Posts Tagged ‘OLEDs’

CES 2019 In the Rear View Mirror

I’m not sure when I first started attending CES, but it was back around the turn of the century. My interests then lay primarily in display technologies – televisions, monitors, projectors, and all the gear that interfaced them to things like DVD players, HDTV set-top boxes, and early gaming consoles.

It wasn’t unusual to see manufacturers try to out-do each other in the race for the biggest display or the most pixels. We were wowed by 102-inch plasma TVs (a product that never came to market), 105-inch LCD monitors, “HD” projectors with 1280×720 resolution, upscaling DVD players, line quadruplers, and all kinds of external video signal processors that were designed to clean up standard-definition video, S-video, and analog component video.

Flash forward to 2019, and those times feel like early colonial America. Plasma is gone. “HD” in a front projector means at least 1920×1080 resolution, with an increasing number of home theater models offering 4K resolution. DVD players are fossils now and Blu-ray players have evolved with the times to support Ultra HD resolution.

Not that it matters much. More and more consumers are choosing to stream video content, thanks for faster, more reliable Internet and WiFi connections. Codecs have improved by several generations. The H.264 AVC format was just clearing the drawing board in 2002. Today, we have HEVC H.265, Google’s VP9, and now an even more efficient codec that promises to cut bit rates for 4K content by 50%.

Analog TV interfaces are all gone. It’s either HDMI or DisplayPort, or a streaming connection through WiFi or a Cat 6 cable. Those expensive video processing chips have multiplied in power so many times and shrunk accordingly that they are commonplace in Ultra HDTVs. At CES 2019, new “AI” processors can analyze multiple vectors and aspects of a frame of video and scale, color-correct, gamma-correct, and clean up compression artifacts in a flash.

LG’s got 8K TV covered with both LCD and OLED models.

 

Samsung’s Wall modular LED TV made an appearance again at CES. This time, it measures 219 inches diagonally.

I saw several demos of standard-definition video scaled up to 4K and even 8K TVs and was impressed at just how well these advanced chips work. Unfortunately, there’s lot of potential for mischief with these processors, such as changing the frame rate, gamma, black levels, and even color tone automatically without you asking. That’s progress for ya!

About the only thing that hasn’t changed since the early 2000s is the size of the largest LCD panels. If memory serves, Sharp held the record for many years with that 105-inch beast. Both Samsung and LG eventually wheeled out even larger panels and the record (so far as I can remember) was 120 inches for a VA LCD monitor, shown a few years back by Vizio and also by Samsung. Thing is, none of those products really took off: Today, the largest LCD TV you can buy is Samsung’s new 85-inch 8K offering, with 98-inch models lurking in the wings from LG, Samsung, Sony, and others.

The biggest change I’ve seen in the past decade is how televisions and related products have been de-emphasized at the show. No surprise there – TV prices have collapsed to the point where you can pick up a very nice 55-inch Ultra HD model with HDR support for about $6 per diagonal inch. There are plenty of 65-inch models priced below $1,000 and some 70-inch UHDTVs have dropped as low as $1,200 on sale.

TCL’s XESS “Living Window” TV is supposed to appear as if it’s floating in mid-air.

 

This 65-inch Skyworth UHDTV uses two LCD panels to improve black levels and contrast.

Price drops have been dramatic for both LCD and OLED models. LG just announced special pricing for the next two weeks on 55-inch Ultra HD B8-series TVs ($1500) and 65-inch B8s ($2300). Vizio announced during CES that their 2019 M-series and P-series UHDTV sets will incorporate quantum dots for high dynamic range video, and you can be sure they’ll have aggressive pricing on all models.

Also, not surprisingly, there’s less profit in selling televisions these days, which is why most of the big exhibitors at CES have reduced the footprint in their booths for showing off TVs, allocating more space for everything from refrigerators and washers to smartphones, tablets, small appliances, laptops, and even automotive electronics. Secondarily, many of us analysts and journalists have expanded our coverage to include video encoders, decoders, and signal management systems, video streaming, cloud storage and asset management, and peripheral markets like transportation.

Without further ado, here are some of my highlights from the show.

Sony will offer XBR-Z9G Master-series 85-inch and 98-inch 8K LCD TVs with HDR, complementing their OLED TV lineup.

 

Hisense claims its Adonis 8K display uses micro LEDs for backlights, but they’re more likely “mini” LEDs.

“Yes Virginia, there are 8K televisions!” And CES was awash in them, from LG’s 88-inch OLED to Samsung’s 85-inch QLED 8K. (LG also had 75-inch LCD sets using their NanoCell color filter technology.) Sony showed 85-inch and 98-inch 8K model in their booth to complement their line of 4K OLED TVs. Sharp, which is planning to re-enter the television business in the near future, will offer 60-inch, 70-inch, and 80-inch 8K TVs. TCL, Hisense, Konka, Skyworth, and Changhong also unveiled 8K TV prototypes.

I counted over a dozen different models, including more than a few showing next-generation backlight technology based on “mini” LED arrays. (A few of the demos referred to “micro” LED backlight arrays, but that’s unlikely at this date due to manufacturing challenges.) The advantage of “mini” backlights is more and smaller areas of local dimming, improving contrast and high dynamic range response.

Sharp’s planned re-entry into the television business is intriguing, considering the company’s near-bankruptcy a few years ago and the subsequent purchase of 66% of the company by Hon Hai Precision Industries (Foxconn). Instead of borrowing more money from Japanese banks to stay afloat, Sharp now has Terry Ghou’s huge bankroll to plan its product line and marketing, not to mention a complete line-up of 8K televisions, the BC-60A 8K broadcast camera, an 8K non-linear editing system, and an 8K asset storage and retrieval system (cloud based, of course).

