CES and All its Many New TVs...Without the Sore Feet

A reported 180,000 eager retailers, custom installers, press, and assorted hangers-on descended on Las Vegas last week for the annual, trade-only CES. I wasn’t one of them. With the advent of Internet coverage from multiple sources (including full videos of the most important press conferences), the growth of the show to include areas we don’t cover (home automation, drones, automobile electronics, and gadgets of all sorts, including such things as a beer brewing machine from LG and a carry-on bag that automatically trails along behind as you bounce your way through the airport), and the outrageous gouging from even the minimally decent Las Vegas hotels ($600 a night isn’t rare), being there isn’t as necessary, or fun, as it once was.

While you can actually see the TVs when attending in person, the experience isn’t much more revealing than seeing them at your local big box retailer, with the sets all programed for punch rather than accuracy and the program material carefully selected to show off the sets at their gaudiest. We hope to review many of them in the year ahead under more controlled conditions.

In addition to our key coverage of the new TVs, I also once enjoyed spending a day or more at the Venetian Hotel, where specialty audio manufacturers would set up shop to demo their latest wares. But that’s dried up to a shadow of its former self (you can read the post-mortem at our sister site, Stereophile.com), with any number of consumer audio shows dramatically exceeding it in the number of exhibitors.

This was the first CES I’ve missed in over 30 years. Will I ever go again? Possibly. But missing out for one year was curiously liberating. Nevertheless, I’ve just spend the past couple of days perusing show reporting from everywhere—the Internet (including our own limited coverage), print, and podcasts—to ferret out the latest on the new TVs so you don’t have to spend a weekend doing so. Most of my coverage here will be of the high-end models that videophiles salivate over. Those designs, of course, are featured at the show, but all manufacturers also produce the more pedestrian (but often quite competent) models that most people buy. Chinese TV maker TCL, in fact, indicated at its press conference that only one buyer in 100 spends over $2,000 for a new TV. I can’t confirm this, but TCL is definitely positioning its pricing to appeal to that 99%. With worldwide annual TV sales hovering around 300 million, however, 1% is still a lot of sets.

As is usual, neither price nor availability dates were provided at the show. Both are typically released after March at the earliest. I’ll cover the latest from LG, Samsung, and Sony here, and Vizio, Hisense, and TCL next time.

8K Fever
The featured story of this year’s show was without question the 8K fever that permeated the air at the Las Vegas Convention Center. For those present there was no escaping it. However you might feel about the push toward 8K (and I’ll have a few pungent comments about it next time), we in the press now need to remember a new resolution: 7680 x 4320. We’ve barely learned to rattle off 4K’s 3840 x 2160, or about 8.3 million pixels, but now we have to deal with 8K’s roughly 33 million. We no sooner get settled in than they pull us back out! More than a few content providers are likely anticipating early hair loss.

LG led off the parade by showing an 88-inch, 8K OLED. There are also plans for a possible 65-inch 8K OLED by the end of 2019. They will include HDMI 2.1 out of the box, as will all of the LG sets mentioned here.

LG’s new 4K OLED lineup will include four ranges: C9, E9, and W9. Minor changes to these from 2018 include LG’s Crystal Motion, designed to optimize the sets’ selectable black frame insertion (for reducing motion blur) with less of the picture darkening that typical of this this technique. All of LG’s premium 2019 sets, OLED and LCD/LED, 4K and 8K, will also be compatible with HDR10 (but no HDR10+), Dolby Vision, and HLG.

But the hit of LG’s offerings was its retractable, 65-inch, 4K OLED. Yes, the entire screen rolls up and down into a relatively compact case. It was shown in prototype form last year, but will soon be available for buyers (and long suffering interior decorators) who can’t tolerate a blank screen staring back at them. Again, no prices were mentioned, but this 4K stunner is unlikely to be popularly-priced.

LG’s LED/LCD lineup will be dubbed Nano Cell for 2019 (sounds familiar, somehow). Its flagship is a 75-inch 8K model. Its IPS LCD panel should improve off-axis viewing, and its full- array local dimming suggests good contrast. This set won’t be a Black Friday special either, but it should command a less princely sum than similarly-sized 8K OLEDs.

Samsung may be holding back some surprises for the smaller press events it typically holds each spring, but it did announce a March launch for two new QLED 8K sets, at 85- and 98-inches. Like all premium Samsung sets, these will include HDR10, HDR, and HLG, but not Dolby Vision.

Shortly after the show Samsung did announce prices for its upcoming 8K QLED sets and is accepting orders for them (but no stated delivery dates). The price on the 98-incher is yet to be determined (check on your 401K for funds and your contractor for knocking out that wall to get the set into the house). The 85-, 75,- and 65-inchers will be $15,000, $7000, and $5000 respectively. The latter price is almost reachable for many, but 65-inches is borderline for 8K, which is more likely to show off its purported advantages on larger sets.

All of these premium LCD sets (and those from other makers mentioned here) will have full array local dimming, now virtually mandatory in any sellable high-end LCD television. But the Samsung 8K models are not expected to include HDMI 2.1 when they ship (you’ll need this for native 8K material sourced via the set’s inputs, though none such material is currently available or expected anytime soon). But Samsung is promising to exchange its outboard One Connect interface box for a 2.1 version at no charge, when available.

