Future tech 2013: the PCs, tablets and cutting-edge hardware of tomorrow

Tablets that perform like high-end PCs. TVs with gesture control. Big sensors in small cameras.

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Quad-core becomes the norm: Phones with quad-core processors may be newcomers, but we expect that they will quickly become standard in 2013. These processors let you run more-advanced apps on your smartphone, and they are especially good for playing games with high-definition graphics. If you still use a phone that has a single-core processor, it may be time to consider upgrading to something with a little more oomph under the hood.

Bigger screens: The era of smartphones equipped with small screens is quickly coming to an end. Most of the phones released in 2012 had screens measuring 4.3 inches or greater, and that trend seems likely to continue in 2013. While having a large screen makes a phone difficult to use one-handed, the extra screen space does have some significant benefits: You can view more of your content without constantly having to zoom in and out, and typing on the onscreen keyboard is much more enjoyable, thanks to the buttons' being larger and easier to tap accurately.

NFC becomes big (again):Yes, it's this old song and dance: Last year we predicted that near-field communication (NFC) would take off in 2012, and here we are a year later saying that it will surely happen in 2013. Most phones to­­day ship with an NFC chip, though many manufacturers, retailers, and customers don't seem to know what to do with the technology.

Both Google and Microsoft let you use NFC to make purchases with your phone, but most people are reluctant to give up their physical wallet for a digital one. Samsung's recent ad campaigns showing people sharing media via NFC may help in demonstrating ways that the technology can be useful for things besides mobile payments, but broad ac­­ceptance of near-field communication won't happen until the public is ready.

--Armando Rodriguez

TVs and Digital Entertainment

In 2013, televisions are going to get bigger. Not in size, but in resolution, with the first displays to support Ultra High Definition resolutions hitting the market. The new Ultra HD standard offers two resolutions: 7680 by 4320 pixels (16 times as many pixels as on a standard HDTV), and 3840 by 2160 pixels (also known as 4K). Both can support frame rates of up to 120 frames per second for smoother video, and the higher resolution makes images sharper and more realistic. Several manufacturers have an­­nounced Ultra HD models: LG offers the 84-inch LG 84LM9600, and Sony has its Bravia KD-X9000. Because Ultra HD is so new, both are pricey--just under $20,000 for the LG, and $25,000 for the Sony.

Ultra HD: These displays may share the problem that 3D TVs did at launch: lack of content. Although the Ultra HD standard has been finalized, no straightforward way to get Ultra HD content exists, as no Blu-ray or broadcast standard supports it. So buying an Ultra HD right now would appeal only to the most ardent early adopter, until a clear-cut way to deliver the content to your TV appears. In the meantime, Sony is lending early purchasers of its Bravia KD-X9000 model a server that is preloaded with Ultra HD content, including ten movies (ranging from the recent Spider-Man reboot to the classic The Bridge on the River Kwai) and other Ultra HD content, with the promise of more such offerings to come.

Smarter screens: Your TV may already be smart, but it will soon get smarter. Existing TVs can run various apps that let you do such things as watch Netflix movies and tweet--but that's just the beginning. The range of apps available will continue to widen, with existing companies jumping into the TV app market. For in­­stance, Electronic Arts recently announced versions of the popular board games Monopoly and the Game of Life for Samsung Smart TVs, and other gaming companies are looking at this area.Although the Ultra HD standard has been finalized, no straightforward way to get Ultra HD content exists, as no Blu-ray or broadcast standard supports it. So buying an Ultra HD right now would appeal only to the most ardent early adopter, until a clear-cut way to deliver the content to your TV appears. In the meantime, Sony is lending early purchasers of its Bravia KD-X9000 model a server that is preloaded with Ultra HD content, including ten movies (ranging from the recent Spider-Man reboot to the classic The Bridge on the River Kwai) and other Ultra HD content, with the promise of more such offerings to come.

The number of ways that your TV can receive this extra content will increase, too; the forthcoming ATSC 2.0 standard will allow broadcasters to send files to your TV on the same signal as the show itself, so they could offer things like alternate endings or behind-the-scenes videos similar to the ones found as extras on DVDs. This standard (to be finalized early in 2013) also offers the possibility for a TV to send data such as live sports stats to a second device--a phone or tablet, say--alongside the live video on the TV, for example, or a link to a website running a TV commercial.

However, the ATSC 2.0 standard won't include support for broadcasting Ultra HD video; that will have to wait for ATSC 3.0, which won't be ready until at least 2015. You'll also have to add extra components to your media center when this standard rolls out, as current displays will require another decoder box.

Talking to your TV: Soon, yelling at your TV might actually be productive, since several manufacturers are adding voice control and other technologies to make your TV easier to use. Last year, Samsung launched sets with a feature called Smart Interaction, which blends voice, facial, and gesture recognition. This feature is being rolled out across a wider range of models in 2013.

The latest version of Google TV also includes voice control, so you can change channels or search by saying the name of the station or show. LG is the first maker to announce a TV that uses it: the G2 series will cost $1700 and $2300 for, re­­spectively, a 32- and a 47-inch model.

Apple has been experimenting with voice recognition for some time through Siri on the iPhone, and we hear persistent rumors that this might be one of the key features that its long-expected TV will offer, or that future models of the Apple TV receivers could include. --Richard Baguley

Displays

Thinner. Higher-definition. Less power-hungry. You can expect these traits to define monitors for desktop and laptop computers for the next two years.

Buyers want, and even expect, longer battery life and sleeker design with every generation of displays. So manufacturers have every reason to keep turning out devices that satisfy that market, recognizing that buyers deem the display to be a crucial part of the user experience.

Touchscreens: Windows 8 integrates touch support as no previous version of Windows has done. In the new Windows Start screen and in Windows Store applications, you'll be able to use a multitude of touch gestures, many of them involving full, ten-point multitouch interaction; that is, the display will recognize the unique input from all ten fingers. And numerous multitouch displays that fully support Windows 8 are on the horizon.

Some new Windows 8 devices come with pressure-sensitive styluses that let you draw or paint digitally with predictable precision; we'll continue to see more such products in the coming year.

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