Posts Tagged ‘OLED TV’

CES 2017 In The Rear View Mirror

Overheard on the show floor, at the end of Day 3: “Why do I have to come back to Las Vegas every year? I didn’t do anything wrong.”

This year’s CES was one of the earliest I’ve attended, starting right after the first of the year with two days of press conferences (I attended just one) and four days of exhibits (three days were plenty for me), scattered all over Las Vegas from the main convention center to the Sands Expo Center, the Venetian Hotel, The Mandalay Bay, and numerous other off-site meeting places.

Turnout according to the CTA was strong, exceeding 160,000. And the exhibit halls were full up. Automobile manufacturers and audio companies camped out in the north hall, while the big names in consumer electronics staked their claims in the center hall, leaving the upper and lower south hall exhibit spaces to drones and VR brands, along with a slew of Taiwanese and Chinese manufacturers and trading companies you’ve never heard of.

It’s a lot to take in over the four days, but I managed to cover all of the halls and make it over to the Sands for a brief visit. Some colder-than-usual weather (with sleet and even hail mixed in) had people scurrying to get around, and the availability of Uber and Lyft drivers was erratic, to say the least.

Still, I came back with over 1,000 raw photos and a pile of videos that I’m still editing as this is being written. Selected highlights and trends observed at the show will follow shortly, but let me start with a few general observations. First off, this was a very laid-back CES. Ground-breaking announcements were few and far between, as were advanced technology demos.

Most of the things I saw this year had been introduced at prior shows and were simply refinements. Very little of what I saw was unexpected, and I had even predicted some of the products and trends. (It’s just a matter of connecting the dots over time.)

Sony's back in the OLED TV game with this 77-inch 4K monster (panel by LG Display). There are 65-inch and 55-inch models, too.

Figure 1. Sony’s back in the OLED TV game with this 77-inch 4K monster (panel by LG Display). There are 65-inch and 55-inch models, too.

 

LG's Signature

Figure 2. LG’s Signature “Wallpaper” OLED TV appears to float atop a large piece of glass…and it’s super-thin, too.

In the world of displays, there were ample demonstrations of quantum dot (QD) technology for backlighting televisions and computer monitors. Another major manufacturer is now on board with organic light-emitting diode (OLED) televisions, and we’re seeing the beginnings of ‘pure’ LED-based displays that use fine pitch RGB elements.

Interest in robots has spiked considerably, from table-top versions that help you wake up in the morning to models that can guide you through an airport to your flight and even check on the departure time and gate. Other robots can sweep the floor and perform mundane tasks, returning to their charging stations automatically. There was even a robot that could see and pick up objects, and some rudimentary demos of ‘learning’ robots were also on hand.

Automobiles are a BIG part of the show, particularly when it comes to all-electric models with varying degrees of autonomy. There were plenty of demos of self-driving cars and even one that can detect your emotions and physical state. Other eye-poppers included entire cars that were 3D-printed and cars with VR headsets for driving. (That last one is borderline nuts, if you ask me.)

And of course there were hundreds of examples of Internet of Things (IoT) connectivity: Smart refrigerators and washer/drier combos. Smart lighting. Smart cars.  Small smart appliances. Smart scooters. For that matter, just about anything in the home or business can be connected to the Internet for monitoring and control. In some cases, all that’s needed is a plug-in USB stick. In other cases, it’s a software and hardware installation.

What follows is a somewhat random listing of show highlights. These are products or trends I felt significant enough to report on. Some were shown on the floor; others required a private visit to a meeting room or hotel suite. A few of them need to be seen in person to appreciate their significance, and if you make it to the NAB or InfoComm shows, there’s a good chance of that happening.

Panasonic introduced four new Ultra HD Blu-ray players at CES (eith and without WiFi), but oddly enough, they still aren't selling this beautiful 65-inch 4K HDR OLED TV in the USA to go with them...

Figure 3. Panasonic introduced four new Ultra HD Blu-ray players at CES (eith and without WiFi), but oddly enough, they still aren’t selling this beautiful 65-inch 4K HDR OLED TV in the USA to go with them…

 

Samsung's new ultrawide QLED PC monitor has spectacular color rendering from quantum dots.

Figure 4. Samsung’s new ultrawide QLED PC monitor has spectacular color rendering from quantum dots.

Light-emitting diodes (LEDs) are becoming the go-to platform for generating photons. Doesn’t matter if it’s for your TV (OLEDs, WLEDs with quantum dots), home and office lighting, dashboard indicators, or stadium signs. A new generation of so-called “micro” LEDs has come to market and is finding its way into digital signage, resulting in super-fine-pitch emissive displays with high dynamic range and very wide color gamuts.

On the television side, LG continues to make improvements to its line of OLED 4K TVs, showing models as large as 77 inches. They’ve even come up with a ‘wallpaper’ design that suspends the display on a clear glass surface, and the thickness of these displays has dropped below 5mm (that’s about ¼ of an inch). OLEDs can also flex, making them perfect for installation in cars, trucks, trains, planes – anything that moves.