Sharp wants back in to the premium TV business and showed wide range of 8K products, including content streaming.

 

Stream TV networks showed an 8K desktop monitor and his 65-inch autostereo 8K TV. 3D isn’t quite dead yet!

“This will DEFINITELY be the year for 60 GHz wireless!” I’ve lost track of how many 60 GHz wireless video demos I’ve seen over the past decade from companies like Silicon Image and its successor Lattice Semiconductor, DVDO, Qualcomm, and Intel (not to mention the WiFi Alliance). Products come and go (remember the 15 different tri-band WiFi modems from 2016?), but the technology seems to be stuck in a rut.

Maybe 2019 will be different. Keyssa demonstrated near-field connectivity of everything from tablets to TVs and snap-on LED tiles using its KISS technology. The chips are about as big as a deer tick, but the principle is that of coupled energy over a maximum 10mm air gap to transport data in a half-duplex mode at up to 6 Gb/s per lane. To prove the weight-lifting capabilities of this tin titan, Keyssa also built a wireless backplane dock that uses 32 KISS channels to stream 8K video at 96 gigabits per second. (Yes, it IS that fast!)

Several floors up in The Westgate Hotel, Canadian fabless semiconductor company Peraso also has a few millimeter-wave tricks up its sleeve. In addition to 4K wireless USB links, Peraso also showed 60 GHz 802.11ad WiFi access points for high-speed in-room video streaming and super-fast data downloads. At this frequency, radio waves can’t penetrate solid objects, nor is it at all easy to intercept them. That combination provides very robust security, and I’m still puzzled why more manufacturers haven’t adopted the technology.

Did you know you can couple 60 GHz wireless 4K video signals over flexible plastic rods? Keyssa does.

 

This ready-to-buy 60 GHz wireless access point uses chipsets from Peraso.

On the show floor (near its ‘connected beer’ exhibit, I kid you not), Qualcomm had an intriguing demo of super-fast gaming using 60 GHz links from smartphones. There are six channels available in this band, each of which is a little over 2 GHz in size. With light compression, there is near zero latency for gamers. And with steerable antenna arrays, multiple players can work with different screens on the same channels and never interfere with each other.

“Interfaces will get faster. Believe me!” With 8K and HDR looming (not to mention high frame rate video), our display interfaces need to get a heckuva lot faster in a real hurry. Over in the HDMI pavilion, there was a demonstration of Samsung’s Q900R 85-inch 8K TV showing custom 8K video content through an HDMI 2.1 interface built by chip maker Invecas. Given that only Socionext is currently shipping v2.1 TX/RX sets, I had to grill the Invecas rep to verify that “no, you won’t find HDMI 2.1 on the Samsung set currently.” (It’s currently equipped with one HDMI 2.0 interface).

During its press conference on Tuesday, LG claimed that their 2019 8K TVs will “support HDMI 2.1.” Presumably, this means there is some sort of upgrade path for models released earlier in the year, inasmuch as there is still a lot of testing and compliance certification to be done before manufacturers can start rolling out version 2.1. Samsung, for their part, has an upgrade option on the 85-inch model.

Over in the DisplayPort booth, it was announced that DP 2.0 will begin rolling out later in the year. V2.0 raises the per-lane data rate from 8.1 Gb/s to an astounding 24 Gb/s for a total data rate across all four lanes of 96 Gb/s. (Subtract 20% for overhead bits to get the real rate). This is clearly optical fiber territory – I’m not aware of anyone transporting data at this speed over copper links. And while that may seem like a lot of horsepower, keep in mind that an 8K/60 signal with 10-bit RGB color will require about 85 Gb/s to travel.

Invecas demonstrated an 8K home theater, using HDMI 2.1 connections. It will be a while before you see v2.1 on any TVs, though.

 

DisplayPort 2.0 is coming! In the meantime, v1.4 can drive three monitors simultaneously – and with different 4K video on each.

“Taking displays to another level!” Skyworth showed a 65-inch 4K TV using a dual-panel LCD structure. One panel delivers the full-color HDR images while the second panel acts simply as a monochromatic light modulator. In effect, it’s another shutter, allowing the display to achieve OLED-like black levels and very high peak (specular) whites while maintaining a wide contrast ratio. Not a new trick – Panasonic showed a similar approach for a 31.5” HDR 4K monitor a couple of years ago – but this is the first time I’ve seen it in a consumer TV.

In the LG Display booth, among the curved and transparent OLEDs, I found LG’s In-Touch system. Unlike conventional touchscreen film overlays on displays, In-Touch places the touch sensors directly below the LCD glass surface. This results not only in a more sensitive touchscreen, but it’s also a lot more accurate as the gap between the surface and sensors is greatly reduced.

And it appears that the fascination with curved displays has gone the way of 3D. I spotted only one curved 65-inch Ultra HDTV, and that was in the TCL booth. Samsung won an award for its LG was more focused on its premium roll-up/down 4K OLED TVs, a concept first shown last year at CES by LG Display. These roll-up sets don’t have a price yet, but will be part of LG’s Signature OLED line.

Samsung’s 75-inch micro LED TV prototype might have been the only true “micro” shown at CES.

 

Lumens’ .57″ green micro LED display has Full HD resolution for near-to-eye displays. And it’s bright!

Samsung did show a 75-inch class micro LED TV prototype at their Sunday preview event, an interesting demo for a company that apparently wants to get out of the LCD manufacturing business and concentrate on purely emissive LED TVs and displays, going forward. Of all the demonstrations of micro LED, I have no doubt that Samsung’s prototype is the real thing. Keep in mind that we’re taking about tiny LED chips that measure less than 50 micrometers (µm), while “mini” LEDs are in the range of 100 µm to 200 µm.