Samsung also trotted out its latest Micro LED show-stoppers. Micro LED displays use tiny LEDs as the actual pixels, and like OLEDs and plasmas are self-emitting. (You know, of course, that all other so-called LED and QLED sets on the market are actually LCD designs; the LEDs merely provide the backlighting that the LCD panel, which produces the actual image, requires). They reportedly wowed the crowds with a humongous, 219-inch Micro LED design and a smaller, more real-world, 75-incher. Neither is a current or imminent product. In fact, much work remains to be done before Micro LED models will challenge OLEDs at reachable (though still premium) prices.

Sony’s Master Series now includes two new 8K Z9G models, at 98- and 75-inches. (Z9F we barely knew ye). The similarly recent Master Series A9F OLEDs will now be replaced by the A9Gs, at 55-, 65-, and 77-inches, all of them 4K. The new OLEDs now stand upright, without the angled-back easel configuration of the last two generations. Sony’s Surface Audio has reverted back to two speakers behind the screen instead of last year’s three, but the new oval drivers are said to offer equal or better performance.

There are also two (non-Master Series, and presumably less expensive) 4K OLEDs in Sony’s 2019 line, the A8Gs at 55- and 65-inches. Also of interest is the new X950G range of 4K LCD/LED sets, replacing last year’s X900s. At 55-, 65-, 75-, and 85-inches, these use Sony’s X1 Ultimate processor (also used in all of the above sets), and offer many of the other features present in Sony’s pricier sets.

Sony also demoed its Crystal LED prototypes, its version of Micro LED technology. As with the similar technology featured the show by other manufacturers such as Samsung, don’t expect to see true Micro LED sets in your local Best Buy, at a real-world prices, for a couple of years—at least.

johnnydeagle's picture

Cable and Sat TV providers have yet to offer 1080P broadcasts (Though DirecTV has 2 4K channels, 1 of which is pay per view). With 8K on the horizon is their any news on a quality upgrade from TV content providers?

audioguy's picture

And given the huge decline in sales of shiny discs and the increase in streaming, what REAL advantage will 8K provide by the time the signal is compressed in order to get it to your TV.

The change from a good 1080P disc to 4K is a lot less dramatic than the change from SDR to HDR. While I know lots of folks will buy 8K TVs because they can, this all seems more like marketing than a real video upgrade - but then what do I know!!

johnnydeagle's picture

Apple has had a 5K imac for over half a dozen years now, and digital photography is already producing higher resolutions than 8K. SLR's will likely have 8K video res soon as well.

drny's picture

After the same'o same'o of CES 2017 & 2018, no one can blame you Tom for not attending CES 2019.
CES 2019 actually had worthwhile new display models, and the competition is getting fierce.
I'm hoping that TCL, Hisence and Vizio 4k and 8K higher end model lineup knock some sense into Samsung.
LG responded well in 2017 and 2018 model years, by lowering their pricing compared to 2015 & 2016 insane OLED prices.
It's Samsung's turn now (I hope).
CES 2020 will probably be another same'o same'o.
However, CES 2021 looks to be a ground breaking year with HDMI 2.1 likely included in most display models, and 8K content likely far more available.
Perhaps, even MicroLed (I pray) might truly be viable and marketable for household displays.
By 2021 Ultra short 4k projectors may even become a desirable alternative to TV displays. Currently, they fall far short in black level and contrast to both a dedicated Home Theater quality projector and 4k TV displays.

I do have a serious concern in how the limited coverage of CES might affect S&V in attracting readers and more importantly advertisers.
I have to be honest, the coverage of CES by S&V (and no coverage at all by HTR) make you both look ancient. It should concern you as I am fifty eight and started reading Stereo Review in 1978.
I stayed glued to the CES coverage provided by Digital Trends, and even love the tech centered videos on Hdtvtest youtube channel.

Let's hope CEDIA is a home run for S&V, you barely bunted at CES.

true audio's picture

Sorry, but after my last purchase of the 60" Pioneer Pro 141 that was it. I got A unbelievable deal on a Stewart Studio Tek 130, Epson 6030,Darbee 5000,along with my Pioneer BDP-09. The picture is outstanding. TV's are like leftovers in the refrigerator. I still have a Sony 60" rear projection, can't give it away. And you wonder why the divorce rate is so high. We should start a class action law suit.

audioguy's picture

In order to experience the feel and immersion of a theater in your home, a projector and large screen are absolutely mandatory. BUT, we are such a TINY, TINY, TINY, TINY segment of the display market, I don't see that TV's are like leftovers in the refrigerator. The masses (and hence those that produce the most revenue) are very into flat panels, so they matter --- a lot!!!

canman4pm's picture

I haven’t made the 4K switch and won’t for the foreseeable future. I just picked up my 60” Panasonic VT60 plasma 2 years ago. It’s fantastic. $1400CAD for the last floor model. I couldn’t believe my luck! It’s only flaw is daylight viewing, as it does inhabit the living room. The math suggests any 4K set replacing it should be 120”. And 8K, 240”! Where the hell would I put such a monstrosity? Even 120” would be a stretch in my living room. Never mind the cost of such a screen.