CES 2021 had to be held virtually due to COVID-19, but the smaller number of "exhibitors" showed off technology and products ranging from Robotics, Health, Home Appliances, Car Tech, and Smartphones, as well as the annual favorites, TV and home entertainment. In this wrap-up, we dig into the TV and home entertainment reveals.
The main trends for TVs 2021 include bigger screens (80-inches and larger), more 8K, mini-LED, improved brightness for OLED TVs, AI video and audio processing, continued implementation of HDMI 2.1, and Google and Alexa integration spread across more brands and models. Let's check out the highlights.
Samsung is traditionally the biggest exhibitor at CES and, despite virtual limitations for 2021, didn't hold back, especially in the TV space.
Just before CES, Samsung announced a line of MicroLED TVs with 110 and 99-inch screen sizes and teased more sizes in the future.
MicroLED TV eliminates the weakness of both LCD-based and OLED TVs by providing excellent color, absolute black, high brightness, wide viewing angles, and no burn-in susceptibility. Instead of using LEDs as backlights, each MicroLED is a microscopic pixel that emits its own light and produces the image and color. However, the 110-inch model sells for approximately $156,000, which is out of reach for about 99% of consumers.
QLED Neo TV
On the "more affordable" side, Samsung introduced its new QLED Neo-labeled TVs. These are select QLED TV models that incorporate mini-LED blacklight technology to improve black levels, contrast, which more closely approaches OLED TV performance (LG is Samsung's main competitor). All QLED TVs (even those with mini-LED backlighting) still incorporate an LCD panel as the front display element.
Samsung also announced a solar-powered TV remote for select TVs that can be charged with sunlight or indoor lighting. However, since many use TVs in dark rooms a USB-C connection is provided as an alternative charging method.
More details will be forthcoming in relation to specific model numbers, screen sizes, and pricing as well as what feature mix will be included in which models.
A forthcoming TV-related product that Samsung announced was its EZCal TV calibration app for smartphones. This turns select smartphones into a TV calibration device making use of the phone's camera and processing capabilities. The information provided was preliminary and it wasn't revealed which phones would be compatible with the app (presumably select Samsung Galaxy models to start) and what phone camera specifications would support accurate calibration.
LG Electronics/LG Display
LG was onhand to reveal both more affordable OLED TVs, as well as a new line of OLED (EVO) TVs that can display higher light output (up to 1,000 Nits). To put that in perspective, most OLED TVs can only output up to 700 to 800 nits. This improves performance in brightly lit rooms and improves the HDR dynamic range.
LG also announced its new high-end "QNED" LED/LCD NanoCell TVs which add mini-LED backlighting and Quantum Dot layers that improve both color and contrast bringing those sets closer to the black levels displayed by OLED TVs (although OLED TVs are still the only sets than can display absolute black). To improve the onscreen user experience, LG is also upgrading its OLED and "QNED" TV lines to the WebOS 6.0 smart TV platform. There was no indication if or when other LG TVs would get the WebOS 6.0 upgrade.
Bendable and Transparent OLED Displays
LG's sister company, LG Display, also got a lot of attention with several innovations, including a bendable 48-inch OLED gaming monitor and 55-inch Transparent OLED screen for business, retail, and home use. They also hinted at the possible offering of a 42-inch OLED panel to its TV brand partners interested in offering an OLED TV with that screen size to consumers.
Note: Although LG Display's primary partner is LG Electronics, it licenses its technology to other companies. For example, almost all OLED TV brands use LG Display OLED panels.
Sony revealed its high-end Bravia XR TV line which consists of three (X90J, X95J, Z9J) LCD-based and two (A80J, A90J) OLED model series. The Z9J is the lone 8K series, with the rest being 4K models.
The main feature of the sets is Sony's new Cognitive Processing XR, which optimizes both video and audio performance in real-time by mimicking how our brains see visual and hear audio detail.
Sony Bravia Core
All Sony Bravia XR TVs include an exclusive (for now) pre-installed streaming service referred to as Sony Bravia Core. The content is grabbed from the extensive Sony Pictures film library and is accessible via credits given to each TV owner. The number of credits varies by Bravia XR TV model.
Sony touts that once the credit is redeemed, you can stream the title as many times as you want within a time period, which may vary by model.
Sony promises that Core will also offer extra footage and features similar to the special features you might find on a Blu-ray or UHD Blu-ray disc.
Sony Bravia Core includes Pure Stream™, which provides up to an 80mbps streaming bit-rate (may vary by title) which is the highest available of any streaming service so far (Apple TV+ is next with 40mbps). Sony claims this will match 4K UHD Blu-ray quality. However, there are some additional factors to consider regarding this claim.