Lumens demonstrated something a bit simpler but no less important: A .57” green (monochromatic) micro LED display, suitable for head-mounted displays. This device has Full HD (1920×1080) resolution and is capable of brightness levels in excess of 300 nits. Over in the Sands, Kopin showed its 2K OLED near-to-eye display, which is about the size of a quarter. And Vusix demonstrated its Blade AR glasses, which project a small color video image onto the lens surface that isn’t quite as detailed and contrasty a I expected.

I’ll close out this report with a mention of the next-generation video codec for compressing 4K and 8K video. Fraunhofer had a small exhibit that was easy to miss, detailing the Versatile Video Codec (VVC). VVC builds on the coding tree block and unit structure of HEVC H.265 and makes analysis and compression decisions on a more granular level. This codec requires a considerable increase in computing power, but the target of the Joint Video Experts Team (JVET) is to achieve a 50%  bitrate reduction for comparable image quality over H.265. Look for the final standard in 2020.

The Versatile Video Codec can stream 4K content at 2.2 Mb/s that looks as good as H.265 at 5 Mb/s.

 

Audi’s been using red OLEDs in their tailights for some time now. (You didn’t know?)

 

Roll-up TVs are here, thanks to LG. Now you see them, now you don’t!

 

 

 

 

 

InfoComm 2018 In The Rear View Mirror

If you managed to make it out to this year’s running of InfoComm, you might have summarized your trip to colleagues with these talking points:

(a) LED displays, and

(b) AV-over-IT.

Indeed; it was impossible to escape these two trends. LED walls and cubes were everywhere in the Las Vegas Convention Center, in many cases promoted by a phalanx of Chinese brands you’ve likely never heard of. But make no mistake about it – LEDs are the future of displays, whether they are used for massive outdoor signage or compact indoor arrays.

With the development of micro LED technology, we’re going to see an expansion of LEDs into televisions, monitors, and even that smart watch on your wrist. (Yes, Apple is working on micro LEDs for personal electronics.)

Projector manufacturers are understandably nervous about the inroads LEDs are making into large venues. Indeed; this author recently saw Paul Simon’s “farewell tour” performance at the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia, and the backdrop was an enormous widescreen LED wall that provided crystal-clear image magnification (very handy when concertgoers around you are up and dancing, blocking your view of the stage).

 

As for the other talking point – well, it was impossible to avoid in conversations at InfoComm. Between manufacturers hawking their “ideal” solutions for compressing and streaming audio and video and all of the seminars in classrooms and booths, you’d think that AV-over-IT is a done deal.

The truth is a little different. Not all installations are looking to route signals through a 10 Gb/s Cisco switch. In fact, a brand-spanking-new studio built for ESPN in lower Manhattan, overlooking the East River and the Brooklyn Bridge, relies on almost 500 circuits of 3G SDI video through an enormous router. Any network-centric signal distribution within this space is mostly for IT traffic.

That’s not to say that installers are poo-pooing AV-over-IT and the new SMPTE 2110 standards for network distribution of deterministic video. It’s still early in the game and sometimes tried-and-tested signal distribution methods like SDI are perfectly acceptable, especially in the case of this particular facility with its 1080p/60 backbone.

Even so, the writing on the all couldn’t be more distinct with respect to LEDs and network distribution of AV. But there were other concerns at the show that didn’t receive nearly as much media attention.

At the IMCCA Emerging Trends session on Tuesday, several presentations focused on interfacing humans and technology. With “OK Google” and Alexa all the rage, discussions focused on how fast these consumer interfaces would migrate to AV control systems. An important point was made about the need for two-factor authentication – simple voice control might not be adequately secure for say, a boardroom in a large financial institution.

What would the second factor be? Facial recognition? (This was a popular suggestion.) Fingerprints? Retinal scans? A numeric code that could be spoken or entered on a keypad? The name of your favorite pet? Given that hackers in England recently gained access to a casino’s customer database via an Internet-connected thermometer in a fish tank, two-factor authentication for AV control systems doesn’t seem like a bad idea.

Another topic of discussion was 8K video. With a majority of display manufacturers showing 4K LCD (and in some cases OLED) monitors in Vegas, the logical question was: Could resolutions be pushed higher? Of course, the answer is a resounding “yes!”

Display analysts predict there will be over 5 million 8K televisions shipped by 2022 and we’re bound to see commercial monitors adapted from those products. But 8K doesn’t have to be achieved in a single, stand-alone display: With the advent of smaller 4K monitors (some as small as 43 inches), it is a simple matter to tile a 2×2 array to achieve 7680×4320 pixels. And there doesn’t appear to be a shortage of customers for such a display, especially in the command and control and process control verticals.

The other conversations of interest revolved around the need for faster wireless. We now have 802.1ac channel bonding, with 802.11ax on the horizon. For in-room super-speed WiFi, 802.11ad provides six channels at 60 GHz, each 2 GHz wide or 100x the bandwidth of individual channels at 2.4 and 5 GHz.

But wise voices counsel to pay attention to 5G mobile networks, which promise download speeds of 1 Gb/s. While not appropriate for in-room AV connectivity, 5G delivery of streaming video assets to classrooms and meetings is inevitable. Some purveyors of wireless connectivity services like AT&T and Verizon insist that 5G could eventually make WiFi obsolete. (That’s a bit of a stretch, but this author understands the motivation for making such a claim.)

The point of this missive? Simply that our industry is headed for some mind-boggling changes in the next decade. Networked AV, LEDs, 8K video and displays, multi-factor authentication for control systems, and super-fast wireless connections are all in the wings.

