A vintage year
This year’s CES has probably been the most exciting for the TV market as any we can remember since Pioneer launched their 9th Generation Kuro all the way back in 2008.In the interim 5 years all we have been given to get excited by are ever-smarter, ever-slimmer TVs and, the not particularly popular, attempted re-launch of 3D as a mass market medium. Whilst the stylish cosmetics and impressive feature-sets are still being emphasised, 2013 has seen a greater weight placed on emerging technologies. Depending on how you look at it, this year could equally be that of OLED or 4K Ultra-High Definition. The manufacturers seem to see the time as being right to make forays in to the mass market with their exciting new products but there’s also been a good showing from the old-guard tech. We can’t quite bring ourselves to do it in ascending or descending order – there’s just too much good stuff to rank it that way and you’ll all have your own favourites - so here’s our round-up of what’s tickled our television taste buds at International CES 2013:Samsung F8500 Plasma TV.We found it interesting that Samsung devoted more page space, in their press materials, to this plasma than they did the F8000, flagship 1080p LED TV. Considering plasma has seemingly become the poor relation, for Samsung, in recent times, this turnabout is as encouraging as the kinds of terms Samsung is using for the F8500. Their headline, ‘New industry standard for Plasma picture quality’ is a non-concealed, direct assault on Panasonic whose current VT50 offering is generally considered plasma king of the hill. It’s all very well being the self-proclaimed top dog but how about some information to back that up? Samsung are promising the deepest blacks in class thanks to their proprietary Deep Black Algorithm and Real Black Pro II filter. The larger Samsung plasma’s definitely showed excellent improvement in their dynamic range and black levels, last year, so any improvement on that will be superb and if they can match or better Panasonic’s 2012 line-up – as they’re inferring they can - we’re in for a treat.
Its ‘One Body Form’ design, created by using a single piece of metal, has divided opinions amongst our members but we think it looks very classy indeed. As a premium TV, the F85000 will be compatible with Samsung’s ‘Smart Evolution’, which allows consumers to update the hardware and software on their TVs so that they can stay up-to-date with the latest innovations in Smart TV. Whilst that’s all very nice, it’s the pictures we’re most interested in and this one looks as though it’s going to deliver.Panasonic ZT60.The announcement that Panasonic were to be replacing the VT as their flagship plasma TV came as quite a surprise. The VT50, after all, swept all that came before it and, indeed, became the first recipient of an AVForums Reference Status Award, in the domestic TV category, since the Kuro mentioned above. Well, Panasonic – in their own words – intend to take the ZT60 ‘Beyond the Reference’ in picture quality terms and not only is it nice to get a kind of name check, the portents for this new premium plasma TV are highly encouraging. The ZT60 is all about picture quality, claims Panasonic, and we’re all for that, although that’s not to say the ZT won’t pack any smart features, but the focus seems to be in producing a videophile grade product. To that end, Panasonic has been busying themselves in producing a new ‘Studio Master Panel’ with a newly developed driving method and panel structure plus a new red phosphor. We’ll find out more on the driving method when we have one in for review in early 2013 but the inclusion of a red phosphor that can fully saturate is definitely good news.
The new panel structure promises enhancements to contrast performance at both ends of the scale. The panel and front glass are now one, solid structure; previously there was a small gap between the two, allowing light to get in to the plasma cells and as a result diminishing black level performance. There’s also the hope that the new structure can allow the ZT60 to go a little brighter than the VT50, in its most accurate isf mode, allowing to be calibrated to the nth degree in more challenging viewing environments. With the noises coming out of both Panasonic and Samsung regarding their top-tier Plasma TVs, 2013 promises to be a fantastic year for PDP lovers. And we thought 2012 was good.
Samsung S9000.We certainly don’t choose the Samsung S9000 on the basis of its practicality, promised performance and certainly not based on its looks – we can’t imagine many homes could accommodate its proportions or have décor to match its rather bizarre design but it is a statement of intent that speaks for the entire industry. Ultra High Definition, or 4K as we still can’t help ourselves but term it, has arrived at CES 2013, in force.
All of the major players in the TV industry has a 4K TV (or 3) to flaunt in Vegas and the S9000 is a demonstration of force and at 110-inches, measured diagonally, unquestionably the largest U-HD TV. It’s a monster in every sense of the word and although highly impracticable, for most, it’s the metaphorical sledgehammer for 4K. For the aspirational (or very rich), aside from the 3840 × 2160 pixel count other technological marvels include quad core processing and 3 way 2.2 channels of 120 watt sound.
