Time for our awards!
With the 2015 CES concluded, we saw a number of new devices and improvements. The UHD TV category bar has been raised with wider color, high dynamic range, and improved black levels.
The audio category had outstanding new entries in the surround sound, soundbar, and floor standing models.
The new Ultra HD Blu-ray provides a way to advance image quality to a level never before available in the home.
On to our Top Picks.
Best in Show: Samsung JS 9500 4K Ultra High Definition TV (pictured above)
The JS9500 is Samsung’s best 2015 4K UHD TV and our pick for Best in Show. The feature lists packs the latest combination of top performance improvements for this year: Full Array LED backlight with hundreds of dimmable zones; Blue LEDs and Samsung’s version of Quantum Dots called Nano Crystals, which brings the color gamut near the DCI standard; High Dynamic Range (HDR) with a peak brightness of just under 300 ft lamberts (1000 nits which is 2 to 3 times the brightness of typical LED LCDs), with the ability to read meta data that will be imbedded in select UHD Blu-ray discs and streaming services; 10-bit panel with acceptance and display of future 10-bit UHD Blu-ray movies and a curved screen with a recessed “chamfered bezel”.
We should note the Samsung (JS series) and the Panasonic (CX850) are the only vendors that claim to be able to accurately display HDR and wide color gamut via embedded meta data in UHD sources, the competition (LG, Sony) use their own signal processors to guesstimate the right colors and (in Sony’s case) extended dynamic range.
The 9500 features Samsung’s latest graphic user interface and new Tizen OS.
Like this year’s top-of-the-line HU9000 series, the JS9500 uses Samsung’s OneConnect box for future upgrades to the tuner, connectivity, and signal processing, as well as Smart Functions and streaming. It incorporates an eight-core CPU.
The feature list has about everything available today, including voice, gesture control and Skype video using the built-in HD camera. The JS9500 can also display 3D sources.
The JS 9500 will be available in the 65-inch and 88-inch screen sizes.
Top Pick Best 4K UHD TV: Panasonic CX850U
The Panasonic CX850 4K UHD TV is Panasonic’s top-of-the-line model for 2015. The big TV improvements for the year, all included in the CX850, are a full-array LED backlight with local dimming, extended color gamut that covers 98% (for 65-inch model) of DCI (Digital Cinema Intuitive) color using newly developed LEDs, plus high dynamic range (HDR) detection and playback.
The LED full-array backlight, combined with Panasonic’s Local Dimming and Studio Master Drive, permits deep black blacks and the ability to render the very dark tones in low-light areas of the image.
According to a Panasonic product specialist, the CX850 is able to read the meta-data for HDR that will be included in select Ultra High Definition Blu-ray discs scheduled to arrive by the end of 2015 (and select streaming services like Netflix). With HDR the CX850 will have very bright highlights, far exceeding current LCD panels. In addition, the Panasonic CX850 has a 10-bit panel and will display new 10-bit content also found on the new UHD discs.
The result, an outstanding image that sets new levels of performance going way beyond just the higher resolution that 4K offers. The CX 850 will be available in the 55-inch and 65-inch screen sizes.
Top Pick TV Design: Samsung 82S9W
Samsung raises the styling bar again with its unique 82-inch 21:9 UHD TV. A collaboration between Samsung engineering and renowned designer Yves Béhar results in a stunning new form factor combining Samsung’s curved widescreen with a built-in cube style floor stand.
The 82S9W also incorporates all the latest technology found in its new 16:9 4K UHD TV, the JS 9500, including full-array LED backlight with hundreds of zones, local dimming, high dynamic range and wide near-DCI color gamut.
Top Pick Ultra High Definition Blu-ray: Panasonic UHD Player
Leave it to Panasonic, with its ability to work with the movie industry closely through its Broadcast and Professional division and its Hollywood Research Lab, to come up with the world’s first UHD Blu-ray disc player.
We were fortunate to view the unit being set-up by Panasonic engineers to confirm it did indeed play a Ultra High Definition Blu-ray demo disc feeding Panasonic’s Top Pick Award-winning CX850.