And if you were observant at InfoComm, you know it’s coming…and quickly.

The 2018 HPA Tech Retreat: Digital In The Desert

2018 brought a new venue (The J.W. Marriott) for the annual Hollywood Professional Association Technology Retreat and a program chock-full of interesting talks, not to mention the usual enormous Innovation Zone (formerly the Demo Room). I first attended the Retreat in 2002 out of simple curiosity, and back then there were perhaps 100 – 120 in attendance. Zoom ahead to 2018, and well over 600 people made the trek to Palm Desert.

The primary focus of HPA has been and continues to be post-production, and in recent years there have been numerous presentations on managing workflows, metadata, and “director’s intent.” So it went this year, with an entire section of the Innovation Zone devoted to the Interchange Media Format (IMF, not the International Monetary Fund).

But there’s more to the conference than workflows. I can’t remember precisely when I started doing this presentation, but I attempt to recap my impressions of the Consumer Electronics Show every year – and do it in exactly 30 minutes. Jim Burger from Thomson Coburn opens the first day with a review of what’s happening in Washington DC with regard to copyrights and other legal issues, and we both try to spice things up with a little humor here and there. (Very little…)

Over 600 people attended this year’s Tech Retreat.

Of course, there are other things to talk about, such as the emergence of solid-state cinema screens using light-emitting diodes and how likely they are to replace conventional digital cinema projectors. Peter Lude of Mission Rock Digital covered this topic nicely and it appears we’re not quite there yet, although it’s been my experience that Asian countries are often happy to dive into new cinema technologies where we in the U.S. and Canada would proceed more cautiously.

High dynamic range (HDR) is another hot topic, as you might imagine. One of the highlights of my talk was how cheap Ultra HDTVs have become, with certain models available for as little as $8 per diagonal inch and equipped with basic HDR (HDR 10 static metadata) for just $1 more per diagonal inch. My conclusion was that the economic impact of televisions on the CE world has been greatly diminished – televisions are commodities now, and the average consumer buys TVs these days by looking for the best price on the biggest screen they can fit at home.

Of course, my observations stirred up a bunch of discussions and counter-arguments, the strongest coming from representatives of Sony. From my perspective, no one hurts themselves by waiting a bit longer to invest in an HDR TV, as there are still a few bugs in the system. Not all HDR formats are supported on all models, and some content players and TVs don’t establish HDMI connections correctly, enabling a lower bit rate connection and blocking HDR signals –  something that would drive the average viewer crazy.

HDR was a hot topic at the Retreat and Panasonic demonstrated dual HDR (left) and SDR (right) output from their newest 4K camera.

The Sony camp argued that it has never been a better time to buy an Ultra HDTV with HDR, and in fact older models might actually out-perform newer models as the race to lower manufacturing costs could sacrifice quality. However; Sony’s own Z9 LCD Ultra HDTV, held up as a paragon of HDR playback (albeit a very expensive one at $9,000 originally), has been discontinued and the likely cause is far lower prices for OLED and quantum dot-equipped LCD TVs. And they did admit that there are still ample problems with HDMI interconnections and clock rate detection that adversely impact Ultra HD playback on current models of televisions.

The elephant in the room is that there isn’t enough HDR content to watch in the first place. Yes, Comcast provided 4K coverage of the Olympics via streaming connections, some of it with HDR. And DirecTV (AT&T) carried the Pebble Beach Pro-Am in 4K with HDR. But the pickings are still slim. An informal show of hands after Day 2 seemed to confirm my advice to sit on one’s hands – more attendees who were considering an Ultra HDTV with HDR purchase seemed happy to wait it out a bit longer than those who just had to jump in and get a set today.

I don’t know of too many people who have picked up Ultra HD Blu-ray players to watch HDR content, either (I haven’t) but I am aware of a couple of instances where said players didn’t work correctly with compatible TVs. In one case, the manufacturer of the TV and UHD BD player were the same! But given how low prices have dropped for HDR-equipped sets, it appears that HDR will become a standard feature soon enough, just like the late, lamented 3D did. And UHD BD players will come down in price to match conventional Full HD models soon enough.

Thursday’s session opened with a panel discussion on HDR “flavors” and featured participants from Dolby, Sony, Samsung, and the BBC. It was timely: A recent article in the Hollywood Reporter talked about people getting confused with all of the different HDR formats – HDR 10, Dolby Vision, Hybrid Log Gamma, and HDR 10+ (Samsung’s take on dynamic metadata). So far, I know of only one manufacturer (LG) that supports four HDR formats (HDR 10, Dolby Vision, HLG, and Technicolor, which is more of a transport than a display format). In theory, the TV should recognize these formats automatically, but consumers may perceive we’re in the midst of another “format war” like we were with Blu-ray and HD DVD ten years ago.

This panel was followed by another titled, “Establishing Metadata Guidelines for Downstream Image Presentation Management on Consumer Displays.” In other words, maintaining creative intent all the way through to the television. Another panel on Day 2 discussed the Academy Color Exchange System (ACES), which was developed to ensure color volume and data didn’t change from the camera through post and mastering. There is a never-ending discussion about preserving the director’s and colorists’ intent to the TV screen, but that’s much easier said than done – TV manufacturers have very different axes to grind.

While we already have a system to deliver HDR metadata to televisions using CTA 861.3 extensions, my thought was that perhaps the Cinema/Movie/User picture settings on Ultra HDTVs could be configured to also recognize ACES metadata and provide that more accurate cinema experience. This would involve encoding that data into Blu-ray discs and also streaming content, but it shouldn’t be impossible to pull off – and would actually provide some value to manufacturers, especially if they could re-label this setting “Academy” instead of Cinema or Movie.

