The days of ever-larger flat panels took a pause at this year's unveiling of new HDTVs. The emphasis instead was on new capabilities, some gimmicky but many that can cement the device's central role in American homes. Here are the five leading advances in this year's televisions:
Well Connected. Many TV makers are bringing the Web and its wealth of videos directly to televisions. Sony was early with its Bravia Internet Video Link that can grab content from Yahoo, AOL and other sites. Panasonic has its Viera Cast, which brings YouTube and weather reports from the Web to the TV, and is adding HD movie rental from Amazon Video-on-Demand. But LG trumps them with streaming from Netflix that will be built into new models arriving this spring. Models such as the 42LH50, a 42-inch LCD, will also connect to YouTube and to Yahoo widgets for weather, stock tickers and Flickr photos.
[Read about set-top boxes that also stream Netflix to a TV]
Wireless Wonder. Nothing detracts from a sleek TV on the wall more than wires dangling below. Panasonic is taking a step toward cleaning up the cable spaghetti with its upcoming WirelessHD connection. Able to transmit a full 1080p signal across a room, WirelessHD includes a separate tuner that beams picture and sound to a receiver built into the flat panel. It will arrive initially with the company's high-end, 54-inch TC-P54Z1 that's due this summer. But one wire remains, at least until they perfect wireless electricity.
[Read how smaller gadgets are getting wireless charging]
Greener Panels. New plasma TVs from Samsung and Panasonic promise to cut energy use by nearly half. That could put them nearly on par with typical LCD sets, which have had an advantage in gulping less electricity. LCDs are getting more efficient, too. But the biggest gains come from new, expensive light sources. Samsung said new LCD's with LED lights should cut a panel's energy use by 40 percent over conventional fluorescent lamps. Sony, meanwhile, is taking an innovative approach with "presence sensors" in sets that switch themselves off when no one's around.
Cheaper Pixels. Budget-maker Westinghouse is readying a new 42-inch LCD TV for sale at $700. The news might not deserve a lot of attention except the set comes at what's called "full HD," or 1080p resolution. That means it would reproduce every pixel available from Blu-ray, which offers the best-looking playback for digital video. That also makes it a breakthrough price, with most 1080p sets still selling for $1,000 and up. Video buffs argue if the markup is worth it on sets 42 inches and smaller, where 720p looks just about as good. But the news from Westinghouse suggests the premium is fading as 1080p becomes the standard.
[Read how HD movies will be delivered on chips]
Wider Widescreen. The simple widescreen is so yesterday. Philips has unveiled its Cinema 21:9 set, which stretches today's TVs like a piece of taffy. It's designed to minimize the black bars that sit atop and below movies that are shot for the wider screens in movie theaters. Today's HDTVs typically have measurements in a ratio of 16:9. No price or other details yet on the 56-inch LCD. Also unclear is when we'll see it in North America, where Philips has abandoned the TV market and licensed its name to Funai, another manufacturer.