The real story for 4K TVs at this year’s CES is the sheer number of models announced and the fact they’re emerging in sizes where most people could consider squeezing one in to their living room. Sharp, LG, Toshiba and LG all have U-HD TVs on show at 60-inches, or under, and although manufacturers are always tight-lipped when it comes to discussing pricing strategies at CES, what we’ve heard from on the matter, so far, would seem to indicate that they’re going to be in line with (or just) above those we’d expect for ‘Premium TVs’. That’s pretty ambiguous granted but we wouldn’t be surprised if, come this time next year, we’ll be looking at ‘affordable’ levels for the enthusiast market. We dealt with the subject of suitability and the lack of content in another feature so we won’t go over that ground again. Just be excited that 4K is preparing to launch.
LG and Samsung Curved OLEDs.One of the surprises of CES 2013 has come in the curved shape of 55-inch OLED TVs shaped to enhance the immersion factor of movie and TV watching. Just hours after the Samsung version was shown off, we received notification that LG had announced the arrival of ‘The World’s First’ Curved OLED. We can well imagine the publicity department at LG was up in arms when Samsung broke their product first and it seems the release might have had a hasty edit performed as theirs read ‘The World’s first…with Cinema 3D.
No matter as far as we’re concerned, really, although the thoughts that a fair degree of company espionage and counter-espionage exists between the two. To whoever thought of first, congratulations on coming up with something innovative, at least as far as the TV market is concerned.
We’ve seen the idea with projector screens for a number of years, of course, and the principle that the viewers’ peripheral vision is more highly engaged, thus creating the illusion that they are being drawn into the picture really does work. Whether the proportions of the Samsung and LG curved OLEDs are sufficient to engender the same effect, at ‘normal’ viewing distances remains to be seen but we can’t wait to get them in to see. LG’s screen is described as a gentle inward flex, where the entire screen surface is equidistant from the viewer’s eyes, which removes the problem of screen-edge visual distortion and detail loss. Samsung has gone as far as saying there’s gives an IMAX like experience in the home and if they can get anywhere near those claims, it will be a sight to see. LG has been fairly bullish about a release, claiming it will be this year, whilst Samsung has been more vague and, if we’re to see one from them in 2013, it will be late in the calendar.Sony and Panasonic 56-inch 4K Ultra High Definition OLED TVs.Just typing those last few words, above, in conjunction with one another sets our pulses racing. The thought that we would see a 4K OLED at CES 2013 seemed absurd, only a few weeks before the opening of the event but, just days before the curtains were raised, the rumour mill suggested that Sony would be doing just that. And so it came to pass. Sony certainly kept us waiting with their press event, they were the last of the majors to hold theirs and started late, but it all seemed worthwhile once the silver cloth was lifted from the formerly mysterious displays to the left of stage. ‘Back of the net’ as a respected, Norfolk based broadcaster would say, 4K OLED had arrived – Liquid TV! Now we have contrast levels to match the increased resolution that should truly take television to the next level.
That Panasonic chose to hold back their 56-inch 4K OLED TV until the day after their press event was slightly curious, perhaps, but it certainly gave their keynote a shot in the arm and a welcome fillip from the let-down of the previous days’ ‘smartfest’. It’s been known for some time that Sony and Panasonic have been working together on OLED and it’s clear the panels share a large dose of the same DNA but we’ve seen how a panels’ performance can be radically altered, from one manufacturer to another, in LED/LCD TVs by virtue of differing processing and driving methods so it sure is going to be fascinating when we do eventually get the chance to compare. Sony looks likely to be the first to bring their 4K OLED to retail whilst Panasonic seems more content to play the waiting game as content delivery methods and strategies are considered and implemented. Is 4K and OLED a match made in heaven? Here’s hoping.
Honourable mentions should also go to Samsung and LG for their, non-curved/non 4k OLED TVs also but since their showings were basically re-launches of last year’s tech we’ve chosen not to include them. Not that we aren’t rapt with expectancy for their arrival. LG’s 100-inch Hecto Laser TV idea also looks incredible but we’re classing that as a projector, in essence.
So there you have it, we’ve given you our TV highlights of CES 2013? What are yours?