I hosted three breakfast roundtables during the conference on OLED technology, HDR signal interfacing, and gadget fatigue. And the last roundtable was the most intriguing, as my colleagues talked about mixed experiences with Alexa, Siri, and Google, using flip phones more than smart phones, trying out VR goggles that are now gathering dust, preferring hardcover and softcover books to tablets, and just trying to disconnect whenever possible.

The fact is; we live in a world of abundant, cheap electronics. It’s hard to disconnect from all of this stuff as it’s become an integral part of our lives, but it appears some of us are trying to maintain some separation and are questioning why everything in our lives needs to be connected, as we were repeatedly told at CES 2018. I can say that a majority of HPA attendees don’t think it’s a good idea to have everything in their house connected to the Internet, based on a show of hands after Day 1.

If you’ve never attended the Tech Retreat, you should. The general sessions are thought-provoking and the sidebar conversations and informal discussions (including the breakfast roundtables) are well worth the trip. I’m looking forward to the 2019 Retreat, at which I will likely report once again on my impressions of CES….

CES 2015 In The Rearview Mirror

After all the PR hype and anticipation, the 2015 International CES has come and gone, leaving me to edit over 1500 photos and a bunch of videos and sift through stacks of press releases to see what was really significant about the show…and what was just fluff.

Before I drill down to make my top picks, I should point out some trends that have been building for a few years. We all know that the majority of our electronic gadgets (phones, tablets, home alarm systems, televisions, computers, cordless phones, and so on) are manufactured in China and Southeast Asia.

Still, the expanding CES footprint of Chinese brands (Haier, TCL, Hisense, Changhong, Konka, Skyworth) takes some getting used to. So does the shrinking footprint of former Japanese powerhouses like Sony, Sharp, and Toshiba. There is a profound shift in power happening in the CE world as the center of gravity moves farther away from Tokyo and Osaka past Seoul to Shenzen and Shanghai.

Another unmistakable trend is the decline in prices for a wide range of CE products. “Connected health” was a big deal at least year’s show, but is there really any news to be found in $60 Fitbits? Or $149 home security systems? Or $125 32-inch televisions?

Speaking of televisions, they are becoming less important in the overall scheme of things with each passing year. 4K Ultra HD was all the rage last year – this year, everyone had 4K televisions, and many models were equipped with quantum dot backlights for high dynamic range. Of course, there was no shortage of curved televisions in all sizes.

There was a big emphasis on high dynamic range 4K in Samsung's booth.

There was a big emphasis on high dynamic range 4K in Samsung’s booth.

 

But TCL had HDR too, as did a host of other exhibitors.

But TCL had HDR too, as did a host of other exhibitors.

 

The facts are these: Changhong and TCL can make a large, curved 4K LCD TV with high dynamic range just as easily as Sharp, Samsung, and Panasonic. In some cases, the LCD panels used in these TVs are all coming from the same factory.

Samsung made a big splash this year with their S UHD television line, but they’re using quantum dots just like anyone else. LG showed both quantum dots and their new M+ technology that adds white pixels to an LCD matrix to boost brightness. TCL is selling QD-equipped TVs in China and expects to launch them on these shores this year.

Perhaps surprisingly, LG decided to make a big push for OLED technology, unveiling five new Ultra HD models at the show. While the Chinese also showed OLEDs (as did Panasonic), LG appears to be “all in” with their white OLED technology, claiming manufacturing yields as high as 70%. Well, someone’s got to pick up the torch that plasma dropped in 2013.

LG now has a flexible OLED TV to suit your mood - flat (bad day at the office?) or curved (if you're feeling warped!).

LG now has a flexible OLED TV to suit your mood – flat (bad day at the office?) or curved (if you’re feeling warped!).

 

Who says we have to be stuck with two color choices for refrigerators? Not Changhong.

Who says we have to be stuck with two color choices for refrigerators? Not Changhong.

 

For many of these manufacturers, appliances and white goods are taking on a more important role in contributing to the bottom line. The margins are better on high-end refrigerators and washer-dryer sets for the likes of Samsung and LG, even though consumers don’t turn them over as often as televisions. For Panasonic, beauty products are an important income stream.

Cameras and camcorders are still holding their own against mobile phones, surprisingly. I entered the CES arena equipped with both a new Samsung Galaxy 5 phone and a Panasonic Lumix ZS40 camera. While the Galaxy 5 does take some great pictures under ideal conditions, it was no match for the 30:1 optical zoom lens (Leica glass) on the Lumix – the latter allowed me to shoot under, around, and over people to get the photos I needed.

Speaking of mobile phones and tablets, there wasn’t much news to be had at the show. LG showed its updated LG G-Flex 2 and Samsung had a crowd around its Galaxy family of phones and tablets, but there just wasn’t the “BYOD buzz” we’ve seen in previous years. The 5” to 5.5” screen size seems to be a sweet spot for phones now – 6-inch models were scarce in Vegas.

LG's G-Flex 2 smartphone still has the curve, but has actually gotten smaller with a 5.5

LG’s G-Flex 2 smartphone still has the curve, but has actually gotten smaller with a 5.5″ screen.

With every possible connection moving to Wi-Fi, range extenders are the hot item right now.

With every possible connection moving to Wi-Fi, range extenders are the hot item right now.

 

Connecting all of this stuff together made for a more compelling story from my perspective, especially as far as wireless technology goes. I saw more demos of wireless video streaming, wireless appliance control, wireless security systems, and wireless display connectivity at CES than at previous shows.

The 802.11ac channel bonding protocol is becoming increasingly important for making this stuff work in the 5 GHz band. And the wide-open spaces at 60 GHz are starting to attract everyone’s attention – having 2 GHz channels to play with is a lot more appealing for making high bitrate connections than fighting the congestion at 2.4 and 5 GHz.

