CES 2014 - First look at the new Samsung TV line-up
There's a lot of Ultra HD but OLED appears to be missing in action
It really shouldn’t come as any surprise to discover that Ultra HD and 4K are the big themes at this year’s CES.
All the manufacturers are pushing their latest Ultra HD TVs and Samsung are amongst the biggest supporters of the higher resolution format. Sadly the Korean giant hasn’t announced any new OLED models aside from the 55-inch S9 that we reviewed last year and it would appear that plasma has been quietly sidelined. Instead the majority of their models are now LED LCD, with Samsung often bending the panels to keep in vogue with the current fashion for curved screens. In terms of Ultra HD TVs, Samsung have two main models - the UH8500 which is flat and comes in 65- and 75-inch screen sizes and the UH9000 which is curved and offers a choice 55 and 65 inches.
There are two new Ultra HD models - the flat UH8500 and the curved UH9000.
In a closed door demo we got a chance to take a closer look at Samsung’s latest Ultra HD TV developments and dominating the room was their 105-inch Ultra HD TV. This uses a curved LED LCD panel that has a 5K resolution of 5120 x 2160 pixels. The panel has an aspect ratio of 21:9 and when asked why they chose that Samsung said it was aimed at people who enjoyed watching widescreen movies. Whilst not all movies are in a 2.35:1 aspect ratio, the wider panel certainly created a more immersive experience and in this instance the curved nature of the screen made sense. The images definitely looked impressive, with plenty of detail and a uniform backlight but all the demo 4K footage tended to be of very static shots, which made it hard to form a more complete opinion. The similarities to LG’s 105-inch curved Ultra HD TV are striking but, unlike their Korean competitor, Samsung have no plans to launch the TV this year. Although they this could change, depending on the market.
In terms of the new features that will find their way onto this year’s line-up of Ultra HD TVs, the first that Samsung showed us was their Auto Depth Enhancer. This adjusts the contrast within areas of a picture at a pixel level to improve the perceived depth of 2D images. We have seen similar features from other manufacturers and the results were certainly impressive. Samsung have also improved the Ultra HD application of their Clear Motion frame interpolation software to deliver better motion handling. Samsung’s massive Ultra HD TVs with direct LED backlighting now go up to 110-inches and thanks to an improved algorithm they have an increased dynamic range. Although in the demos we saw the motion handling was poor which is a concern for a TV that costs upwards of £30,000.
Auto Depth Enhancer adjusts the contrast at a pixel level to improve the perceived depth of 2D images.
Last year we were impressed with Samsung’s implementation of their One Connect box that combined both inputs and processing in a separate device. This would theoretically make it easier for any existing Ultra HD TV owners to upgrade their displays and true to their word Samsung have launched a new One Connect box. The latest version adds HDMI 2.0, HEVC decoding, Prime Pass HDCP 2.2 and MHL 3.0, whilst it also upgrades the Smart TV platform to the latest version. All of Samsung’s Ultra HD TVs will come with HDMI 2.0 as standard and include the latest iteration of the Smart TV platform.
Samsung's new Smart TV platform is an evolution of their existing system and keeps the same basic design. They have added a multi screen feature that allows users to indulge in contextual multi-tasking whilst remaining focused on TV viewing and the different windows emphasise related content. Samsung have also added a games page and the remote has been redesigned to include motion control, although it does now closely resemble LG’s Magic Motion remote control. Samsung claim that the new platform is four times faster than last year.
One very interesting new feature is a series of Ultra HD calibration tools that Samsung will make available to professional calibrators. This Windows based software will allow a calibrator to control the TV from a laptop and then select the relevant colour meter in order to take measurements. The software can then be used to adjust the greyscale, gamma and colour gamut, allowing the TV to be calibrated to industry standards.
Of course there’s little point in owning an Ultra HD TV unless you can watch some native 4K content on it and Samsung is looking at ways of delivering this. Like a lot of the manufacturers they have included built-in HEVC decoding and 4K apps for both Netflix and YouTube. However, in the US at least, Samsung have another solution with their UHD Video Pack. This will be provided with each Ultra HD TV that is bought in the US and, thanks to a deal with 20th Century Fox and Paramount, it will come pre-loaded with eight movies in native 4K. Samsung will make more movies available for download each quarter, with a total of fifty films planned over the next year.In the US the UHD Video Pack will come pre-loaded with movies in native 4K.
Back on the Samsung stand itself, there were a number of concept TVs on display. It would seem that bendable TVs are the order of the day with Samsung showing an 85-inch Ultra HD TV where the amount of curvature can be adjusted. Quite how Samsung were managing to bend a LCD panel was a mystery but it certainly worked and would allow the user to choose a preference. Unfortunately Samsung currently have no plans to release this product but that might change. The same is true of the 55-inch Ultra HD OLED on display, which has no planned release and is bendable.
Samsung were also demonstrating a conceptual glasses-free 3D TV that uses an Ultra HD panel and has up to 35 different viewing angles. However, the image resolution was restricted to 720 lines and despite the increased number of viewing angles we found the 3D poor and uncomfortable to look at. The last conceptual TV was a 98-inch Quad Ultra HD TV which uses an 8K panel surrounded by a timeless gallery design. The level of detail was astonishing but given that 4K has yet to be effectively delivered into the home, it’s a safe bet that 8K is a long way off.
Whilst it is certainly a strong line-up, the absence of new OLED models and the profusion of conceptual TVs was a little disappointing. After blazing a trail for so many years, we couldn’t help but feel that Samsung are rather treading water in 2014 and we would like to see them lead the way again.
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