In the LG Display booth, we saw prototype OLED dashboards, including a virtual instrument cluster with a transparent OLED (very cool!) overlaid on an LCD display for a 3D gauge effect. We also saw two-sided OLEDs as well as a method to use the front surface of an OLED TV as a speaker. It worked well, but by the laws of physics won’t have a wide field of dispersion.

Sony has also embraced OLED TVs with a flourish, buying panels from LG and using their own video processing in 77-inch, 65-inch, and 55-inch models. (They’re also using the front surface as a speaker.) The company is also a leader in micro LED technology; dazzling crowds with their massive 8K x 2K CLEDIS LED display made up of hundreds of seamless LED tiles. Look for more companies to embrace micro LEDs, and don’t be surprised if they start showing up in televisions by the end of the decade.

LG's 27-inch PC monitor has an amazing 5120x2880 pixels of resolution - that's right, 5K.

Figure 5. This 27-inch PC monitor from LG has an amazing 5120×2880 pixels of resolution – that’s right, 5K.

 

Hisense is into quantum dot technology and showed a full line of 4K HDR LCD TVs, driven by Nanosys QD science.

Figure 6. Hisense is into quantum dot technology and showed a full line of 4K HDR LCD TVs, driven by Nanosys QD science.

 

Even Qualcomm is getting into the HDR game, showcasing the processing power of their Snapdragon CPU to drive displays.

Figure 7. Even Qualcomm is getting into the HDR game, showcasing the processing power of their Snapdragon CPU to drive displays.

For nearly a decade, the standard illumination system for LCD TVs and monitors was clusters of white LEDs and RGB color filters; either using edge illumination and a light waveguide plate or direct illumination. A few years ago, we started to see a new way to produce more horsepower with brighter, more saturated colors and high dynamic range: Blue LEDs harnessed to quantum dots.

Now, everyone’s in the game. Samsung made the biggest splash at CES when they rolled out their “Q” line of TVs, using what they call Q-LEDs (quantum LEDs). But hold on – what Samsung calls a Q-LED isn’t really. It’s just an improved quantum dot that’s more efficient while the original Q-LED, developed by QD Vision, is a true electroluminescent device that would revolutionize displays (and probably run OLEDs out of business).

Nevertheless, Samsung dazzled with a full line of 4K quantum dot LCDs, as did Chinese manufacturers Hisense and TCL. Both companies are making a major push into the U.S. television market (Hisense sponsors a NASCAR team), and TCL is one of a handful of vertically-integrated TV manufacturers – from raw panels to finished sets. Other Chinese brands (Haier, Skyworth, Changhong, and Konka) showed 4K TVs with high dynamic range, but they don’t have the presence quite yet on this side of the Pacific.

Front projection is still very much in the game. LG, Sony, Hisense, and Changhong all showed an ultra-short-throw laser projector for home theater use that can light up a 100-inch (diagonal) screen – all with 4K image resolution. Somewhat lost in the translation was the ability to display improved dynamic range and more saturated colors (what Changhong called “flame red and pacific blue”), but there’s no question that this is a viable alternative to large screens, like the 120-inch 4K LCD TV shown by LeEco in their booth.

Unusual LCD and OLED sizes and aspect ratios continue to be popular. Samsung showed what they stated is the first quantum dot-equipped desktop monitor, a 34-inch curved model that claims 125% coverage of the sRGB color gamut and has a maximum refresh rate of 100 Hz. BenQ also showed an HDR LCD monitor using an improved panel design and coupled it with DisplayPort 1.3 (HBR3), streaming content at a maximum of 32 Gb/s from source to screen. And LG exhibited a spectacular 5K LCD monitor (5120×2880 resolution) that supports USB 3.0 Type C and Thunderbolt connections.

Figure 8. Although LG Display does a ton of work with OLEDs, they aren't leaving LCDs behind. Their new Nano Cell technology greatly improves color rendering, saturation, and dynamic range using nanoparticles smaller than 1 nanometer.

Figure 8. Although LG Display does a ton of work with OLEDs, they aren’t leaving LCDs behind. Their new Nano Color II technology greatly improves color rendering, saturation, and dynamic range using nanoparticles smaller than 1 nanometer.

 

Witrh Keyssa's KISS 60 GHz wireless dock, you won't need a DisplayPort (or HDMI) cable to your TV.

Figure 9. With Keyssa’s KISS 60 GHz wireless dock, you won’t need a DisplayPort (or HDMI) cable to your TV.

So how do we interface all of these displays? The big news for HDMI at the show was version 2.1, which increases the overall data rate to 48 Gb/s using speed improvements to the physical data rate per lane, plus expansion to a fourth lane and the adoption of Display Stream Compression – all the while retaining the same 19-pin connector as before (a neat trick, if you ask me). Now, will they announce a standard for native optical fiber interfacing?

Lattice Semiconductor, the parent company of HDMI, continues to dabble in 60 GHz wireless connectivity with their SNAP close-proximity wireless interconnect. As presently configured, it can support the same maximum data rates as HDMI 1.3/1.4 (10.2 Gb/s), so it can transport 4K video in the RGB (4:4:4) format at a maximum frame rate of 30 Hz, or transport 4L/60 4:2:0 video.

