CES 2014 Report!

The Consumer Electronics Show, or CES as it is often referred to, is one of the largest showcases for new technology of the year.  I’ve personally been fortunate to say that this is my 13th CES Show; however, I can also say that it is the most disappointing.  While there are many aspects to the show from cell phones to washer/dryers, we often focus on the home theater and video products hoping for there to be something compelling to look forward to in the spring— this year, it simply isn’t the case.

HDTV has been available for over a decade and Ultra HD has been the talk of the town for the past two years taking the spotlight as 3D quickly fades away.  Pulling up to the front of the convention center makes it hard to not notice the banners touting Ultra HD from manufacturers like Samsung and LG, but even with a lot spent on advertising, we find ourselves still wanting.

LG introduced probably the most complete line-up of displays including Ultra HD, Curved and Flat OLED, and Smart TVs utilizing the webOS platform.  The LCD/LED based displays are available in sizes from 49 to 105-inches and will be shipping this spring/summer with all displays including HDMI 2.0 and USB 3.

LG’s OLED lineup will come with curved screens  at 55, 65, and 77-inches with a 55-inch flat ‘Gallery’ model that is meant to imitate living art when not in use.  The OLED line-up will be WRGB based with a white, red, green, and blue sub-pixel system making up the image.

Sony didn’t show any OLED displays this year.  They seem to be distancing themselves from the technology on the consumer side, but still pushing forward on the broadcast side— the PVM, FVM, and BVM OLED is very popular in the Hollywood Post-Production industry.  Sony did demonstrate their LCD/LED display line with ‘X-tended Dynamic Range PRO technology’, a form of image enhancement that is said to increase the dynamic range of the display by up to three times normal.  Sizes in the new product line are 40, 48, 49, 50, 55, 60, 65, 70, 79, and 80-inches, Ultra HD displays are available starting at 49”.

Panasonic has discontinued their plasma development; as such, the focus on the floor was LCD/LED displays showcasing their “Life+ Screen” Smart TV technology.  The new technology allows the user to interact with the TV via facial recognition, voice recognition, a mobile application for your smartphone or tablet, or simply the remote control.  The platform leverages Panasonic’s cloud and sends data to learn what you like in order to make suggestions for content across its’ built in applications.

Samsung released quite a bit of news this year, but nothing that stood out.  The Samsung Smart Control and updated Smart TV remote are minor improvements to last year’s offering including gesture recognition.  The new Ultra HD TV line has improved integration with content providers to deliver Ultra HD content to the consumer through streaming services.  Of note, Samsung plans to offer Amazon, M-GO, Netflix, as well as content from Comcast and DirecTV in Ultra HD.

The Samsung TV line itself really took a step backwards this year as Samsung worked to blend their curved technology with their Ultra HD LCD/LED displays.  Color is said to be enhanced with Samsung’s new ‘PureColor™’ technology that allows for more color adjustment over last year.  The Ultra HD line comes in three series the S9, U9000, and U8550 and will range in size from 50 to 110-inches in both curved and flat versions.  All Ultra HD models will have HEVC, HDMI 2.0, MHL 3.0, and HDCP 2.2.  Additionally, Samsung is continuing their Evolution Kit with the UHD version for easy upgrading in the future.

Sizes for Samsung’s curved line-up are:  55, 65, 78, 105-inches.  The flat display line-up comes in 50, 55, 60, 65, 75, 85, and 110-inches.  An announcement regarding the state of Samsung’s plasma display line will come, “later in 2014.”

We didn’t expect much from Sharp at CES as we’ve always found their displays to be incapable of accurately reproducing color as per system standards; however, we figured we would give them a quick look.  In addition to having some Ultra HD displays, Sharp was demonstrating their Quattron + Revelation Technology which we are told, but don’t believe, divides the sub-pixels in half allowing for more sub-pixels.  What Sharp couldn’t explain is how that actually converts to real image detail since the pixel is what determines image detail and the sub-pixel is responsible for the color of that particular pixel.  As with everyone else at the show, Sharp will now ship with HDMI 2.0.

Toshiba revealed very little in the way of a full display product line, but instead showed off a number of concept pieces including a 5K Ultra HD display and a 65” curved LCD/LED display.  The display that will be shipping in 2014 is the Ultra HD Radiance LCD/LED display.

VIZIO was the most exciting display demonstration I had the privilege to attend at the show as it was an invite only at the Wynn Hotel, but it was nevertheless impressive.  While Vizio has always offered a great value proposition with their display line they’ve started to extend that in an attempt of dominating at all levels.  For 2014, they have their entry level E-Series display with options to buy with and without connectivity, local dimming, and full array backlighting in models over 24-inches.

The M-Series is LCD/LED with a Pure Pixel Tuning technology said to optimize brightness and contrast in additional to the local dimming circuitry for dynamic adjustment.  As a video purist, this is probably not something that we’ll be interested in, but it is nice to know that VIZIO is developing and customizing their video processing algorithms to stay competitive with the rest of the industry.  This series goes all the way up to 80”.

The P-Series from VIZIO is their Ultra HD display line.  It is LCD/LED based and comes in various sizes from 50 to 70-inches with full array backlighting.  VIZIO has worked to develop their own video processor that they call the ‘VM50 Picture Processing Engine’ and have integrated the HEVC codec for streaming Ultra HD, HDMI 2.0, HDCP 2.2 support, and even 802.11ac wireless networking.

While we were impressed that VIZIO was bringing a very promising videophile display with their customizations developed for the P-Series, we were even more impressed when they showed us the upcoming Reference Series.  The Reference Series is a partnership with Dolby that will enable VIZIO to deliver 10-bit content directly to the consumer for a significant improvement in picture quality.  Today’s consumer sources are 8-bit, even Blu-ray.  In our current 8-bit system the majority of video information is between levels 16-235 allowing for 219 shades of gray, but in a 10-bit system the majority of video information is between 64-940 increasing the shades of gray to 876!  Not only is 10-bit exciting, but VIZIO claims that their Reference Series is capable of meeting the Rec.2020 Ultra HD standard for color gamut.  We haven’t heard from any other manufacturer making this claim, if true, it would mean that VIZIO could have the first Ultra HD display capable of producing the full set of colors in the Rec.2020 standard.  Needless to say, we’re excited to get a chance to look at the new Reference Series for the display’s capability and the quality of content.

There were a few new comers including TCL and technology introduced illustrating Quantum Dots which is not quite ready for primetime, but certainly something to watch out for.  Overall, television technology for 2014 was evolutionary, not revolutionary.  Improvements have been made in many areas, but we’ve also taken a few steps back— curved displays have been receiving significant criticism as there was a huge push to making displays flatter and thinner and the curve display completely reverses those efforts.  If you’re looking to buy a display now, there are certainly some great options, but certainly nothing compelling enough to upgrade from a set one or two years old.

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