Display interfaces are getting fast – a lot faster – and relying on compression for the first time. And now we’re starting to see the boundaries blur between small, high-performance mobile display interfaces and full-sized versions, which leads me to wonder why we need so many versions of HDMI and DisplayPort in the first place.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the growing number of automobile manufacturers who set up shop in the North Hall every year. It reminds me of the New York Auto Show, with the likes of Hyundai, VW, Ford, Fiat Chrysler, and Audi showing off their latest high-tech “connected” automobiles that can do everything from mirror your smartphone’s display to recognize speech commands, navigate flawlessly, and even drive themselves.

This McLaren coupe is so smart, it doesn't even need you to drive it. (So how do you impress your friends?)

This McLaren coupe is so smart, it doesn’t even need you to drive it. (So how do you impress your friends?)

It seems logical that Toyota would come out with a hydrogen-powered car. After all, the 2nd most abundant thing in the universe after hydrogen is the Toyota Camry, (Or it just seems that way...)

It seems logical that Toyota would come out with a hydrogen-powered car. After all, the 2nd most abundant thing in the universe after hydrogen is the Toyota Camry, (Or it just seems that way…)

 

And there were plenty of alternatives to gasoline-powered engines to seen, from BMW’s i3 electric car to Toshiba’s Mirai hydrogen fuel cell vehicle. All equipped with Bluetooth, 802.11, Sirius, and in some cases, user-customizable dashboard displays using flexible displays (important to survive vibration and G-forces).

Quite a bit to take in over three and a half days! What follows is my list (in no particular order) of significant products and trends I spotted in Vegas. Let’s see if they hold up as the year progresses:

High Dynamic Range – as usual, a hot new technology makes its appearance at the show and quickly becomes a buzzword. HDR Ultra HDTVs were shown by numerous manufacturers at CES; none more prominently as Samsung, who made HDR the centerpiece of their Monday press conference with their S UHD line. Virtually all of these TVs use quantum dot technology to boost image brightness and color saturation, and only one (LG) had an alternative path to HDR with M+ technology.

HDR is a key part of the transition to next-generation television. So are wider color spaces, high frame rates, and increasing resolution. Looks like everyone’s getting into the game, including the Chinese. Interestingly, I saw only one demo of Dolby’s HDR technology in the TCL booth (Vizio also has it), so it appears many homegrown solutions are in the works for HDR displays.

LG Display's 65-inch curved OLED TV helps you get over the demise of plasma pretty quickly.

LG Display’s 65-inch curved OLED TV helps you get over the demise of plasma pretty quickly.

 

OLEDS Are Back – at least as far as LG is concerned. Seven new Ultra HD OLED TVs were rolled out at CES with sizes ranging from 55 inches to 77 inches, and one of them can flex back and forth from flat to curved surface mode. A partnership with Harman-Kardon should ensure better audio quality than you hear from typical super-thin televisions. (There were even two models featuring bases made from Swarovski crystal!)

With the demise of plasma, videophiles are still looking for displays that can give them the magic combination of deep blacks, saturated colors, and wide viewing angles. Right now, OLEDs are the only game in town, but they’ve proven to be tricky to manufacture with acceptable yields. LG Display seems to have overcome that barrier with these models (which use IGZO TFTs for pixel switching, by the way) and it will be interesting to see the uptake as 2015 winds on.

Super MHL Is Here: The battle for fastest display interface shifts back and forth between Silicon Image and VESA. DisplayPort fired the first salvo with their introduction of version 1.3, raising the maximum data rate to 32 Gb/s and introducing Display Stream compression for the first time. Now, the MHL Consortium has fired back with Super MHL. MHL stands for Mobile High-definition Link, and in its first iteration, allowed transport of 1080p/60 video over the 5-pin micro USB connector found on smartphones and tablets.

But Super MHL is different – it is a full-sized connector with 32 pins and matches the data rate of DP 1.3. The CES demo showed a Samsung 8K display being driven through Super MHL. How would anyone fit this on a mobile device? Does it replace HDMI 2.0? (It’s a LOT faster and uses DS compression, too.) So many questions to be answered…

Wait - isn't MHL a small connector for mobile devices? Did they put it on steroids?

Wait – isn’t MHL a small connector for mobile devices? Did they put it on steroids?

Hmmm...apparently they did give MHL

Hmmm…apparently they did give MHL “the juice.”

 

Talk To Me: Conexant showed a demo of voice control for TV set-top boxes (change channels, bring up program guide, set DVR recordings) that was leap years ahead of their demo from 2013. This system works exceptionally well in noisy environments and can be used to control other devices, such as room lighting, thermostats, and security systems.

Conexant is looking to sell their technology as a system on chip (SoC) to a wide cross section of manufacturers. The trick had been reliable speech recognition in all kinds of high and low noise environments, something that doomed Samsung’s voice control TVs back in 2012. It appears they’ve finally pulled it off, but the focus has shifted away from TVs to set-top boxes this time around.

I’ll Be Watching You: The EyeTribe of Denmark showed an amazing eye tracking and control system at ShowStoppers that can operate tablets and phones and costs all of $99. Yep, you read that right! While Tobii’s impressive demos have focused on laptops and gaming systems, EyeTribe has gone after potentially the biggest market for eye tracking. How many times have you wished you could operate your mobile phone while your hands were full?

Look, ma! No hands! (Alternate caption: The Eyes Have It...)

Look, ma! No hands! (Alternate caption: The Eyes Have It…)

Is your IP video slow? Sluggish? Does it drop out? Try new Giraffic video for faster streams, cleaner video, and no buffering drop-outs! Available without a prescription.