Over in the VESA booth, Keyssa showed their Kiss 60 GHz wireless solution, docking an Amazon Kindle tablet to stream 1080p content to a large TV. Both SNAP and Kiss utilize multiple in, multiple out (MIMO) antenna arrays and have similar data rates around 6 Gb/s upstream and downstream. What was different about Kiss is that it was making a wireless DisplayPort connection, not HDMI.

DisplayPort is also undergoing upgrades. Demos were shown of 120 Hz video output using a high bit rate 3 (HBR3) connection; maxed out at 8 Gb/s per lane. VESA also showed HDR through DP, along with a conversion to HDMI 2.0b for HDR televisions. Nearby, semiconductor designer Hardent demonstrated an improved version of Display Stream Compression, using 2:1 and 3:1 ratios. They are now venturing further by testing 4:1 DSC and its impact on latency, which with 3:1 packing amounts to just a few picture lines.

HDMI LIcensing showed off HDR 4K content with the new version 2.1 HDMI interface, which had its maximum speed raised to 48 Gb/s across four lanes.

Figure 10. HDMI Licensing showed off HDR 4K content with the new version 2.1 HDMI interface, which had its maximum speed raised to 48 Gb/s across four lanes.

 

Kopin's 2K x 2K minature OLED display is designed for heads-up augmented reality applications - and it looks great.

Figure 11. Kopin’s 2K x 2K minature OLED display is designed for heads-up augmented reality applications – and it looks great.

 

Figure 12. AR headgear is finally getting lighter, although still bulky.

Figure 12. AR headgear is finally getting lighter, although still bulky.

Over in the Westgate Hotel, Canadian fabless chip company Peraso unveiled the next generation of their 60 GHz wireless USB chipset, using the 802.11ad WiFi standard. In their tests, a 220 MB video file downloaded from a laptop through an 802.11ad router to another laptop in about 8 seconds (try that at home!). It’s also possible to stream wireless video in real time over USB this way.

Both Lattice and Peraso see potential for 60 GHz wireless with virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) headsets as a solution to the annoying, bulky and heavy cable bundles that go with the territory. Qualcomm, which had an enormous exhibit of 60 GHz products last year including twelve different tri-band WiFi modems and a smartphone (Letv), dialed it back this year with a modest exhibit of high-speed data and file exchange using their Snapdragon processor.

On the control side of things; you name it, it was connected to the Internet, from doorbell cameras and RFID locks to water sprinklers, shades, lights, thermostats, and major appliances. Samsung, LG, Hisense, Haier, and others exhibited interactive refrigerators with built-in LCD screens that can show video (play back recipes while you’re cooking or baking), keep track of what’s in the fridge and how old it is, prepare shopping lists and order groceries automatically (you know Amazon has a hand in that), and work as a whiteboard or virtual clipboard for leaving notes and keeping track of your schedule(s).

LG’s “knock” LCD refrigerator screen turns transparent when you tap it to see what’s hiding on the right side shelves. (Lots of potential for mischief there!) Samsung’s models will actually talk to you: You can ask the refrigerator to go out on the Internet and find a recipe and then read it back as you prepare the food. Another cool appliance, an induction oven, was shown by Panasonic. You can place everything for one meal – main course and sides – on one plate, put it in the oven, and everything is correctly heated and cooked without burning.

Figure 13. Samsung's OLED smart watches can change to show any watch face configuration you like.

Figure 13. Samsung’s OLED smart watches can change to show any watch face configuration you like.

 

Figure 14. Corning apparently woke up and smelled the coffee! All of the glass in this car - windshield, mirrors, light covers, etc. - is made from the company's tough, durable, and scratch-resistant Gorilla Glass. (Why didn't they think of this earlier?)

Figure 14. Corning apparently woke up and smelled the coffee! All of the glass in this car – windshield, mirrors, light covers, etc. – is made from the company’s tough, durable, and scratch-resistant Gorilla Glass. (Why didn’t they think of this earlier?)

I’ll close out by talking about robots and autonomous cars. Machine learning is a popular topic among scientists and we’re now seeing it come to fruition. Canon showed an assembly robot that can actually see; looking for and finding parts on a table, picking them up and putting them in the correct place. Toyota’s YUI car actually senses your emotions while you drive, along with your heart rate. It can automatically suggest places to eat, a movie for a cranky child, or simply takeover driving while you catch a cat nap behind the wheel. And LG featured a guide robot that will roll up to you in an airport, scan your boarding pass, tell you the flight departure time and gate and escort you to your destination.

Granted; these are somewhat exotic examples of machine learning. But on a more mundane level, you can now design a control system that will use face recognition to unlock and enable operation of devices in your home, school, and business. Face recognition will also work in a car dashboard, as shown by Mitsubishi and others, and real-time displays will update you on weather, time, road and traffic conditions, and even suggest alternate routes.

