CES 2017: Audio/Video Dreamin'

In just a bit over a week Sound & Vision contributors will be traveling en masse to sleepy, laid-back Las Vegas for CES 2017, hoping to be wowed by all the new audio and video products headed our way in the coming year. Our show blogs will begin on Wednesday January 4th, the most significant (for us) of two days of formal press conferences before the show floor opens on January 5th.

Video One-Upmanship
What do we expect to see? The video side is always the most active, not only because TV models turn over every year but also because video is currently in a state of technological one-upmanship, with manufacturers competing fiercely for the top of the pile in Ultra HD and high dynamic range (HDR). Early in the UHD revolution, 2-3 years ago, prices were high with HDR virtually unheard of. Now UHD sets dominate the market.

When I was a lad an uncle declared that he wouldn’t buy a color TV until they were “perfected.” We’re still working on that. For example, no set at any price can yet achieve UHD’s maximum specified color gamut of BT.2020, an ultimate goal for UHD. In fact, all the consumer sets we know of are still a little still short of full P3 color (an intermediate step between the Rec.709 color gamut of standard HD and BT.2020). In short, there’s still more to come on the UHD color front. We don’t expect to see full BT.2020 this year, and perhaps not for some time yet—if ever (the technological challenges aren’t trivial). But hopefully we’ll soon get full P3 capability for all colors, at least in the best sets.

We’re still a long way from full HDR as well. The golden goose here is 10,000 nits peak white (2900 foot-lamberts). The best we’ve yet seen commercially is well under 2000 nits, and at that in only one or two flagship sets; 1000-1200 nits on an LCD HDR set is a more common maximum. It’s also likely that OLED, arguably the best current flat screen display technology in most respects other than peak brightness, may never reach much over 1000 nits (up to now it’s been limited to under 600).

While a doubling of peak brightness is only marginally visible, particularly without a side-by-side comparison, the brightness race will certainly continue. And for that, the ideal display might well involve Quantum Dots. Not as they’re used today (for backlighting in LCD sets) but in self-emissive form where the dots themselves are small enough to actually comprise the pixels and the only LCD in sight will be the power on/off light!

We don’t expect to see such Quantum Dot (QDot??) displays for some time, and certainly not this year. But other new developments are intriguing. Panasonic has apparently developed a form of backlighting that’s said to be very close to local dimming for each pixel. And according to a not very well-concealed rumor, Sony might introduce two OLEDs at the show, using their own electronics together with 55- and 65-inch OLED panels from LG Display. Sony and LG; —an odd couple indeed. And we certainly don’t expect other major manufacturers to come to the show without bringing along a buzz or two of their own.

What might we expect to hear about support for Dolby Vision, the “other” primary entry in the HDR universe? Among the most prominent set makers, LG and Vizio support both HDR10 and Dolby Vision, while Samsung and Sony have been HDR10 only. Will the dam break? And when might we see UHD Blu-rays with Dolby Vision as well as the HDR10? The latter currently has that format to itself, while Dolby Vision at present is limited to bandwidth-starved streaming. We’d love to see what Dolby Vision offers in a format with a much more open pipeline.

Video at CES is a fiesta of flat-screens; new projectors are traditionally celebrated at September’s CEDIA EXPO. But in another rumor, JVC might be showing something new in the projector category apart from the five-figure, native 4K, laser-lit flagship that wowed everyone at CEDIA. But we don’t expect any new JVC projectors at CES it to be true 4K, or budget-priced.

The Sound of CES
Beyond new features such as Dolby Atmos and DTS:X and the ability (in a pre-pro or AVR) to pass-through all the video detritus the industry can throw at it, audio tends to be, year-to-year, more stable than video. While the CES Daily Rags often tout new audio introductions, most of the time those products were actually shown first at the recent CEDIA.

In the high-end audio niche, often served by smaller companies that can’t afford yearly changes, new CES rollouts are less frequent but for that reason often more newsworthy. With video you expect to be flooded by the new, but in audio the new stands out all the more. We’ve received only a few pre-show audio announcements, many of which are under embargo until next week. Among the news we can share, we expect a boatload of new products from Emotiva, including several new speakers and subwoofers. The XMC-1 preamp processor will receive an update including full support for immersive audio (Dolby Atmos and DTS:X), and a new RMC-1 preamp processor (at $5,000, a new price ceiling for this company) with immersive audio and support for up to 16 fully-balanced channels.

I’m not much into virtual reality (VR), but a recent Samsung demo at my local Best Buy had me at least a little intrigued. But it used a cell phone as the imaging device, and despite the novelty of seeing seamless video as you look to the sides (or behind you!), the actual picture quality, with a clearly visible pixel structure, was sub-VHS. Others have told me, however, that more dedicated (and more expensive) VR devices offer superior video. I plan to check them out at the show, time permitting. For now, VR is primarily a novelty for gamers (which I’m not). But while the nickelodeon was once a novelty as well, I’m unlikely to be convinced until VR is available wirelessly in bright, 4K 3D, in HDR with immersive audio. Or better yet, in a Holodeck.

dommyluc's picture

Can someone answer me this? Why is it that when 3D television came out, and some of them were very good, and a lot of the 4K passive 3D UHDs have pictures that are extraordinary, people stayed away in droves because they complained about having to wear the glasses, which weighed about an ounce and a half, but now, with VR, they're willing to wear a virtual reality headset that's about the size of a microwave oven?

Traveler's picture

Even the slightest chance of a production 2017 8K unit for general release?

Thomas J. Norton's picture