Is your IP video slow? Sluggish? Does it drop out? Try new Giraffic video for faster streams, cleaner video, and no buffering drop-outs! (Available without a prescription.)

 

Faster Video For All: Giraffic had an intriguing demo of optimizing and speeding up video streaming rates over conventional TCP/IP networks. And it had nothing to do with adaptive bitrate streaming, using H.265 encoding, or AVB protocols. What Giraffic is doing is changing the nature and frequency of HTTP requests. This is the best way I can explain it: Imagine you just sat down with a big piece of chocolate cake and want to eat it as quickly as possible. If you take big bites, you’ll be chewing for a while and some pieces may get stuck in your throat.

But if you start with very small bites (like crumbs) and keep shoveling them in quickly, you’ll finish the cake just as fast – or perhaps faster – than the conventional way of eating. And that’s what Giraffic does – it keeps nibbling at the video stream to ensure continuous delivery, even with 4K content. The company claims they can achieve streaming throughput 200% to 300% faster than conventional video streaming, with no freeze-ups and annoying “buffering” warnings.

4K Blu-ray: Okay, we’ve been waiting for this for some time now. And 4K video streaming has already begun at Netflix and Amazon. But Ultra HD BD is finally out of the gate, although you won’t see it until the fourth quarter of this year. Streaming rates will be on the high side of 100 Mb/s with single and dual-layer discs available. (And yes, high dynamic range will be a part of the equation!) Panasonic showed their prototype of an Ultra HD Blu-ray player at the show. The question is; with all the enhancements coming to streaming, does optical disc matter anymore? Time will tell…

Here's Panasonic's prototype Ultra HD Blu-ray player, chugging along at 108 Mb/s while standing still!

Here’s Panasonic’s prototype Ultra HD Blu-ray player, chugging along at 108 Mb/s while standing still!

 

Now THERE'S an LCD shape you don't see every day! (Except perhaps in the nVIDIA booth...)

Now THERE’S an LCD shape you don’t see every day! (Except perhaps in the nVIDIA booth…)

Circular LCD Displays: This was a breakout year for oddball sizes of LCDs, particularly in the Sharp booth where automotive displays were shown. (LG Display also exhibited circular and curved LCD displays.) Given the drop in TV prices and Sharp’s ever-dwindling market share in TVs, the market for automotive and transportation displays may be a better bet, long-term. Especially given the company’s leadership in implementing IGZO TFTs, which are important for brighter displays with lower power consumption and higher pixel density.

USB Type-C Connectors: VESA had an excellent demo of this game-changing connector, which has a symmetrical design (no need to worry about which way you’ve plugged it in) and can multiplex DisplayPort 1.3 video with high-speed data. USB 3.1 Type-C is seen as the next generation of USB connectors for mobile and portable devices, and by itself, it can move serial data at 10 Gb/s.

SiBEAM Snap Wireless Connectivity: Silicon Image has revived the SiBEAM name (they bought the company in 2011) and implemented their 60 GHz wireless display connectivity into a close-proximity variant. You simply bring two Snap-equipped devices together (like a smartphone or tablet and a matching cradle), and voila – you’ve established a full bandwidth data and display connection that can run up to 12 Gb/s. Plus, the connector can be used for wireless charging.

SI is showing integrated Snap transmitter and receiver chips that would replace USB 2.0 or 3.0 connections. Clearly, they are also targeting USB interfaces that support DisplayPort 1.3 (see USB 3.1 Type-C) and trying to move away from physical display connections. (This was one argument against using MHL to connect to televisions.) But if they’re successful, what happens to MHL? And now that Super MHL has been shown, what happens to conventional HDMI? Stay tuned..

This little bugger is a brand-new USB 3.1 Type-C connector. Look for it to start appearing on mobile devices in 2015.

This little bugger is a brand-new USB 3.1 Type-C connector. Look for it to start appearing on mobile devices in 2015.

It's 27 inches diagonally and offers 5K resolution. Talk about immersive....

It’s 27 inches diagonally and offers 5K resolution. Talk about immersive….

Make a fashion statement and superimpose video over the real world at the same time.

Make a fashion statement and superimpose video over the real world at the same time.

 

Super-wide, high resolution desktop monitors: Seems like everybody had one of these at the show. HP, Dell, LG Display, Samsung, and others showed 27-inch widescreen displays with “5K” resolution (5120×2880 pixels). These monitors also support wider color gamuts and use 10-bit panels (a necessity, given all the 10-bit RGB images they’ll be asked to display). What’s surprising is how inexpensive these monitors are – HP’s Z27Q version will be available in March for just $1300.

Toshiba Glass: The jury’s still out on whether Google Glass is a hit or a bust (I’m leaning toward the latter). But Toshiba, who recently retrenched their television operations to Japan, is all-in with a line of enhanced glasses that employ a tiny projection module to show images on the lens surface. This has been tried before – Epson’s Moverio VR glasses have tiny QHD LCD panels embedded in them – and it remains to be seen if the public will buy into the idea. They do look stylish, though. (And there’s even a pair of safety goggles in the line.)

I’ll close out this report with a few passing thoughts. First, it’s impossible to miss the trends of mass-produced, cheap consumer electronics that are increasingly showing up at CES.  Next, there is hardly any new technology debuting at the show that multiple manufacturers have in short order (and that includes the Chinese).

Whereas voice recognition was big a few years ago, gesture control took its place the past couple of years. But now that Omek (bought by Intel) and PrimeSense (bought by Apple) are absent from the scene, voice recognition has come back. My new Galaxy 5 phone has Samsung voice on it and it works reasonably well. However, it appears that consumers just haven’t jumped on the gesture recognition bandwagon yet.