That’s it! I’ve barely scratched the surface of what I saw at the show, and will have more posts after I have some time to gather my thoughts. (And look at that – I never once mentioned drones!)

On CE Week, Shoot-Outs, And Flies In The Ointment

Last Thursday, I made the trek up to the Metropolitan Pavilion in New York City to check out the annual CE Week show. And I must say that it wasn’t nearly as valuable an experience as it was a few years ago, when the show was affiliated with the Consumer Technology Association.

If my understanding is correct, CE Week was a way to keep interest stoked in the rapidly-changing world of consumer electronics. When the show first started, HDTV was a big part of the equation, with exhibitors like Samsung, Sony, Toshiba, Mitsubishi, Sharp, and LG either showing off their latest models on the show floor, or exhibiting at nearby off-site locations.

That landscape has changed considerably, thanks to the collapse in TV prices and the shift to panel manufacturing in China. Only two companies had dedicated exhibits for UHD TVs – Samsung and Westinghouse Digital – while other models were represented in the annual Value Electronics Shoot-Out in a downstairs demo room.

Once arriving at the event, I quickly toured the booths and saw products to connect your landline phone calls to your mobile (Voice Bridge), give you a 360-degree camera view (Kodak PixPro), “enhance” the detail in your new Ultra HDTV (DarbeeVision), and bundle audio and large images into a compact go-anywhere cube projector (Aiptek). (I was also buzzed by a few drones here and there, the fastest being a $60 glowing green/blue number sold by Odyssey that really whipped around the show floor.)

This Odyssey drone was flying around the show floor, uncaged.

This Odyssey drone was flying around the show floor, uncaged.

Kodak - or, more correctly, someone licensing the Kodak brand - has a 360-degree VR camera for you.

Kodak – or, more correctly, someone licensing the Kodak brand – has a 360-degree VR camera for you.

Voice Bridge lets you forward your landline calls to your mobile phone, wherever you are. Question: Why not just use a mobile phone all the time?

Voice Bridge lets you forward your landline calls to your mobile phone, wherever you are. Question: Why not just use a mobile phone all the time?

Epson was also there, showing a full line of front projectors for home theater use, including a new model (PowerLite 5040UB) that, although it uses a traditional 1920×1080 3LCD engine, incorporates a new “4K Enhancement Technology” that uses pixel-shifting to create what appears to be images with full 3840×2160 resolution. (Oh, and it can display HDR content, too. Oh, and it will cost about $3,000, and its full brightness specification is 2500 lumens.)

Scoping out all of that stuff took only about an hour, so I decided to descend the stairs and check out the UHDTV Shoot-Out, put together by Robert Zohn of Value Electronics. There had been some arguments among videophiles in the past about the winners (Shoot-Outs tend to end that way, trust me), so I decided to keep a low profile and sit in the very back as a passive observer, passing on the evaluations and scoring.

Joel Silver was on hand from the Imaging Science Foundation to explain a wide range of TV topics from grayscales and CIE color plots to high dynamic range and black levels. After discussing each parameter, those in attendance were invited to walk by each of the five displays and score them on performance for that parameter. At the end of the session, the votes would be tabulated and a winner announced.

For the record, the UHDTVs on hand came from LG (OLED), Samsung (HDR LCD), Sony (HDR LCD), and Vizio (HDR LCD). Just for fun, an older Pioneer 1080p plasma TV was also positioned to the left edge of the array, next to the LG OLED.

The introduction of high dynamic range with wider color gamuts (and eventually, higher frame rates) really does change the notion of television from what we know today. Instead of a nominal peak white brightness of 100 to 200 cd/m2, we’re now looking at 800 to 1000 cd/m2. And the range of colors our displays can reproduce has expanded considerably, particularly in the green and red loci. So viewing HDR/WCG content really is a step closer to what our eyes see every day, and makes conventional SDR HDTV look a bit dated.

The 1026 Shoot-Out under way. (Yes, they did turn of the lights for certain evaluations.)

The 1026 Shoot-Out under way. (Yes, they did turn the lights off for certain evaluations.)

(Left to right) A vintage 2006-7 Pioneer 60-inch plasma, LG's OLED65G6P, Samsung's UN78KS9800, Sony's XBR-75X940D, and Vizio's RS65-B2 UHDTVs.

(Left to right) A vintage 2006-7 Pioneer 50-inch plasma, LG’s OLED65G6P, Samsung’s UN78KS9800, Sony’s XBR-75X940D, and Vizio’s RS65-B2 HDR UHDTVs.

As the session wound on, I noticed that the grayscale images shown on the LG OLED (model OLED65G6P) had a noticeable greenish color cast that wasn’t seen on the other sets. Intrigued, I got up and walked over to stand at a zero degree offset from the TV’s centerline – and voila: The tint vanished.

Additional images with lots of white, light grays, and pastel colors were shown during the test, and I moved back and forth between the on-axis viewing spot (several rows of chairs back from the audience) and my original seat at the far left rear, which looked to be about 30 – 35 degrees off-axis. Sure enough, the greenish color tint was still there.

