New categories like “Wearable Tech’ and “The Internet of Things” may be getting the most buzz at the 2014 International Consumer Electronics Show, but the real action (for us) remains in the TV sector. Most makers have expanded their UHDTV product lines, with one even releasing a 4K OLED model. And Smart TV interfaces have become more capable and refined. For 2014, HD Guru awarded products in 7 categories covering everything from OLED TVs to soundbars, and topped things off with a Best In Show pick.
Our award criteria includes: picture performance for displays, sound quality for soundbars, and overall design innovation. All of our awards are for products that manufacturers plan to bring to market in 2014.
Best in Show: Samsung U9500 LCD UHDTV
Samsung’s attention-grabbing 105-inch LCD (shown above) is a curved UHDTV with an ultrawide 21:9 screen (5120 x 2160 resolution). While we tend to frown at small curved screens, when you get up to 105 inches, the “immersive” effect that TV makers claim for curved designs actually kicks in at a normal seating distance (Samsung recommends about 3-4 meters for the U9500). The U9500 also has Samsung’s new Auto Depth Enhancer feature, which effectively uses the company’s 2D-to-3D conversion algorithm to provide a 3D effect without glasses.
Panasonic’s Julie Bauer (left) accepting HDGuru’s award for best UHDTV
Best UHDTV: Panasonic 65-inch AX900 4K Ultra HD TV
Now that Panasonic has dropped the plasma category it had previously championed, the company is setting its sights on something new: making LED-backlit LCD TVs look as good as plasma. Panasonic’s 65-inch AX900 Series model will incorporate all of the company’s best efforts toward that end, including a Studio Master panel with Super Chroma Drive to reproduce accurate Rec. 709 color even at low brightness levels and a full-array Local Dimming Pro backlight. From what we saw in the company’s CES demo, the AX900 should be a standout performer when it arrives this fall.
LG’s Tim Alessi accepts Best OLED award from HDGuru presenter Casey
Best OLED TV: LG 77EC9800
With five new OLED TVs on show at CES, LG has come out swinging as the champion of the OLED category. The company’s lineup for 2014 will be led by the 77EC9800, a model with a curved 77-inch screen, 4K/Ultra HD resolution, High Dynamic Range processing and passive 3D viewing. While a 77-inch OLED is in itself a cool thing, the 77EC9800 will also feature LG’s innovative new WebOS Smart interface.
Sony’s Rob Brennan accepts the company’s award for Best LCD TV
Best LCD TV: Sony X950B Series
Sony’s top LED-lit LCDs over the past few years have been notably good performers, and its X950B Series UHDTVs look primed to carry on that tradition. The X950B Series has a full-array LED backlight with the company’s X-tended Dynamic Range Pro processing to boost both blacks and whites. It also has the same Triluminos tech found in select Sony models from 2013, which helps to improve color detail. Look for the X950B Series to arrive this spring in 65- and 85-inch screen sizes.
Sharp Electronics’ Jim Sanduski accepts HDGuru’s award for Best HDTV
Best HDTV: Sharp Quattron+ UQ Series
The resolution of Sharp’s AQUOS Quattron+ TVs exist somewhere between HD and UHD, with the company’s new Revelation tech splitting subpixels in the display to bump things up to a 2160 vertical pixel count. While not exactly UHDTVs, Quattron+ sets can display 4K content. Priced from $2,300 – $3,100, they also offer an affordable alternative to pricey bigscreen UHDTVs. The company’s UQ Series models are THX-certified to ensure high-quality upconversion of HD sources and will be available 60- 70-, and 80-inch screen sizes.
Samsung’s award-winning HW-H750 soundbar
Best Soundbar: Samsung HW-H750
HDGuru loved Samsung’s HW-F850 soundbar when we reviewed it in 2013, and we’re now looking forward to the HW-H750 model the company has on display here at CES. Why the anticipation? Along with a vacuum tube preamp for added warmth when listening to music, the HW-H750 has the same great streaming and control capabilities found in Samsung’s Shape M7 wireless speaker along with Bluetooth capability for linking up with and transmitting sound from Samsung TVs.
Sharp’s SD-WH1000U snagged the honor of Best Blu-ray player
Best Blu-ray Player: Sharp SD-WH1000U
Blu-ray players have become somewhat humdrum commodity items, so any new model needs to offer something different to raise our pulse. Sharp’s SD-WH1000U Universal Player does exactly that by offering not only Blu-ray and SACD playback but the ability to wirelessly send up to 7.1 channels of high-res, 96kHz/24-bit audio to WiSA-compliant wireless powered speakers. The SD-WH1000U also provides multiple HDMI inputs so you can connect other devices and route sound from them over the wireless speaker connection.
Samsung’s Mike Wood gamely accepts HDGuru’s award for best media player at CES
Best Media Player: Samsung UHD Video Pack
A problem with UHDTVs is a lack of 4K content to play on the sets, which is why some manufacturers are taking the situation into their own hands and making proprietary 4K media players and and movie distribution services. At last CES, Sony introduced a 4K player that downloads content via the company’s Video Unlimited portal. At this CES, Samsung is filling the 4K void with its UHD Video Pack. The Video Pack is a 1-terabyte hard drive that will be bundled with the company’s 2014 UHDTVs. It comes loaded with 8 titles, including 4 movies and 4 documentaries, and Samsung expects to have up to 50 titles available by the end of 2014. New titles can be downloaded via an app in the TV’s Smart Hub interface and at first will only be available for purchase.
—Gary Merson with Al Griffin
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