Remember 3D? I almost got all the way through this report without mentioning it. A few companies still showed it, such as LG, Toshiba, HP, Hisense, Changhong, Ultra D (digital signage), Panasonic, and some gaming companies. Likewise, Google TV was gone this year, replaced by Android TV in such places as the Sony booth. Aside from program guide searches, I’m not convinced that the average TV viewer needs a Google search engine or Android OS on their TV. But I could be wrong.

Cute little guy, isn't he? (Where's my fly swatter...)

Cute little guy, isn’t he? (Where’s my fly swatter…)

Makes the long hours on the show floor worth it.

Makes the long hours on the show floor worth it.

 

Remember drones? I almost managed to skip them as well. There were so many at the show, ranging from behemoths that idled in place overhead while we visited tables at Digital Experience to pocket-sized models with built-in cameras that could zip unobtrusively over a crowd under the control of your smartphone. (I’m waiting for the first pocket-sized EMP generators to appear next year – like electronic bug-zappers.)

Finally, after a day full of press conferences during which there was only about 30 minutes of actual, usable news, I’d like to see a temporary moratorium placed on the words “innovation,” “big data,” “stunning,” “cloud,” “ultra” anything, and in the Chinese booths, “happiness.”

The only thing stunning about Vegas is how expensive cab rides have become. True happiness can only be found at Big Daddy’s Barbecue outside the Central Hall (dee-lish!). “Big Data” should be the name of a blues band, or at least the harmonica player. (Maybe Big Data and The Cloud?)

And I’m sorry, but a floor-mounted pet camera and toothbrushes that sync up to video games are not “innovation.” Cute, yes, but no innovative. (Although the self-powered skateboard I saw that can run up to 16 miles might fall into that category…)

For Samsung, It’s Now Their Game With Their Rules

Wide View Samsung Booth WR

In less than twenty years, Samsung has risen from a “who’s that?” manufacturer of cheap electronics to the pre-eminent CE brand, dominating the worldwide market for smart phones and televisions, and leading the charge for adoption of organic light-emitting diodes through its subsidiary, Samsung Mobile Display.

The rise in Samsung’s fortunes has paralleled the decline of the Japanese CE industry. Samsung ships roughly 25% of all TVs worldwide and manufactures better than 90% of the OLEDs used in handheld displays. In contrast, the three largest Japanese TV brands combined (Sony, Panasonic, and Sharp) captured less than 20% of the worldwide TV business in 2012 and lost billions of dollars while doing so.

It was one of only two companies to be profitable in televisions for 2012 (LG was the other) and invented a new product category – the “phablet,” or phone with a large (>5”) screen – that has surprised veteran analysts with rapid consumer acceptance.

To give you an idea of Samsung’s clout, it spends a great deal of time in patent courts, suing and being sued by Apple, the second-most-powerful CE brand in the world. (In a Bizzaro twist, Samsung has also partnered with Apple to bid on Kodak patents related to digital imaging.)

And now Samsung is making history: The company announced last week that it will invest $111 million in struggling Sharp Corporation, taking a 3% ownership stake in the manufacturer that has been on the verge of bankruptcy for several months now.

Having a Korean company acquire such a strong position in a legendary Japanese brand is unprecedented, but this action may have staved off a possible majority acquisition by Taiwan-based Hon Hai Precision (Chi Mei, Foxconn Group). And that would have been unthinkable in the Land of the Rising Sun.

Why is Samsung taking this step? The answer was foreshadowed over a year ago, when the company reorganized its unprofitable LCD panel manufacturing business as part of SMD. This move showed the company was shifting its R&D resources away from LCDs to OLEDs, a technology that is scalable to displays large and small, and offers numerous image quality and power consumption advantages over LCDs. (That is, if and when OLED yields on larger screens can be increased to workable levels. )

When you control 25% of the global TV market and make money doing it, why throw money away manufacturing LCD panels, which are now unprofitable commodities? Especially when the world’s largest LCD panel fab lies just across the Sea of Japan (or Korea, depending on your version of history) and you can buy inexpensive access to the next-generation of LCD (and OLED) backplane technology, IGZO?

According to a story on the Bloomberg Web site, Sharp is looking at 200 billion yen of convertible bonds that will come due later this year. But cash is hard to come by these days in Osaka, and Apple cut back much-needed orders for smaller LCD glass when iPhone demand began to tail off. A $140M investment by Qualcomm last December helped, but only to keep the vultures at bay for a few months.

In the meantime, Sharp is anticipating a record 450 billion yen ($4.7B) loss for the current fiscal year, which ends this month. Their stock price has dropped 55 percent in the past year, partly because the talks with Foxconn Group have dragged on so long. Sharp has mortgaged its corporate headquarters in Osaka and continues to look for more investors as red ink cascades from their balance sheet.

Amir Anvarzadeh, a manager for Asia equity sales at BGC Partners Inc. (BGCP) was quoted in the Bloomberg story as saying, “Chances for Sharp to revive as a standalone company are zero unless becoming part of a big group like Samsung or Foxconn.”

Speaking of Hon Hai, they’re apparently still in the game. Even though Foxconn Groups’s Terry Gou announced he would buy a nearly 10% stake in Sharp one year ago, the deal still hasn’t been consummated. (The two companies are still in talks, meeting one day after the Samsung announcement.)

This is indeed a new game with new rules. And no one is quite sure how it will play out. One thing we do know is that Samsung, with market-leading positions and $34B in cash, has the strongest hand in the world of consumer electronics right now.

And when you run the game, you get to make the rules…

This article originally appeared at Display Central.