG and Samsung also have ways to easily switch video between TV and mobile devices, so that if you're watching a movie on a phone, you can continue it on your TV as soon as you get home.
The Consumer Electronics Association expects TV sales to increase 2 percent to 251 million units this year. The average screen size is projected to be 40 inches, up from 31 inches in 2007. CEA predicts more than 23 million of the units will be 4K TVs this year, about 2.5 times the shipments in 2014. That's even with the explosion of viewing on tablets and smartphones.
People tend to use phones and tablets while traveling or for shorter video, said Tim Alessi, head of new product development for home entertainment at LG Electronics USA. For a full-length movie, viewers want to replicate the theater in the home. That's only done through a big TV set.
"When I want a full home-entertainment experience, especially with my family and friends, the TV is still the best way to do that," said Tim Baxter, president and chief operating officer of Samsung Electronics America.
So, how much will all this cost?
TVs with 4K capabilities have started to drop below $1,000, but they are still a few hundred dollars more than regular sets. Consumers also will likely have to pay more for 4K content, the way service providers now charge a few dollars more for high-definition downloads. Netflix charges $12 for a streaming plan that supports 4K versus $9 for regular formats, for example.
With compression technology, consumers should be able to view 4K video with standard broadband packages, though the experience will be better with higher, pricier tiers.
ELECTRONICS SHOW HIGHLIGHTS
Some of the highlights this week of the International CES expo in Las Vegas:
• Gear VR: Samsung is trying to make its new GearVR virtual-reality headset more appealing by developing more content. The new Milk VR service will include updates of 360-degree free content five days a week. David Alpert, a producer for the hit AMC show "The Walking Dead," will create a mystery-suspense episodic thriller exclusively for the service. Content also will come from the National Basketball Association and brands such as Mountain Dew. The Gear VR device sells for $199 and requires a Galaxy Note 4 phone, excluding the Edge version.
• Google Cast: Google unveiled Google Cast for audio, a service that streams music to home audio players via smartphones. The audio service uses the same technology behind Chromecast, a small device that plugs into televisions and enables people to access YouTube, Netflix and other digital video services. With Cast, people use their phones to send music to home speakers.
• Toyota patents: Hoping to speed development of hydrogen fuel cell vehicles, Toyota said it would offer thousands of patents on related technologies to rival automakers, for free. The announcement echoes a similar move by electric car maker Tesla in 2014.
• Screen writing: Now you can write on a tablet with just an ordinary pen or pencil. Lenovo is introducing a technology called AnyPen in its new 8-inch Yoga Tablet 2. Lenovo says the pen or pencil will make touchscreen navigation easier than using a finger.
• Curved screen: LG's new G Flex 2 has a slightly curved screen, as the name implies. LG says that makes phones easierto hold and the display easier to read. Even more notable is the fact that LG is also making the Flex 2 smaller than its predecessor, countering a trend toward bigger and bigger phones. LG says it got complaints that the previous, 6-inch version felt too big. The new one will be just 5.5 inches, which LG considers the "sweet spot" for smartphones.
• Connectivity: It's often tempting to buy a Wi-Fi-only model of a tablet computer because it's cheaper — by $130 in the case of the iPad. But what if you decide later you want connectivity on the go? AT&T will soon sell cases to connect your Wi-Fi tablet to its network. You'll need to buy data service, and it's not immediately clear whether the cases will work with service from rival carriers.