I pointed this out to a couple of LG representatives, neither of whom had noticed it previously. I also mentioned it to Zohn, who replied that he also noticed it before but stated “What options do we have? It’s still better than the loss of luminance and color shifting on LCD/LED TVs.” Uh, maybe not, if someone viewing at a moderate angle is seeing a greenish tint that someone else isn’t. None of my plasma TVs ever exhibited this condition.

Silver told me he doesn’t recommend using these displays for color grading or critical viewing because of an inconsistency in yellow shading. I didn’t notice that, but it was hard to miss the green shift. I alerted a few other people in the room to look for it, including my colleague Ken Werner. (You can see it quite clearly in my photos.) But if you were one of the crowd seated in the first couple of rows toward the center, you wouldn’t have seen this “fly in the ointment.”

Even so; this display won the Shoot-Out, according to a press released that landed in my inbox this morning. Quote: LG Electronics’ SIGNATURE 4K OLED TV was crowned “2016 King of TV” in the 13th Annual Value Electronics TV Shootout™ in a competition among four contending flagship 4K Ultra HD TV models from LG and other leading brands during CE Week in New York City. The 65-inch class (64.5 inches measured diagonally) LG SIGNATURE OLED TV (model OLED65G6P) with HDR was voted the top-performing TV by both general attendees and an expert panel of professional calibrators based on eight different picture quality attributes.”

The LG 65-inch OLED (left) and Samsung's 78-inch LCD (right) viewed on-axis - at the optical centerline.

The LG 65-inch OLED (left) and Samsung’s 78-inch LCD (right) viewed on-axis – at the optical centerline.

 

The same two displays, now being viewed at at angle of about 35 degrees to the left of the optical centerline.

The same two displays, now being viewed at at angle of about 35 degrees to the left of the optical centerline.

 

A closeup view of LG's OLEDD65G6P (left) and Samsung's UN78KS9800 (right), again viewed at a 35-degree angle to the left.

A closeup view of LG’s OLEDD65G6P (left) and Samsung’s UN78KS9800 (right), again viewed at a 35-degree angle to the left.

Hmmm. I’m surprised that the “expert panel of professional calibrators” didn’t pick up on the LG color shift, particularly since models of LCD TVs are routinely hammered for their intrinsic off-axis viewing limitations (elevated black levels, color shifts, and contrast flattening).  So what’s causing it?

I have some theories. Several years ago, Sony introduced its first OLED monitors for professional reference monitoring. To improve color purity and make it easier to achieve clean white balance (and possible to improve brightness as well), Sony’s top-emitting OLED pixels were equipped with cavity filters – basically narrowband (notch) optical filters.

Unfortunately, these cavity filters created an unwanted low-frequency roll-off effect when images were viewed at an angle, producing a marked blue color shift on the parts of the image farthest from a viewer. This effect was most noticeable when grayscale patterns were being shown. (My understanding was that Sony re-engineered the design of these filters to improve off-center frequency response in subsequent models.)

So is that what caused the color shift in LG’s 65-inch Signature OLED UHDTV? Possibly. Using these filters could flatten out and sharpen the red, green, and blue peaks, although a color gamut chart shown by Silver seemed to contradict that theory.

It’s also possible LG is using some sort of micro lens or prism technique (or even a polarizer) in the optical path to enhance brightness, and that could be the problem. The result would be brighter images with excellent color saturation, but a narrower viewing angle. (Everything in life is a trade-off!)

Does this affect all models of LG OLEDs? I can’t say, and I don’t recall seeing anything like this at CES when visiting the LG booth and LG Display suite and taking pictures of various OLED displays at different angles. I’ve sent off an inquiry to LG Display to see if they can provide any insights. And my congratulations go to LG for winning the Shoot-Out. (Hey, that 10-year-old Pioneer plasma still looks pretty good!)

But as much as I prefer emissive (plasma, OLED) displays over transmissive (LCD), what I saw at the CE Week TV Shoot-Out gave me real pause. In my family room, viewing angles can be as wide as 40 degrees, and as you’ve just seen, the color shift would be very noticeable at that angle.

Prior to attending CE Week, I had planned to pick up an OLED UHDTV next year, after all the HDR compatibility and support issues (and hopefully display interface speed limit problems) are worked out. Now? That’s on hold until I can figure out what’s behind the shift, and if it’s a characteristic of other 2016 LG OLED TVs.

Those flies in the ointment can be quite annoying!

Editor’s note: This article was updated on June 28 to correct the original quotation from Robert Zohn of Value Electronics.

Of Samsung, Big Screens, IoT, HDR, And Patience

Last Tuesday, April 12, Samsung held its annual press briefing and TV launch event at its new, “hip” facility in the Chelsea section of Manhattan. The multi-story building is known as Samsung837 (like a Twitter handle), as its location is on 837 Washington Street by the High Line elevated walkway.

Samsung, who has dominated the worldwide television market for many years – and who has a pretty good market share in smartphones, too – has been a leader in developing Ultra HD (4K) televisions with high dynamic range and wider color gamuts, most notably in their S-line.

