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Makeover for TV of the future

YOUR television set has come a long way since the square tubes of a few years ago, and it's about to go a lot further.

By the end of this year, the idea of a TV as a simple display unit will seem quaint. New sets are likely to show extra dimensions, be burdened by fewer cords, and look radically different from anything currently on the market.

That's not to say you should hold off on purchasing your high-definition TV for the big events. More than 2 million HDTVs were purchased in anticipation of last year's Super Bowl, according to the Consumer Electronics Association. While many of the new features are cool, it's going to take a while for some of them to trickle into reasonably priced sets.

Here are four developments in the world of television technology that we can look forward to over the coming year.

A wider screen

Flatscreen TVs typically have an aspect ratio of 16:9. That means for every 16 inches (14.64 centimeters) in width, you get 9 inches in height. While this "widescreen?format is certainly more horizontally inclined than the old 4:3 tube TVs that used to dominate, it is not quite as stretched out as movie theater screens, which usually have an aspect ratio of about 21:9. That's why, when you watch a movie on DVD at home, you're still likely to run into those black "letterbox?bars across the top and bottom of the screen.

Wider widescreens

Over the next year, manufacturers will begin selling sets that are even wider, providing a more cinematic experience and a more efficient use of your screen's real estate. Royal Philips Electronics NV has already announced a 21:9 set (called, appropriately, the Cinema 21:9), and I've been told that at least one other major manufacturer intends to produce a similarly proportioned set in the near future. By the end of 2009, cinema widescreen sets could be a certifiable trend.

Built-in wireless HD

In the quest for a wireless world, some cords are easier to cut than others. In general, the smaller the amount of data that needs to be transmitted, the easier it is to do it wirelessly. So while low-quality audio is a cinch, and can easily be sent across a room using Bluetooth, high-definition video is technologically taxing. This is why you probably have a ton of wires popping out of the back of your TV.

This could all change over the next year. At this year's Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, manufacturers such as Panasonic and Samsung announced they intended to build wireless high-definition capabilities directly into some of their 2009 TVs.

The idea: A cable box, PC, or Blu-ray DVD player will be able to stream high-quality high-definition video directly to a TV, even through walls, with no cords required.

Although various competing technologies promise such capabilities, look for a standard called WHDI (Wireless Home Digital Interface) to dominate. It has an overwhelming level of industry support (Samsung, Panasonic, Sony, LG Electronics, Sharp, and Motorola are all behind it), and its backers say it can transmit uncompressed high-definition video across an entire house.

3D at home

3D has come a long way since the days of flimsy red and blue glasses. Over the past few years, movie studios have made a huge push toward mainstreaming digital 3D movies, which use digital cameras and projectors and special polarized glasses to deliver an incredibly immersive experience.

What you may not know is that there's a chance your current TV is already capable of displaying 3D video. In fact, many plasma and rear-projection sets are ready, out of the box, to show high-quality digital 3D movies, although you'll still need polarized glasses to view it.

The problem: there isn't much content but that should change over the next year. Networks are experimenting with broadcasting live events in digital 3D, and movie studios have a number of big-budget 3D movies lined up.

Chief among them is "Avatar,?which will be James Cameron's first non-documentary feature since mega-blockbuster "Titanic,?and, as the studio will want to recoup as much of its costs as possible, that will mean selling a 3D version of the movie and making sure consumers have all the equipment to view it.

The world was introduced last year to the Roku Netflix Player, a tiny box with the ability to stream movies supplied by Netflix directly to a TV.

It was a commercial and critical success, encouraging manufacturers to put the functionality into other products, such as Microsoft Corp's Xbox 360 and a number of Blu-ray players.

The next logical step: TVs with Netflix-streaming built right in.


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