I expect to see better TVs every year at CES, and every year I do. This
One thing that is clear is that 4K or Ultra High Definition (3840 by 2160) sets are becoming mainstream for larger size TVs. Almost all the 55-inch and larger sets I saw were 4K UHD sets. While broadcast and typical cable content is still almost all distributed at 1080 or even 720 resolution, services such as Netflix, Amazon Instant Video, and Hulu have been pushing 4K content; and there are now good, reasonably-priced 4K Blu-Ray players on the market with titles to boot. In addition, we’re seeing many games that can be played at a higher resolution. On the TV front, most of the mid- and high-end sets we see are also “smart TVs” with many of the Internet-based over-the-top services built in.
All of the high-end sets also have what is known as (HDR), meaning that they support a wider color gamut, as set makers strive to make the sets as life-like as possible, and we’re now beginning to see HDR content delivered by the major players as well.
This year, as was true last year as well, the big competition was between OLED displays and LCDs that have LED-backlighting (sometimes called LED TVs) enhanced by(QD) or a similar technology that emits different colors of light, allowing for improved color and HDR. LG and Sony showed impressive OLED based models, while just about everyone had enhanced LCD TVs, with Samsung and LG showing some very interesting new technology which they claim will lead to improved color quality and consistency. I’ll discuss the differences below.
As has been the case for the last couple of years, OLED TVs continue to have the most impressive pictures. Because OLEDs emit light themselves, they turn on only when needed, giving such sets “perfect” blacks, and thus better contrast ratios than any LCD-based technology, which all involves backlights. But there are downsides: OLED TVs generally do not get as bright as the top LCDs, draw more power, and are notably more expensive, with 55-inch models starting at about $2,000.
LCDs with quantum dots or similar materials are the main alternative for HDR content. Typically, a QD-enhanced set uses a film of tiny crystalline materials of different sizes that emit different colors of light materials which glow when excited by the lights from the backlight and offer a wide range of colors. Both edge-lit and backlit LEDs are available, with one difference being the local dimming option that is usually available on the full backlit versions, while the edge-lit versions can be notably slimmer.
(Note that I’ve also heard people talk about a future technology that could use Quantum Dots to emit light and color after being excited by an electric field, much as OLED TVs do, rather than those that use a backlight, like all of
Here is some of what I saw at the show:
The highest-end mainstream sets continue to be OLED TVs. LG now has a full line of such sets that provide five different thickness options, topped off by the top-of-the-line Signature W-series, which comes in 77-inch and 65-inch sizes. The 65-inch model measures only 2.57mm at its thickest point, and with new wall mounts, it will extend only 4mm from a wall. Representatives often refer to the W as Wallpaper. It looks very impressive. Note that it is connected to the electronics by a thin cable. In an announcement, LG noted that this year’s models offer 25 percent more peak brightness than last year’s, which should narrow the gap in bright rooms.
Note that the LG displays use white OLEDs and a color filter to display color, a different approach from most of the AMOLEDs you see in smartphones, which typically use different color OLEDs.
Sony was pushing OLED at the top of its line as well, with a new Bravia A1 OLED that adds a 4K HDR Processor X1 Extreme as well as Acoustic Surface, a technology that enables the screen itself to act as the speaker, with the sound emanating directly from the display. This should let you do away with separate speakers. (LG Display, a separate company affiliated with LG that makes the display screens, had a similar demo.)
This too presents a very slim display, but Sony went a different direction with all the electronics, in a panel that goes behind the TV and holds it up; Sony calls this a “stand-less” design. It will come in 77-, 65-, and 55-inch sizes
Panasonic showed a 65-inch OLED TV, known as the EZ1002, and said it would be twice as bright as previous OLED models; at this time it’s being readied for European release only.
In addition, a number of lesser-known vendors also showed OLED display demonstrations, though most seem to be getting the display from LG. It is unclear whether any of these models will actually be offered in the U.S. market anytime soon.
At CES, the big comparison was among different approaches to LCD-based TVs.
Samsung made one of the biggest splashes, pushing new “QLED TVs”—its new brand for quantum dot-enabled TVs with LED backlights (note that essentially all LCD TVs now have LED backlights). What sets these TVs apart is a quantum dot material based on a new metal alloy.
The company stressed that this material gives sets with the new technology enhanced color “volume” by using the dots to render the color more accurately at any brightness, enabling the sets to offer a peak brightness of up to 1500 to 2000 nits. This addresses an issue that affected many TVs: at peak brightness, many displays washed out colors. In addition, Samsung says that the new quantum dots should also provide better color at wider viewing angles and reduced reflectivity. This technology will be offered in Samsung’s Q7, Q8, and Q9 lineups, which will replace the current “SUHD” models that the company has sold. The QLEDs are due to ship in February.
Samsung didn’t give too many details about the technology, but at the booth showed a poster explaining how its quantum dots use a single material in sizes ranging from 2 to 6 nanometers.