At the briefing, they announced their new, top-of-the-line Ultra HDTVs, equipped for high dynamic range with quantum dot backlights manufactured by Nanosys of Sunnyvale, CA. There are a few new sizes in the line that are re-defining what a “small” TV screen means! The flagship model is the KS9800 curved SUHDTV, which will be available in a 65-inch size ($4,499), 78 inches ($9,999), and a mammoth 88-inch version ($19,999).

Samsung's Dave Dar fills in the press on the company's new line of S-UHDTVs.

Samsung’s Dave Dar fills in the press on the company’s new line of S-UHDTVs.

Stepping down, we find the KS9500-series, with a 55” model for $2,499, a 65” model for $3,699, and a 78” model for $7,999 (June). The flat-screen KS9000 comes in three flavors – 55” ($2,299), 65” ($3,499) and 75” ($6,499, June). There are two entry-level SKUs (if that’s even the right term to use) as well – the KS8500, a curved-screen version, is aimed at the consumer wanting a smaller screen, with a 55” model for $1,999 and a 65” model for $2,999. A 49” model will be available in May for $1,699.  The line is rounded out with the KS8000 flat SUHDTV (55” $1, 799; and 65” $2,799, with a 49” model for $1,499 and a 60” model for $2,299; both to come in May).

There’s not a huge difference between these models – the differences have mostly to do with curved and flat surfaces and the screen size options available. Plus a bevy of “bells and whistles.” Perhaps the most intriguing are a set of “connect and control” features.

Samsung’s been offering a Smart Hub feature for some time, and this year’s iteration lets you plug in a cable box from Comcast or Time Warner or a set-top from DirecTV, and the TV will automatically recognize the box and set up all the required control functions on the Samsung TV remote. All you have to do is plug in an HDMI cable.

The KS9800 will make you forget you ever lusted for a Pioneer Elite plasma TV. (As long as you don't watch it off-axis.)

The KS9800 will make you forget you ever lusted for a Pioneer Elite plasma TV. (As long as you don’t watch it off-axis.)

 

And here's where the magic happens - two jars with indium phosphide quantum dots suspended in fluid to produce those brilliant reds and greens.

And here’s where the magic happens – two jars with indium phosphide quantum dots suspended in fluid to produce those brilliant reds and greens.

On top of that, Samsung’s Smart Things feature provides on-off control of things like locks, lamps, and other devices connected by Wi-Fi, ZigBee, or Z-Wave protocols. The company offers switchable outlets, water sensors, proximity sensors, and motion sensors; all of which connect back to your television and smart phone for monitoring and control. (And yes, the television can also be controlled by this system.)

Samsung’s concept is this: Since we spend so much time in front of our big screen TVs, why not make them the hub of a home monitoring and control system? And why not make the connection and activation of everything from set-top boxes to remotely-controlled AC outlets a plug-and-play operation? A Smart Things starter kit is available for $249, and you can add compatible ZigBee and Z-Wave devices like thermostats, smoke and CO detectors, and locks from companies like Honeywell, Schlage, Cree, Leviton, and First Alert.

So why are Samsung and other TV manufacturers looking to get into home control systems? A combination of declining TV sales and falling prices has resulted in an accelerating transition away from Full HD (1920×1080) televisions and displays to Ultra HD (3840×2160), as TV manufacturing shifts to China and manufacturers frantically search for profitability.

Samsung – likely motivated by this trend – is looking a way to add value to TV sales, pitching a complete home entertainment and control system (with sound bars, surround audio, and Ultra HD Blu-ray players, of course) to consumers. It’s all about the Internet of Things (IoT) – the idea that every electronic gadget in your home has an IP address and can be controlled with a driver and an app.

The three-story atrium at Samsung's new 837 Washington Street is enormous - and has a working cafe with live entertainment.

The three-story atrium at Samsung’s new 837 Washington Street is enormous – and has a working cafe with live entertainment.

Think about this for a moment: Seven years ago, a first-tier 50-inch 1080p plasma equipped with active-shutter 3D playback was priced at $2,500. Today, you can buy four times the resolution, eight times the brightness, a much wider color gamut, a much lighter set with lower power consumption, and five more inches of screen for about $600 less.

Amazing! You’re thinking. My next TV is going to be an Ultra HDTV!  Good thinking, as your next TV sized 55 inches or larger will probably be an Ultra HD set anyway, since TV manufacturers are ramping down production of 1080p sets and retailers are devoting more shelf space to UHD.

While there are and will continue to be some amazing deals on Ultra HD sets, don’t forget the enhancements. In addition to the aforementioned high dynamic range and wider color gamut, higher frame rates (HFR) will also become a part of the UHD ecosystem. (So will 8K displays, but I’m getting ahead of myself…)

Problem is; no two companies are implementing all of these add-ons the same way. We have competing systems for HDR (Dolby Vision, Technicolor, BBC/NHK HLG, and yes, Samsung), and yet another controversy about pixel resolution in displays using the pentile red-green-blue-white (RGBW) pixel array (LG’s new Ultra HD OLEDs).

