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The TVs of CES: What a data-driven analysis tells us about 4K, display sizes, and more

Ben Taylor | Jan. 19, 2015
Let's push past the razzle-dazzle of marketing speak, and tease out what real-life spec information can tell us about TV industry trends.

In reality, however, that 11-inch increase from CES 2014 to 2015 is perfectly in line with what we call the "show floor bump." It's the same phenomenon you'll see if you ever go shopping for TVs at Costco: In a sea of televisions, bigger looks better, so manufacturers tend to showcase their largest products.

For these reasons, we expect 2015's average TV to fall right around 50 inches, just like last year. It seems that most TV shoppers ultimately don't want a 70-inch display--at least for now. 

Price per inch has been dropping, but 4K could change everything
After delving into screen-size creep, we turned to price-per-inch--or the cost for a single diagonal inch of a TV's display. Price-per-inch numbers have been falling rapidly for the last five years, which makes sense: If we're getting the same technology and the same basic features, the cost to make a display should only go down over time.

At CES, however, the average price-per-inch of our 71 surveyed TVs was $42. That nearly matches the 2010 rate, and is more than double what we saw in 2014. 

To wit: In 2010, the average price-per-inch was $44. Back then, you paid a lot of money for emerging technology. But between 2011 and 2013, the price-per-inch numbers dropped from $37 to $33 to $27. Prices bottomed out at $20 last year, then rocketed back up to $42 at the show this January.

We should mention that the "show floor bump" shouldn't be nearly as significant here. Sure, there might have been some slight price padding among manufacturers--say, aiming a bit high at the show before reducing prices in stores. But for the most part, the price-per-inch increase ties into the fact that this year's show floor TVs were stuffed with ultra-high resolutions.

Indeed, the phenomenon here has nothing to do with size, and everything to do with 4K. TV manufacturers feel comfortable charging exorbitant prices for sharper resolutions, and they're hoping customers feel just as comfortable paying the higher rates. And in fairness, even if manufacturers are only doubling their horizontal and vertical resolutions, this works out to four times the number of pixels. There are roughly 2 million pixels in an HDTV versus 8 million in a 4K TV.

Of course, TV makers are hoping that 4K won't go the way of 3D, a similar (but failed) attempt to squeeze more money out of the everyday TV shopper. If there's any silver lining for the 4K nonbelievers, it's that the cost of "standard HD" sets should continue to fall, regardless of what happens with 4K.

Curvy and thin is in
The more we demoed TVs at CES, the more we felt like we'd left the world of tech for the fashion industry. From thin profiles to subtle curves, virtually every TV manufacturer was anxious to prove the same point: What's on the outside counts just as much as what's on the inside.


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