Instead, it’s the place where manufacturers try to outdo each other with extreme displays that draw oohs and ahhs from attendees and fawning headlines from journalists. The TVs shown at CES 2019 were bigger and more innovative than ever, but the most notable are likely to be expensive.
Roll-up OLED is real, and it will hurt your bankroll
My favorite TV at the show, hands down, was the modestly sized 65-inch rollable OLED from LG. Seeing it in action, disappearing into its stand and reappearing to create a high-performance TV, is the stuff of CES legends.
I also like the roll-up TV because it’s practical. A screen that can disappear when not in use frees up wall space and improves room decor by hiding a large black rectangle that’s otherwise kind of an eyesore when turned off. If your family wants to limit screen time, it’s nice to have that looming temptation simply go away during off hours.
The 2019 version will cost a bundle — LG hasn’t hinted at a price but my guess is at least $10,000, roughly four times the cost of a standard 65-inch OLED — but in the next few years it could come down fast if LG wants to gain yet another advantage over competing, stiff and flat LCD-based TVs.
8K TVs: Strictly for profligate wastrels in 2019
2019 is the year of 8K. Here’s the major 8K-resolution TVs announced at the show and shipping in 2019:
Samsung’s models, aside from the 98-incher, are available for pre-order now. The 65-inch costs $5,000, the 75-inch $7,000 and the 82-inch $10,000.
Bigger 8K sets are even more ridiculously expensive. Samsung’s current 85-inch model is $15,000 and I’d be surprised if that price fell much in 2019. As for 98-inch sets? The closest real-world equivalent is Sony’s 100-inch Z9D 4K TV, which cost $60,000 when it came out in 2016. That price sounds about right for the 98-inch 8K models.
Beyond price, there’s the fact that 8K content is nonexistent and the improvements in image quality over 4K look to be slight, at best — hey, at least LG, Sony and Samsung confirmed 48 Gbps HDMI 2.1. This year, 8K is a plaything of the frivolous rich.
Cool new tech: 2 LCDs, 4K lasers, 75-inch MicroLED
8K resolution is the major current trend of the show, but looking ahead a bit, but CES also had lots of much more interesting new trends on the horizon.
MicroLED gets smaller, closer to reality. Every TV sold today is based on either LCD or OLED panel technology, but MicroLED is a good bet to succeed them in a few years. It uses millions of individual teeny, tiny LEDs to create its image, similar to a Jumbotron. Samsung showed its engineering chops with the first version that’s small enough to imagine going on a normal wall: 75 inches at 4K resolution. That’s real progress, although no word on when (or if) it might actually go on sale.
4K laser projection shoots for mainstream. Short-throw projectors can sit close to the wall and deliver massive images, and the most interesting at CES use laser light engines for brighter images (better to compete with room light) without the need to replace bulbs. LG’s CineBeam HU80K and Optoma’s P1 build in audio for the complete “TV” experience, and Hisense showed a 3-laser prototype with unprecedented color claims.
2 LCD panels = 2,073,600 dimming zones. Hisense showed an LCD TV that uses two separate liquid crystal panels — one black-and-white 1080p and one color 4K — along with a full-array backlight to improve contrast. Typical local dimming TVs have a few hundred zones or maybe 1,000 at best, but Hisense claims that every pixel of the 1080p panel, more than 2 million, effectively acts as a local dimming zone. Combined with 2,900 nits of light output, that’s potentially the best image LCD image quality yet.
I saw the demo in person and it looked good enough, but couldn’t get a real sense of its potential in the crowded booth. Hisense’s rep said he hoped to bring it to market in the US. We’ll see.
Today’s TVs? Better picture, more competition
So what about the TVs mere mortals can afford, you ask? There was plenty of promising info about those, too.
Vizio‘s full lineup looks better than ever. Vizio has lost share to TCL over the last couple of years, and it’s fighting back in 2019 with a strong-looking lineup. Local dimming everywhere, of course, but also quantum dots in the mainstream M-Series, more dimming zones and, in the flagship P-Series Quantum X series, enough brightness to match the Sonys and Samsungs of the world.
TCL gets bigger. The biggest Chinese TV brand in the US added a 75-inch size for an aggressive $1,800 to the CNET Editors’ Choice 6 series. On the other hand TCL didn’t announce any specific new models for 2019 — saving that info, like Samsung, for spring.
The best TVs at CES 2019
Hisense does cheaper local dimming Roku TV. The China-based TV unleashed its own slew of sets complete with pricing, and the most promising looks like the R8 series. It has a healthy 64 zones of dimming on the 65-inch size, wide color gamut, 700 nits of brightness and Dolby Vision, all for less than the TCL 6 series. Shipping “later in 2019” the 55-inch size costs $600, while the 65 is an aggressive $750.
More local dimming everywhere. With the advent of HDR my favorite LCD TV tech enhancement, full-array local dimming, is appearing in more and more TVs. All three of the budget brands above are selling FALD TVs, Sony introduced yet another in the promising X950G series, and Samsung said it would have more FALD models than ever in 2019. That means more competition in the mid-priced picture-quality-for-the-buck race, always my favorite part of the TV market.
Mr. Smart TV goes to Cupertino
In the biggest surprise of the show, basically every big TV company announced that its sets would work with Apple in some way, starting this spring. Samsung seems like the biggest winner — its 2018 and 2019 TVs are the only one that get actual on-screen version of the iTunes Movies and TV app. But Sony, LG and Vizio get to play nice with Apple devices too. All three (along with Samsung) can work with the AirPlay 2 system, which uses iPhones, iPads or Mac computers to control video, music and photo playback on the TV. We got the full demo in Vizio’s booth.
That’s it for the major TV news out of CES 2019. In closing, here’s a little something to remind you that TV technology can still amaze: LG’s OLED waterfall in 360 video (courtesy of Geoffrey Morrison) and still images. Enjoy.
This story was first published Thursday Jan. 10 at 4am PT.
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