To date, only two HDR Blu-ray players have been announced, and only one (Samsung) is available at retail. A bigger problem: Many Ultra HDTVs have only one HDMI 2.0 input, which needs to support the CTA 861.3 HDR metadata standard. (DisplayPort 1.4 also works with CTA 861.3, but it was just announced). And HDMI 2.0 is barely fast enough for 4K HDR: If you want to connect a PC for Ultra HD gaming at 60Hz with 10-bit RGB (4:4:4) color, you’re out of luck.

Yep, I want one, too. But I think I'm going to wait a little while longer until the HDR picture clears up a bit...

Yep, I want one, too. But I think I’m going to wait a little while longer until the HDR picture clears up a bit…

In other words; it’s chaos as usual in the CE world, like HDTV was circa 1998. I don’t know how fast these issues will be worked out. All HDR-10 compatible TVs should play back 10-bit content from Ultra HD Blu-ray discs and media files. When it comes to enhanced HDR systems, Vizio, TCL, and LG support Dolby Vision, but Samsung does not; neither do Panasonic and Sony.

Only a handful of TV models have opted to include the still royalty-free DisplayPort interface to overcome some of the UHD speed limit issues of HDMI. 4K content isn’t exactly in abundance, either. No broadcasts are planned in the near future, and a handful of cable systems are working on 4K channels (remember the 3D channels from Comcast and DirecTV?). Netflix and Amazon Prime do stream in UHD, but you need a TV that supports the VP9/VP10 and H.265 codecs to watch.

If you are considering a purchase of an Ultra HDTV and not in a big hurry, my advice is to sit on your hands for another year until many of these issues get ironed out. Sometimes doing nothing really is the best option…

2016 – A Turning Point For Television

In a few short weeks, I (and hundreds of my colleagues in the press) will dutifully board planes for Las Vegas to once again spend a week walking the show floor at International CES. We’ll listen to PR pitches, grab fast-food meals on the fly, show up late for appointments, have numerous ad hoc discussions in hallways and cabs, and try to make sense of all the new technologies unveiled in the Las Vegas Convention Center and nearby hotels.

As usual, many of us will want to focus on televisions – or more specifically, what televisions are becoming. TVs have always been an important product category at CES, and that was particularly true with the introduction of digital, high definition TV in the late 1990s, followed by plasma and then LCD display technologies in the early to mid-2000s.

Today, the bloom is largely off the rose. TVs have become commodities, thanks to aggressive pricing and distribution by Korean manufacturers that have largely driven the Japanese brands out of the business. And we’re seeing that cycle repeat itself as China becomes the nexus for TV manufacturing and prices for 1080p sets continue in free fall.

But something new is here – Ultra HD (a/k/a 4K). And the transition is happening at a breathtaking pace: The first 4K / UHD sets appeared on these shores in 2012 with astronomically high price tags. Four years later, you can buy a 55-inch Ultra HDTV with “smart” wireless functions for less than $800, a price point that has forced same-size 1080p sets below $500.

And it’s not just more pixels. High dynamic range (HDR) is coming to market, as are new illumination technologies that will provide much larger color gamuts. LCD and OLED panel manufacturers are now able to address at 10 bits per pixel, breaking past the now-inadequate 8-bit standard that has held back displays of all kinds for over a decade.

Chinese manufacturer Hisense now owns the Sharp TV brand, and will bring a line of quantum dot-equipped Ultra HDTVs to market in 2016.

Chinese manufacturer Hisense now owns the Sharp TV brand, and will bring a line of quantum dot-equipped Ultra HDTVs to market in 2016.

Screen sizes are getting larger, too. Ten years ago, a 42-inch TV was considered “big” and anything larger was a home theater installation. Today? Consumers are routinely buying 50-inch, 55-inch, and even 60-inch sets as prices have fallen. That same 42-inch set is often consigned to a bedroom or kid’s room, or maybe a summer home.

Back in September of 2008, I bought a Panasonic 42-inch 1080p plasma TV for about $1,100. It had two HDMI 1.3 connections, three analog composite/component video inputs, and no network connectivity of any kind. But wow, did it make great pictures!

Seven years later, that TV sits in my basement, unused. It was replaced by a price-comparable, more energy-efficient 46-inch LCD model after Hurricane Sandy killed our power for several days and I did a whole-house energy audit. (And no, the LCD picture quality doesn’t compare to the plasma.)

But that’s not all that changed. I picked up four HDMI 1.4 inputs along the way (yep, it was set up for 3D), plus built-in Wi-Fi and “smart” functions. And I added a sound bar to make up for the awful quality of the built-in speakers. Plus, I added a Blu-ray player to round out the package, although it hardly sees any discs these days – it’s mostly used for streaming.

So – let’s say I’d like to replace that TV in 2016, just five years later. What would my options be?

