This year at CES every display brand showcased something outstanding with new innovations around every corner and if they do get mass produced it could open doors for custom installers.
The mood at the show was upbeat, despite atrocious weather. According to the Consumer Technology Association (CTA), the US consumer electronics industry can expect to make $351 billion in retail revenues in 2018 – 3.9 per cent higher than 2017.It also values the streaming industries at a record high – generating $19.5 billion in revenue, which is 35 per cent higher than 2017.
The market for Smart speakers shows no sign of letting up. Unit sales of Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant products are predicted to reach 43.6 million units and earn $3.8 billion in revenue in 2018. It’s thought 16 per cent of Americans, that’s 39 million people, now own a smart speaker. Amazon Alexa is the market leader, but at CES, it was Google which appeared to be making most of the running, with a huge promotional campaign. Where ever you turned, there was Google Assistant branding.
The wider Smart Home business is also finding an audience. The category is expected to grow 41 per cent YoY in the US, to 40.8 million units in 2018, earning $4.5 billion. According to smart energy research released by Parks Associates, 50 per cent of US broadband households say they intend to buy a smart home device within the next 12 months.
Virtual Reality is also tipped to grow, although it really didn’t seem to generate much buzz on the show floor. Difficult setup, expense and lack of content could be to blame. But that could soon change. Oculus Go will launch in March; this $200 all in one is a simple alternative to the Google Daydream. Similarly, HTC will launch the Vive Pro in February, a 3K headset offering the sharpest VR images yet. HTC also has the Vive Focus which has a wider field of view and inside out tracking, so no external sensors required.
The TV market was once again a big driver at CES. LCD 4K UHD TVs are expected to make up half of all TVs sold in 2018, with unit sales forecast to hit 22 million units, although the increasingly fractured HDR scene continues to intrigue.
The battle of the Dynamic Metadata standards warmed up, with HDR10+, the open source rival to Dolby Vision, finding support from Hollywood major Warner Bros. Warner joins Fox and Amazon, plus Panasonic (pictured top) and Samsung supporting the format. Dolby Vision still has the edge, both in content and hardware partners, but is increasingly under fire for performance issues. LG OLED TV owners has been suffering from elevated black levels with HDR content, which is undermining one of the principle tenets of Dolby Vision, that of improved image quality. A complex programme of firmware updates looks to be the only way to solve the issue.
Panasonic launched two hugely impressive new OLED screens at the show, which will support HDR10+. The FZ952 (pictured above) and FZ802 will launch in 55- and 65- screen sizes and feature a new iteration of the the brand’s HCX image processor, which introduces a number of refinements designed to improve image quality. A Dynamic LUT (Look Up Table) function significantly enhances the accuracy of bright colours. Typically, Look Up Tables are fixed to the colour space used by the source; on these sets the HCX processor automatically monitors the average brightness level of a scene and uses picture analysis to dynamically load an appropriate LUT. Panasonic has also improved calibration steps.
To ensure that its screens match the director’s creative intent, Panasonic has been working with Hollywood giant Deluxe for tuning. The FZ952 will come with a new version of the Dynamic Blade speaker, co-produced with Technics. Demos to Inside CI confirmed an improvement in clarity and volume.
Panasonic also introduced four new 4K Blu-ray players: the DP-UB820, DP-UB420, DP-UB330 and DP-UB320. Both the DP-UB820 and DP-UB420 will support HDR10+ content, with the DP-UB820 also adding Dolby Vision compliance. The quartet feature an HCX processor which applies chroma and gradation processing developed at the Panasonic Hollywood Laboratory (PHL), as well as an HDR Optimizer, which allows for more accurate tone mapping of HDR content on HDR displays with limited peak brightness. There’s also HDR to SDR conversion, which is optimised tone remapping for SDR TVs.
While 4K TVs go mainstream, 8K finally looks to be a key emerging technology. Sony and Samsung both impressed with prototype screens. Sony’s 10,000nit 85-incher was a genuine dazzler, offering superb dynamics, startling spectral peaks and stunning detail. The screen employed a new version of the brand’s X1 processor, the X1 Ultimate, said to be four times more powerful than the X1 Extreme (used on the A1). This processor was also demonstrated having a big impact on a 4K OLED panel, delivering greater contrast and image detail. Although Sony is making no announcements, new flagship screens using the high-power processor are certainly on the cards.
It’s increasingly looking likely that Samsung will be the first major brand to launch an 8K panel. The 85-inch Q9S 8K TV is expected to launch in Korea and the US mid-2018, with a European launch to follow. The company says newly developed AI algorithms can upscale any source to 8K, from 4K to standard definition. The set boasts an advanced back-lighting system for improved black levels. Certainly it looked very impressive.
Samsung also delighted with The Wall, its first MicroLED prototype. JH Han, President of Visual Display Business at Samsung Electronics says the aim is to make the giant screen “the center of everyday life.” MicroLED is a mash-up of semiconductor processing techniques and LED technology. The pixels in a MicroLED module are much smaller than those in a conventional LED display, and thanks its bezel-less modular design, consumers can add to the screen as required. Advanced processing techniques also promise low input lag and fast frame rate support.
Perhaps the most unusual screen prototype at the show came from LG Display. It had a rollable OLED panel, which popped up from a sizable looking cabinet. The screen offered variable levels of visibility. It could raise purely to provide a thin notification bar, perhaps for a news ticker or weather information, or to present a 21:9 ratio cinemascope display. At full stretch, it could extend fully to become a regular widescreen TV.
LG also had an 88-inch 8K OLED prototype, presumably just to show it could make such a beast if neeed.
Elsewhere, Sony took Ultra Short Throw projection to new heights (and costs) with its 4K Laser LSPX-A1, complete with ingenious glass tube speaker system, but it wasn’t the only one to bank on the form factor. Changhong and Hisense both had UST projectors. The latter was particularly impressive. Running footage in a theatre room from Planet Earth 2, the 4K laser demonstrated deep blacks, vibrant colours and sharp detail. It’ll be interesting to see if Hisense brings this to the UK.
Finally, one of the more intriguing partnerships to emerge at CES was Meridian Audio and LG. The first fruit of their union will be a soundbar and a range of party speakers with bright flashing lights. We can’t wait to hear what they sound like…