Keep in mind that you need to have an internet service plan that allows you to access the necessary streaming speeds. If you don't have access to that speed, adaptive streaming is provided. This means Bravia Core will adjust to the streaming speed you do have, but keep in mind that video quality will be affected.
Sony Bravia Core also provides access to Sony's library of 4K IMAX Enhanced content titles. This means that Sony's Bravia XR TVs will display the correct IMAX aspect ratio and picture quality as well as provide access to DTS:X immersive surround sound for those titles.
Sony has committed to supporting the service for two years, after which it will re-evaluate whether to continue.
TCL caused quite a stir at CES 2021. Quickly becoming a dominant force in the U.S. TV market with its successful line of Roku-enabled QLED TVs, they upped their game by announcing its 85-inch XL Collection which will include one or more "affordable" 8K TVs. Exact pricing is still forthcoming, but if TCL can deliver a 65-inch or larger 8K TV for $2,000 or less, that will shake things up.
In addition to 8K, they also announced the OD Zero form factor technology for select TVs which fuses a mini-LED backlight panel with a light diffuser plate improving backlight efficiency and reducing TV thickness to 3mm or less. TCL also announced it is adding the Google TV OS to select models.
Hisense has been growing its market share in the U.S. and at CES announced their plans to add 4K and 8K QLED Mini-LED TVs to its U.S. product line as well as adding new 4K Laser TVs (aka short-throw projector systems) with an evolved TriChromatic (RGB) Laser light source for more precise color.
More TV Brands To Watch
In addition to reveals from familiar TV brand names, two brands that are well-known in the industry but not familiar with U.S. consumers, Konka and Skyworth will be increasing their presence with LED/LCD, QLED, and OLED TVs.
Panasonic is experimenting with a limited return to the U.S. TV market after leaving several years ago by allowing Value Electronics, in Upstate York, to offer select models from its Hollywood-grade Pro OLED TV line to U.S. customers.
News For Gamers
In addition to home theater-type TV improvements, continued implementation of video processing that specifically addresses gaming was also discussed.
Increased implementation of VRR (Variable Refresh Rate) and ALLM (Auto Low Latency Mode) was promoted on select TVs from Samsung, LG, TCL, and others. However, Sony announced that it will be adding those features via firmware updates later. The reason for Sony's caution is that VRR may degrade HDR performance and cause some motion stuttering issues. Even Sony's PS5 is not shipping with VRR included.
ATSC 3.0/NEXT GEN TV
Another important development that was spotlighted at the 2021 CES is the increasing implementation of ATSC 3.0/NextGen TV.
Everyone remembers the U.S. analog-to-digital TV transition that occurred in June 2009 which provided TV viewers with over-the-air reception of HDTV signals and improved audio. However, technology has advanced a great deal since, so another transition is progress which allows more local and Network TV broadcasting options (at the discretion of the station/network) including:
- 4K UHD resolution, as well as HD and SD (digital) simulcasting. 8K broadcasting may also be possible.
- HDR and Wide Color Gamut.
- Up to 120Hz frame rate.
- 3D video transmission option.
- Immersive audio (Dolby Atmos/DTS:X), multiple language tracks, and other audio enhancements.
- Over-the-air and broadband transmission of programming and supplementary content to mobile and Internet-enabled devices. This gives TV broadcasters the ability to provide "second screen" and other services.
- Improved Weather and Emergency Alert System.
- Digital Watermarking/Secure Copy-Protection if needed.
As of January 2021, there are about 25 local markets broadcasting in ATSC 3.0/NextGen TV at least part-time. That number is expected to increase to well over 60 by the end of 2021. Check out a market map that is periodically updated.
Only select high-end TV models from LG, Samsung, and Sony include TV tuners that can receive the signals. As more stations come online more TV brands and models will jump in with onboard tuners. External tuners and companion apps are available for most HD and 4K UHD TVs currently in use. You can still receive current HDTV signals for the foreseeable future.
In addition to TV-related announcements, some audio announcements were sprinkled in, but home theater audio manufacturers didn't have as much of a presence at CES 2021.
With TVs continuing to become "ultra-thin" there is little space for an adequate speaker system, so solutions such as embedding speakers into LED/LCD and QLED TV frames or placing transducers in the screens of OLED TVs is becoming a design choice for companies such as Samsung, LG, and Sony.
Several TV and audio companies revealed new soundbar systems (some with Dolby Atmos support), and Sony revealed its 360 Reality wireless home audio speaker line.
Although not discussed at CES, but announced by Enclave Audio shortly before, several TV brands include access to Enclave CineSync. This allows integration of the Enclave Audio CineHome II and CineHome Pro wireless home theater speaker systems with the TV's (and selected smart video projectors) control and onscreen audio settings system. This makes setting up and using wireless home theater just as easy as a soundbar but delivers a true 5.1 channel home theater experience.