To start with, I’d be able to buy a lot more screen. Right now, I could pick up a Samsung or LG 65-inch smart 1080p set for what I spent in 2011. Or, I could bite the bullet and make the move to Ultra HD with a 55-inch or 60-inch screen, complete with four HDMI inputs (one or two would be version 2.0, with HDCP 2.2 support), Wi-Fi, Netflix streaming (very important these days), and possibly a quantum dot backlight for HDR and WCG support.

My new set should support the HEVC H.265 codec, of course. That will make it possible to stream UHD content into my TV at 12 – 18 Mb/s from Netflix, Amazon Prime, Vimeo, Vudu, and any other company that jumps on the 4K content bandwagon. I could even go out and buy a brand-new Ultra HD Blu-ray player to complement it. But it’s more likely I’d opt to stream UHD content over my new, fast 30 Mb/s Internet connection from Comcast.

Now, it might pay to wait until later in 2016, when I could be sure of purchasing an Ultra HDTV that would support one or more of the proposed HDR delivery standards for disc-based and streaming UHD movies. And maybe I’d have more “fast” inputs, like DisplayPort 1.2 or even 1.3 to go along with HDMI 2.0 (and quite possibly, superMHL).

And I might even swing back over to an emissive display, to replace the picture quality I got from my old plasma set. That would mean purchasing an OLED Ultra HDTV, which would also support HDR and WCG, plus all of the usual bells and whistles (Wi-Fi, multiple HDMI/DP inputs, streaming, apps).

My point? We’re going to see some amazing technology in the next generation of televisions at ICES. And consumers are apparently warming up to Ultra HD – while sales of 1080p sets continue to decline, Ultra HD sales are climbing by double-digit percentages. I expect that number to accelerate as we near the Super Bowl, even though it won’t be broadcast in 4K (yet!).

If you are thinking about upgrading your main TV, 2016 could give you plenty of reasons to do it. My advice? Wait until all the puzzle pieces are in place for delivery of HDR and WCG to your home, and look into upgrading your Internet connections – streaming 4K will be here faster than you realize. And if you can live with your 1080p set until the fall of 2016, you’ll be amazed and likely very pleased at the upgrade…

The Dog Days of Summer…and UHDTV

Ahhh, summertime: When everyone’s thoughts turn to cookouts, the beach, ice cream, baseball games, driving with the top down (or moon roof open), miniature golf – I could go on, but you get the idea.

One of the things most people are NOT thinking about is buying a new TV. Sure, there’s plenty to watch, but most of us would rather be outside in the nice weather. (Kayaking is my thing this time of year).

Even so, prices continue to drop across the board on all screen sizes, even on UHDTVs. Consider HH Gregg’s flier from last Sunday, where Sharp is now advertising its new line-up of discounted Ultra HDTVs for some eye-popping prices. How about $600 for the 43-inch LC43UB30 “smart” TV? Or $800 for the 50-inch LC50UB30? Both of those prices represent $200 discounts off full retail, which was already low.

There’s even a 55-inch model, the LC50UB30, for a grand. That’s Vizio territory when it comes to pricing and shows you how determined Sharp is to get back in the TV game and recapture some of the old magic from a decade ago.

Even the newest technologies are being discounted. Samsung’s HDR-ready S-series of UHDTVs are seeing substantial price cuts, with the 55-inch UN55JS8500 trimmed by $1,000 to $1998 and the 65-inch UH65JS8500 marked down to $2998. Curved models have seen an even bigger cut of $1500 off full book (UN55JS9000 is $2498 and UN65JS9000 is $3498).

Even LG’s new OLED TVs aren’t immune. The company ran a week-long promotion earlier this month with substantial discounts. The 55EG9600 was dropped to $5,500 from $6,000, while the 65EG9600 saw its price cut by a whopping $2,000 from $9,000 to $7,000.

How low can you go?

How low can you go?

And back around the 4th of July, their older 55EC9300 1080p OLED TV saw a price drop to $2,300. That price has since risen back to $2,500, which is quite a discount from when it first came out two years ago and was tagged at $15,000!

Don’t need a UHD set yet? Haier would be happy if you bought one of their new 50E3500 50-inch 1080p LCD TVs, and it will only set you back $370.00 – which works out to an amazing $7.40 per diagonal inch, a new low for LCD TVs. If 50 inches isn’t big enough, Haier’s got a 55-inch model (55E3500) for $400, which is almost as good a deal.

Given the number of UHDTVs that are now priced at or below $1,000, you can expect the shift from 1080p to 4K in larger TV screen sizes to accelerate. I had figured we’d see the majority of TVs 50 inches and larger move to 2160p resolution by the end of 2017. Now, I’m beginning to think it will happen even faster – maybe by the 4th quarter of next year.

Either way, there’s no question that your next TV purchase will bring you a lot more bang for the buck. With 43 inches now the most popular screen size, you’ll be able to buy two 1080p models at a time for what one cost a year ago. And the way things are trending, you may want to consider making the move to 4K if you are upgrading over the holidays.

For now, you can just enjoy swinging in your hammock with a nice cool glass of lemonade while the birds chirp, the bees buzz, and July turns into August. There will be plenty of time to ruminate on the features sets of new TVs this fall…