Home Entertainment 2016: A Drone’s Eye View

I’ve had almost a month to ponder CES 2016 and what strikes me most as I look back is how a show that was once strictly about audio/video has grown into an enormous and wild Mardi Gras of tech, encompassing everything from drones and hoverboards to smartphones and digital health wearables and much more.

But rather than complain about sore feet or having to wade through all that to get to the AV stuff, my takeaway is that the show was a good one, AV-wise. Even though there was nothing new that got everyone buzzing, there were signs that the newer stuff we already have is maturing nicely.

Aside from Atmos migrating to a few soundbars (models were shown by Samsung, Philips, and Creative Labs), it was a quiet show for audio. Highlights for me included a couple of new turntables: the return of the classic Technics SL-1200 and a Sony USB turntable that does hi-res DSD rips from your LPs.

On the video front, it was an important CES for high dynamic range and wide color gamut, features that emerged last year but are poised for gains in 2016. Critically, the Ultra HD Alliance announced a certification program to ensure that video devices or programming (i.e., the new UHD Blu-ray Discs) bearing a new Ultra HD Premium logo meet a range of minimum technical standards for a quality viewing experience.

Along with the obvious UHD resolution (3840x2160), displays with the logo must handle 10-bit color depth from input to screen, wide color gamut that’s a minimum 90 percent of the Digital Cinema P3 color space, and the ability to display high dynamic range content mastered to the SMPTE 2084 (HDR10) gamma curve with specific minimum black level and peak white targets—either 1,000 nits brightness against 0.05 nits black level (which is suitable for LED driven LCDs), or 540 nits brightness against 0.0005 nits black level (an obvious nod to OLED, which can’t hit the bright highlights of an LED LCD but still delivers high contrast ratio on the back of its deep blacks). So far, all of LG’s new OLEDs and all of Samsung’s new SUHD models for 2016 were said to be UHD Premium certified.

LG also announced that several of its new OLED models would be compatible with HDR10 and Dolby Vision HDR content, the first sets we know of compliant with both formats. Sony, meanwhile, showed a prototype of its Backlight Master Drive LED technology that hits 4,000 nit peak white highlights—10 times what typical LCDs do today and four times what the brightest HDR sets currently do.

Three manufacturers—Samsung, Panasonic, and Philips—introduced UHD Blu-ray players, with Samsung delivering by early March and Philips targeting spring (Panasonic gave no time frame). Hollywood execs bullishly said they expect 100 UHD BD titles out before the end of the year; many will also bear the UHD Premium logo, which ensures similar specs for bit depth, wide gamut, and HDR (HDR10 is a requirement, though Dolby Vision or other formats can be supported alongside).

In the end, though, none of these advances will likely have as dramatic an impact on your life as would Samsung’s new smart refrigerator, equipped with a 21-inch display on the door that lets you post pictures and messages and facilitates direct ordering of groceries from Fresh Direct. Best of all, it’s got a camera inside that takes a new still every time you shut the door. So if you’re out on the town and can’t recall if you need milk, just grab your phone and fetch your fridge’s latest selfie via the Internet. Before you know it, the paparazzi will be hacking into Taylor Swift’s icebox and posting pictures of her yogurt. Now that’s progress.