The new format’s capabilities go far beyond 3840 x 2160 resolution. The new players and discs will be able to play 4K UHD up to 60 fps (frames per second, currently almost all movies are shot at 24 fps). Plus, a number of 2015 top UHD TVs will be able to accept and play 10-bit video (1024 gradations between black and white) as opposed to the 8-bit (256 gradations) limitation of HDTV Blu-ray, cable and broadcast content. The player can also accept and send HDR and wide color gamut metadata to UHD TVs that can accept it.
Panasonic expects to ship the player before the end of 2015.
Top Pick OLED: LG 77EG9900
LG’s 77EG9900 is the first flexible OLED TV. Using a 4K Ultra High Definition screen, this 77-inch OLED can be either flat or curved, ending family disputes as to which form factor is preferred.
It’s a full featured model, with LG’s latest Smart TV functions and graphic user interface. In addition, this Gumby TV incorporates Harmon Kardon sound, a deca-core processor, and LG’s latest magic motion remote control.
LG plans to ship the 77-inch in the 2nd half of 2015 with a price to be determined.
Top Pick 4K UHD Media Player: Dish 4K Joey
Designed to work with the Dish Hopper satellite receiver as the DVR, the 4K Joey is a small box called a “thin client” that can be wall-mounted behind a 4K UHD TV. The Dish service will download Ultra High Definition content onto the Hopper’s hard drive and permit viewing at your leisure from the Joey.
The Joey is future content ready, with support for H.265/HEVC 4K @ 60 frames per second and 10-bit color (excluding graphics).
The 4K Joey will begin shipping this summer at a price to be announced.
Top Pick Surround Sound: Phillips Fidelio B5
Phillips Fidelio B5 is a unique surround-sound powered-speaker design. The system consists of a soundbar to be placed above or below your flat screen, but here’s where it’s different. At each end of the bar there’s a detachable speaker, with a built-in battery for true wireless surround. The Fidelio B5 also comes with a subwoofer. To listen in Dolby Surround, simply detach the end speakers and place them behind you on the left and right sides and viola, instant surround without wires. This is great for apartment dwellers as well as a folks that want a simple surround sound solution.
The Fidelio B5 has built-in auto calibration for properly balanced channels. The B5 also has built-in Bluetooth which permits streaming of music to the front soundbar and rear speakers, even if they’re in different rooms, turning the “single bar” into a 3-room music system.
The Fidelio B5 will be shipping this spring with an msrp of $899.99
Top Pick Soundbar: LG LAS950M
LG’s new LAS950M soundbar offers 700 watts of total power and can simulate 7.1 channels (the “.1” being an included wireless subwoofer). It will also connect wirelessly to LG 2015 HDTVs and UHDTVs that incorporate LG’s WebOS graphic user interface.
In addition, the LAS950M incorporates LG’s Musicflow system which permits up to 100 speakers in the house playing the same music or different songs in each room. The LAS950M also supports 24-bit HD sound.
Top Pick Blu-ray Player: LG BP550
LG’s BP-550 is its top of the line Blu-ray player for 2015. Don’t let its small size fool you, it will play 3D and 2D Blu-ray discs as well as transmit to LG’s multi-room Music Flow audio system. Smart too? Of course, with a major program and music providers Netflix, Vudu, Hulu Plus, Amazon Instant Video, Pandora, YouTube, MLBTV, Spotify, Rhapsody, vTuner, AP, Facebook, Twitter and Viewster.
Top Pick Speaker: GoldenEar Technology Triton 5
GoldenEar Technology’s latest speaker, the Triton 5, really blew us away with its smooth sonic virtues, great punch due to its high dynamic range, and deep bass. All for a price of $2,000 a pair.
The Triton 5 uses dual woofers, coupled to four 8-inch passive radiators per speaker. Bass response is rated down to a low 26 Hz. Covering the high frequencies is GoldenEar Technology’s folded ribbon tweeter (one per speaker).
Overall the Triton 5 breaks new ground for high performance speakers that outperform competitors costing thousands more. As the heart of a Dolby Atmos system, with voice-matched GoldenEar Technology center and surround speakers, the Triton 5 sets the bar for price/performance quality sound.
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