One of the biggest changes in television this year will be more channels available online with no separate cable or satellite subscription. But for would-be cord-cutters, watching live sports online has been elusive — until now. Dish Network Corp. on Monday unveiled an Internet-only subscription offering that includes ESPN.
Here are the television-related highlights from the International CES gadget show in Las Vegas on Monday. The four-day show formally opens Tuesday.
LIVE SPORTS — NO CABLE OR SATELLITE BILL
Dish will offer a package of channels, including ESPN and CNN, starting at $20 a month. The availability of ESPN as part of the Internet package addresses a major reason people were loath to "cut the cord" — live sports. NFL games will be blocked on mobile devices, however, because Verizon has those rights.
Dish said it isn't worried that its current subscribers will cancel satellite service in favor of the cheaper Internet package. Rather, Dish is hoping to lure those who don't pay for TV channels at all because they find it too expensive.
"A lot of big incumbents don't like change, but everything else is changing around you," says Joe Clayton, Dish's CEO. "Technology is broadening the consumer viewing opportunity, and they are taking advantage of that."
Sony Corp. also has an Internet television service, PlayStation Vue, expected to debut by the end of March, with channels from Viacom, Discovery, CBS, Fox, NBCUniversal and Scripps. HBO and Showtime already have announced plans for stand-alone Internet offerings, and CBS launched one in October. Those are limited in live sports, though, given that ESPN has rights to many of the leading leagues.
The Dish offering, dubbed Sling TV, will launch in a few weeks and also include channels from Disney, Scripps and Time Warner's Turner. About 20 channels will be available, such as the Disney Channel, ABC Family, the Food Network, HGTV, the Travel Channel, TNT, TBS and the Cartoon Network. Sling TV is not to be confused with the SlingTV device that allows viewers to watch TV remotely. Sling Media, the maker of that device, is owned by EchoStar Corp., which was spun off from Dish in 2008.
The $20 price for Dish's basic package will be far cheaper than what people would pay for a cable or satellite. (Dish said its average monthly bill is about $85.) Dish says it keeps the Internet service cheap by excluding most over-the-air network channels, which can be costly for pay-TV providers as broadcasters demand higher fees. An Internet service also won't require special equipment, such as a satellite and receiver dishes. For those who want more than the basic channels, Dish will offer various add-ons for $5 each, including extra channels for sports and a package for kids.
The catch: Only one person can watch at a time. Family members who want to watch different channels simultaneously will need separate subscriptions.
Meanwhile, Dish is adding Netflix and other video apps to its Hopper set-top boxes, so viewers can watch both traditional channels and online video services through the same device. And anticipating that more Internet video will be shot with an increased resolution known as 4K, Dish is adding 4K capabilities to its Joey devices for multi-room viewing.
NOW, WHAT TO WATCH IT ON?
— SHARPER THAN 4K
Also known as Ultra HD, 4K offers four times the sharpness of today's high-definition video. (Not that a lot of content is shot in 4K just yet). Now that 4K TV sets have dropped in price, with some models available for less than $1,000, TV makers are looking for ways to make their sets stand out.
Sharp is turning to an engineering trick to make its high-end 4K set look even sharper. While TVs typically show colors by mixing red, green and blue subpixels, Sharp's top-of-the-line model will add yellow as a fourth subpixel to improve colors. It then splits each of those subpixels in half, creating a total of eight subpixels in the space of three.
Content isn't yet available to take advantage of those extra subpixels, but Sharp uses some mathematical formulas to fill in the blanks. The Aquos Beyond 4K Ultra HD TV will measure about 80 inches diagonally. It will be out in the second half of the year. The price hasn't been set.
Sony is also introducing new 4K television models this year, and at a news event late Monday, the company promised to create more 4K content to watch on those sets. Sony said four popular shows from its entertainment division — "The Goldbergs," ''The Blacklist," ''Masters of Sex" and "The Night Shift" — will soon be available in 4K. It also said it's working with partners including Netflix and YouTube to deliver more 4K streaming video.
— BETTER COLORS
Samsung is offering a premium line with better brightness and richer colors, not just increased sharpness. It uses a technology called quantum dot — essentially a layer of materials that allows for purer colors and a wider color range. Samsung says the TV is also brighter because there's no need for a filter to compensate for color distortion. It will be called SUHD and cost more than regular 4K sets, though specifics haven't been announced.
Stephen Nakamura, a digital colorist who has worked on Hollywood productions such as "Quantum of Solace" and "The Hurt Locker," came on stage at CES to praise Samsung's new TVs for reproducing colors the way filmmakers intended.
Samsung is also pushing curved TVs, including one high-end model that has a flat screen that can bend, or curve, when the viewer wants a more immersive experience. LG announced quantum-dot and curved sets, too, including a bendable model. LG is also pushing organic LED screens with richer colors and pure black — the kind typically limited to smaller displays such as phones because of price.
Beyond improving picture quality, TV makers are enabling Internet video access right from the set.
STREAMING MEETS DVR
To address the growing availability of online video, TiVo's digital video recorders will offer new menu options to bring Internet and traditional TV programs in one place, so past seasons of ongoing shows are easier to find on Netflix or Amazon. Streaming through TiVo was already possible, but shows weren't as centrally located.
The SlingTV device for viewing television on the go is adding additional functionality for in-home use: a YouTube app for streaming video on regular TV sets without needing a separate streaming device. It won't have an app for the Dish's new Sling TV service, though.