As our recent article on TV trends for 2018 noted, consumers will likely find smart TVs getting even smarter this year as manufacturers embrace digital voice assistants such as Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant. In fact, LG has just announced that its webOS smart TV platform will include Google Assistant as well as LG's own "ThinQ" artificial intelligence (AI) technology.

That's just one of several announcements from LG in the week before CES 2018, the giant trade show that takes place each January in Las Vegas. Given LG's stature as the third biggest TV brand in the U.S., we think the company's announcement says a lot about what TV makers will be pushing in the months ahead.

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The company has also pointed to more technical improvements in LG 4K TVs: Some will probably matter a lot to picture quality, while others might barely be noticed by the average consumer.

And like other manufacturers, LG is planning to push bigger TVs, hoping that more consumers are ready to hang a 65-plus-inch set in the living room. For example, LG's sister company, LG Display, hopes to wow the CES crowds with an 88-inch 8K OLED TV with 33 million pixels—about 25 million more than a regular 4K set has.

Smart TVs Get ThinQ, Google Assistant

TVs with voice-enabled digital assistants may help to transform the television into a smart home hub.

LG says that ThinQ, which works with Google Assistant, can help you quickly set up a TV and use voice commands to control the set and search for content. LG’s ThinQ TVs also let you interact with ThinQ-enabled smart home products such as air conditioners, robotic vacuum cleaners, lights, and speakers.

Using Google Assistant, you'll be able to get news reports and weather forecasts, control thermostats, and even shop at stores such as Walgreen's and Walmart simply by speaking into the microphone in the TV remote.

LG's smart TVs include the brand's own ThinQ technology as well as Google Assistant.

High Frame Rates to Reduce Blurring

The TV industry surely doesn't need another acronym, but in 2018 it will get at least one more: HFR, short for "high frame rate." LG says that its 2018 OLED sets will all support the technology and some of its Super UHD TVs will, too.

HFR is designed to improve picture quality, especially for 4K broadcasts, by bumping up the content's frame rate. Movies are typically filmed at 24 frames per second, while TV shows are shot at 30 or 60. At those rates, images can sometimes blur when the action gets fast and furious.

But HFR doubles those frame rates to produce clearer, more fluid, and less blurry images during those scenes. (Many TVs already have processing to reduce motion blur. They do this artificially, by analyzing adjacent video frames, and then creating an extra frame between them.)

All but one of LG's 4K OLED TVs will get a new, more powerful "Alpha 9" processor to support 4K HFR content, along with HDR. (OLED and Super UHD 4K sets that lack that processor can support 4K with video with either HDR or HFR, but not both.) That processor will also help to improve picture clarity and sharpness and provide more lifelike colors, the company claims.

LG has been talking about HFR for a few years now, as have sports channels, which are likely to be the biggest beneficiaries of the technology.

So will HFR really matter? Probably not, at least for the next few years. So far, LG is the only company really talking about it, although Netflix showed up at an LG HFR event two years ago to say it would support it—at some point. It's possible we'll hear more about high frame rates when the new over-the-air broadcast standard, ATSC 3.0, is rolled out. For right now, though, it won't be a meaningful feature for most TV buyers. 

Stay on top of all the tech news with CR's guide to CES 2018.

Full-Array Backlights, Nano Cell Displays

Although OLED TVs have topped CR's TV ratings for the past few years, the vast majority of sets bought today are LCD/LED TVs. While LCD sets get better every year, they have a few shortcomings, including an inability to produce really dark blacks.

That's because LCD sets require a separate, always-on backlight. That means the TV has to block the light during dark scenes, but some light always leaks through. This can make the set's blacks look gray or create halos around lighter images on dark backgrounds.

LG will address the issue in its 2018 Super UHD TVs by using "full-array" LED backlights with local dimming. In these sets, the LEDs in the backlight are arrayed across the entire back of the panel rather than just on the edges. With local dimming, the LEDs are broken up into smaller controllable zones, so that some can be darkened while others remain illuminated.

LG is augmenting these new backlights with something it calls "nano cell" technology to improve both color performance and viewing angles. Basically, nano cell is LG's answer to the quantum dot technology used by other manufacturers to produce a wider range of colors. These sets use a film with uniformly sized particles, each a nanometer wide. (For reference, a human hair measures about 80,000 to 100,000 nanometers.) LG says this helps to create better, more realistic colors and retain color accuracy at wider viewing angles.

Full-array LED backlights with local dimming aren't new, but they've tended to be expensive. We expect to see more TVs this year that use full-array backlights with local dimming to not only improve the TV's blacks but also to help enhance HDR performance.