This year’s TVs are sharper and smarter, not just bigger

This year's crop of smart TVs are smarter than ever, offering more ways to watch your favourite shows as well as interact with the other smart gear around your home.

The world's home entertainment giants gathered this week for the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, but the annual show is no longer simply a race to build a bigger screen.

Instead television makers are focused on picture quality, as the big names including LG, Samsung, Sony and TCL prepare to bring their first 8K TVs to Australian shores this year.

Samsung 8K LCD TVs at CES in Las Vegas.

An 8K picture certainly looks stunning, four times sharper than today's top shelf 4K Ultra HD televisions, but don't panic if you've just put down good money on a 4K TV.

Just as when 4K televisions first arrived, there won't be anything for Australians to watch in 8K for several years. The major studios aren't yet making 8K movies and television shows, while the major video services don't yet stream in 8K.

As with 4K, it will take a few years for the 8K ecosystem to take shape. It remains to be seen whether 8K disc players will come to the shelves, following on from today's 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray players. Instead, the first 8K content is likely to come from the streaming video giants like Netflix and Amazon.

LG’s 8K OLED and LCD TVs at CES.

For now, even if these streaming services did offer 8K movies, many Aussies still lack the home broadband speeds to handle 4K, let alone 8K. YouTube's early 8K trials demanded 50 Mbps for a single video stream.

Still, these days people tend to keep their television for an average of seven years. So if your budget will stretch to these new top shelf televisions then you're covered for the future.

Meanwhile, an 8K television can "upscale" 4K to help it look a bit sharper, but realistically you'll struggle to see the improvement on anything smaller than a 65-inch screen.

Sony unveiled only one 8K TV; an 85-inch LCD.

While there's no rush to upgrade your television this year for 8K alone, the TV makers are sweetening the deal with a range of enhanced smart features to help you get more from the big screen in your lounge room.

Sony, Samsung and LG are including built-in support for Apple's AirPlay 2 streaming in some of their 8K and 4K 2019 models. This lets users stream video from their iPhones or iPads, or mirror the screen, without the need to shell out for an Apple TV set-top box.

Even better, Samsung is the first TV maker to offer direct access to the iTunes store from a smart TV app.

The app will let Apple users access their existing iTunes library directly through the television. More significantly, it's the first time that movie lovers can access the iTunes store – to buy or rent movies and TV episodes in 4K – without the need to own any Apple hardware.

Samsung and LG’s smart assistants, Bixby and ThinQ, are built into their smart TVs; plus the new models both also feature Amazon's Alexa and Google Assistant.

On top of this, LG and Sony are adding support for Apple's HomeKit, to let owners control their television by talking to Siri on an iPhone, iPad or HomePod smart speaker. Since Sony already uses Android TV to power its sets, they will be compatible with virtually all phones, smart speakers, and assistants.

This means more than the luxury of controlling your television without reaching for the remote control on the coffee table. It also means that you can use your television to control all the other smart devices around your home, from light bulbs and wireless speakers to kitchen appliances.

LG's new onscreen Home Dashboard turns your television into a command centre for your smart home. You can see every Google, Amazon and Apple-compatible smart device and even control them using the TV's remote. This is handy when you want to dim your lights from the couch late at night without the need to argue with the smart speaker in the corner.

With most of the great new features in today's smart TVs relying on software rather than hardware, you'd think you might get away with buying a new television less often. Unfortunately it doesn't tend to work that way, as television makers can be rather frugal when it comes to software updates adding new features to old televisions.

Neither LG or Sony are adding Apple's AirPlay 2 streaming or HomeKit to last year's televisions, even if you spent top dollar on their flagship Ultra HD OLEDs. Samsung is a little more generous, promising to add AirPlay 2 and iTunes to last year's televisions but nothing older.

While it's handy to have all the latest bells and whistles built into your television, it can still be wise to invest in a great streaming media player like the Apple TV or Google's Chromecast. These players tend to get more updates than televisions, plus they're cheaper and easier to replace rather than buying a brand new TV every few years in search of the latest smart home features.

Adam Turner travelled to CES in Las Vegas as a guest of LG.

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