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Pressing replay on the year in home theater

Not surprisingly, the world has not come to an end. But, the end of the year 2012 is most certainly right around the corner. Before we A/V geeks and tweeps get all sloppy on cheap champagne and start slurring out “Auld Lang Syne,” we thought it would be fun to take a look back at the more notable moments (and, in some cases, lack thereof) that 2012 had to offer the world of home theater and A/V gear.

4K/Ultra HD beats up on OLED

While the bellwether that is the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) had us thinking OLED televisions would be dominating A/V headlines this year, it was 4K (later renamed Ultra HD) TV that wound up stealing the limelight in 2012. 

It’s hard to believe that OLED made its US television debut nearly five years ago at CES 2008. That’s five years of eager anticipation, five years of repeatedly thinking that maybe, just maybe, this is the year OLED would truly arrive. And yet, here we are; still waiting. To be fair, both Samsung and LG made big strides this year, each showing off functional 55-inch OLED TVs at CES 2012, and, later,  throughout the year. But expectations that OLED TVs would start shipping in numbers this year were dashed to pieces.

Meanwhile, 4K/Ultra HD technology, which still seemed wildly aspirational at CES 2012, has accomplished in one year what OLED has failed to do for the last five: It has become commercially available for purchase – and people (very wealthy people) are buying it. A lack of 4K native content wasn’t able to stop the wildly-expensive 4K juggernaut. Both LG and Sony have 84-inch sets making their way into consumer homes right now, and we can imagine that trend will continue as prices drop and supply increases.

No Apple Television…again

apple-television-iosWere it not for the overzealous Apple rumor mill, this non-event probably wouldn’t have made our list this year. But, since  we’ve been treated to at least one new rumor per month suggesting that Apple’s take on the TV was well on its way – imminent, even – how could we not take this opportunity to recognize that there is still no TV from Apple?

 

Google TV lives on

If the Google TV platform had been created and backed by any other entity, it would most likely have died a very quick death after last year’s Logitech Revue debacle. Logitech CEO Guerrino De Luca went so far as to call the Google TV-based Revue a “mistake of implementation of a gigantic nature.” Ouch. But, thanks to Google’s massive bankroll, and some successful, strategic partnerships, the Android-powered smart TV platform not only survived in 2012, it flourished.

This year saw a proliferation of new Google TV-powered set-top  boxes from the likes of Vizio, Sony, and Hisense. LG gave Google a much-needed boost with its G2 television, prompting us to acknowledge that version two of Google TV was less terrible than the first. The platform still needs a lot of work, but LG seems pretty confident that version three of Google TV will be significantly better, as it recently announced a significantly expanded line of Google TV-powered televisions, including seven new models in five screen sizes. The third time’s the charm, right?

Rise of the set-top media streamers

Roku-LTThough nearly every major TV and Blu-ray player manufacturer offers some sort of smart TV platform built into its devices, the set-top media player still saw growth this year, thanks in part to Google TV. Newcomers Vizio and Hisense joined Western Digital, Netgear, Sony, Apple, Roku, Boxee and a host of others in producing media players that bring Internet-delivered, on-demand video to any TV, smart or dumb. The growth spurt may be short-lived, however, as some analysts are projecting that the spread of smart TVs will eclipse the set-top box. 

AirPlay everywhere

2012 saw Apple’s proprietary brand of wireless audio streaming trickling down from high-end A/V devices into much more accessible, price-friendly systems. AirPlay can now be found in entry-level A/V receivers and speaker docks. In fact, the technology has helped transform the  speaker-dock market, as fewer and fewer systems include a physical docking connector in favor of AirPlay and Bluetooth wireless options. Looking forward, we can probably expect even more Airplay-enabled products, though we think AirPlay’s reliance on a Wi-Fi access point will soon be a thing of the past.

Portable Bluetooth speakers

If 2011 was the year of the headphone, then 2012 was the year of the portable Bluetooth speaker. While it wasn’t the first to come up with the idea, we credit Jawbone and its Jambox for popularizing the trend that would explode in 2012. For the last year, Kickstarter has been home to a litany of Bluetooth speaker projects, while established audio companies have been busy playing catch-up. As a result, we now have such newcomers as Braven, JLab, Hidden Audio, Edge.sound and Boombotix competing for our attention with the likes of JBL, Monster, Jabra, Logitech and Beats.

Gesture and voice control

The introduction of gesture and voice control to the A/V space had many TV reviewers looking and sounding ridiculous this year. We think  both technologies need some tweaking before the public will consider embracing them, but hit-and-miss functionality didn’t stop Samsung and LG from bringing the features to their top-of-the-line TVs this year anyway. As a result, we got plenty of confused and awkward looks from our peers as we spent many hours waving and yelling at TV review samples (although, to be fair, we must admit that playing Angry Birds with our bare hands was pretty fun.