Additionally, Samsung has its own Smart TV software, now with an app that works on cell phones as well.
Finally, at its booth Samsung demonstrated a 98-inch 8K version, saying that 8K TVs will be coming “in the near future.” The company also showed a 34-inch curved monitor with a 4ms response time and 100 Hz refresh rate.
LG took a somewhat different approach on the LCD side, introducing a line of what it calls “Super UHD” or “SUHD” TVs with “Nano Cell” technology. LG doesn’t call these quantum dots—a term it did use on some of its earlier sets—so it may use a different underlying technology. The effects seem to be similar.
“Nano Cell” technology consists of uniformly-sized particles about one nanometer in diameter. The company said these cells can better absorb surplus wavelengths of light, in turn producing more accurate colors while allowing for better color consistency, particularly when viewed off-center. They appear to be integrated into the display panel. In addition, LG said the technology reduces reflectivity and allows better picture quality when viewed in brighter environments. These high-end sets—the SJ800 and SJ8500—will support Dolby Vision, Technicolor, HDR 10, HLG formats for HDR, and include the company’s webOS 3.5-based smart TV platform.
LG also showed a 32-inch UHD HDR monitor, aimed at gamers, as well as a 34-inch 21:9 ultrawide monitor.
In the new LCD lineup, Sony stressed its new Slim Backlight Drive+, which the company says allows for a more precise local dimming control, for deeper blacks in its 55-and 65-inch XE93 series, along with a full-array direct LED backlight in the 77-inch XE94 series. Much of the discussion focused on image processing capabilities; Sony said its next-generation sets would use its own 4K Processor X1 Extreme, which it said had 40 percent more processing power than last year’s version, allowing it to take all content and improve it to near 4K HDR quality. In addition, Sony promoted super bit mapping, which it said could produce a 14-bit equivalent gradation from an 8-bit source, resulting in less banding and a smoother picture.
One of the more unusual technologies was Sony’s offering for large scale displays. Sony calls it CLEDIS, for Crystal LED Integrated Structure, which involves putting together multiple tiles of these self-emitting LED displays—each measuring 17 7/8 by 15 7/8 inches—next to each other to create a large, seamless display system. The system shown at CES measured 32 feet by 9 feet, using 144 tiles, creating an 8K by 2K display. This should be available later this year, targeting signage and public spaces.
TCL showed a wide variety of LCD sets—the company claims it is the number three maker of TVs globally—as well as one of only three companies (along with LG and Samsung) to make both TVs and the underlying displays (through subsidiary ChinaStar). The company emphasized plans to build a $7.7 billion 11th-generation LCD plant. TCL also discussed plans to build quantum dots on LED chips and said it would have the world’s slimmest quantum dot based curved TV at 3.9 mm, though the actual products weren’t announced at the show. Its sets use Android TV to provide Smart features on some models, but the focus was on a series of new Roku TVs with Dolby Vision HDR. TCL says its goal is to be third in the U.S. market by the end of the decade.
HiSense pushed its “ULED” series with quantum dot technology, now with 70- and 75-inch models as part of its H10D series, and talked about extending HDR to other lines within its family. One interesting new twist was an announcement of built-in support for Google’s Chromecast; the firm also introduced a new line of Roku-based TVs. HiSense showed an 8K LCD TV, though this seems to be a demonstration only for now.
HiSense showed new quantum dot sets in the Sharp brand, which it controls in the US, including the top end Sharp 9500 series, with quantum dots and full array local dimming. The company also showed the 9000 series, with HDR (but not quantum dots) and edge local dimming.
HiSense’s big new technology was its 4K Laser Cast TV, a short-throw projector that is HDR compatible and includes a UHD upscaler capable of displaying an image at up to 100-inches. It will be available this summer. (Sony also showed a very nice looking short-throw projector.)
A number of other vendors had reasonable-looking TVs and interesting technology demonstrations. For instance, Chinese vendor Changhong showed both curved OLEDs and 8K TVs.
While 8K TVs aren’t likely to be on the market very soon, we will see some 8K monitors. In particular, Dell showed its UltraSharp 32 Ultra HD 8K monitor with 7680 by 4320 resolution, aimed mostly at professional image and workstation applications (not gaming), which is slated to be out later this year.
Panasonic also showed an interesting use for transparent LCDs in a kitchen setting, alongside an array of kitchen appliances. And LG Display showed transparent LCDs, which certainly seem to be improving.
All in all, it was a year for some big improvements in display technology, even if much of it seems to build on what we have seen before. The good news is that at any price point, this year’s TVs are likely to be visibly better than the past.
Michael J. Miller is chief information officer at Ziff Brothers Investments, a private investment firm. Miller, who was editor-in-chief of PC Magazine from 1991 to 2005, authors this blog for PC Magazine to share his thoughts on PC-related products. No investment advice is offered in this blog. All duties are disclaimed. Miller works separately for a private investment firm which may at any time invest in companies whose products are discussed in this blog, and no disclosure of securities transactions will be made.