Last week’s 2021 Virtual CES was unlike any before it, and that made determining the winners for HD Guru’s Best of CES 2021 Awards the most difficult to date.

In many cases, we didn’t have the luxury of an up-close demonstration and we had to rely on briefings with company executives and product specialists via video calls and streamed CES press conferences. This meant weighting our choices by what the companies told us and, where possible, by comparing products’ feature and spec sheets.

In short, it was an even less perfect evaluation than ever. But like all things CES this year the awards must go on, virtually or otherwise.

As always, virtually every brand had pretty compelling presentations, technologies and product offerings for the home theater this year, but the following 10 caught our attention for being especially compelling, innovative and different.

There are no right or wrong selections here. And a lot of products may ultimately prove themselves to be the real winners once they enter the market. We hope what we provide here will convince you to take a deeper dive into what’s coming when you start looking to add or replace an 8K or 4K television or peripheral product this year.

Without further adéu, the HD GURU Best of Virtual CES 2021 Show Awards:

Best Of Show
Sony 83-Inch BRAVIA XR XR83A90J 4K OLED TV

The Sony A90J high-brightness 4K OLED TV.

Sony stepped up its claim to leadership in the OLED TV category by introducing to the U.S. market the first 83-inch 4K OLED television using a new high brightness (for OLED) panel. Sony’s adaptation of high-brightness to a mammoth 83-inch model means OLED purchasers now have a really big-screen high-brightness 4K/HDR television that presents top-level picture performance in both dark and well-lit viewing conditions. The Sony BRAVIA XR XR83A90J ($7,999 UPP) will be the company’s successor to the popular A9G 4K OLED series that won top honors from experts in TV shootouts in pre-pandemic 2019. Furthermore, the XR8390J Series Sony includes an innovative new BRAVIA XR Cognitive Intelligence processor that analyzes pictures and sound from the perspective of the human focal point to instruct the advanced AI-based engine how to present key elements that best engage the way the eye and brain see contrast, brightness and color. All of Sony’s BRAVIA XR 4K televisions this year will have at least two HDMI ports supporting 4K/120Hz High Frame Rates and Variable Refresh Rate for advanced gaming using new consoles like the Sony PlayStation 5.

Best Big Screen TV Technology
Samsung’s 88-Inch MicroLED TV

Samsung’s new pre-fab MicroLED TV

Samsung Electronics’ latest development in MicroLED technology takes the self-emissive big-screen technology it has championed for the past three years beyond “The Wall” and into the box — an eco-friendly cardboard box. Samsung’s newest MicroLED sets are “pre-fabicated” pre-assembled one-piece displays measuring 88-, 99- or 110-inches. The development allows more easily shipping, purchasing and setting up the display as a single piece instead of an Erector Set of modular panel pieces. The technology is reportedly still based on modular panels, but these will be pre-assembled so purchasers can buy them like they would any flat-panel television. (We still expect most installations will continue to involve custom integrators, however). The latest application enables Samsung to employ a nearly bezel-less screen design that makes viewers feel like they are inside the action. Presumably, the approach is the next step toward MicroLED TVs for the masses, but that is likely still a few years away. HD Guru is awarding the 88-inch version here to underscore what we assume will be the most home-friendly screen size. Why this is matters is MicroLED technology can present pictures with high brightness, close to true black reproduction, wide viewing angles, wide accurate colors and luminosity and aversion to screen burn-in.

Best 8K TV
Samsung QN900A 8K NEO QLED MiniLED TV Series

One of the biggest trends in TV at CES 2021 was the use of MiniLED backlight systems to drive LCD TVs with brighter images, better contrast, enhanced dark shadow detail and reduced blooming/haloing issues. Samsung’s contribution to this technology was revealed through its new Neo QLED TV lines of 8K and 4K MiniLED QLED TVs for 2021. Unusually, Samsung was not the first into the new technology (that was TCL two years ago), but this flagship 8K UHD series might be the best yet. The QN900A 8K Neo QLED models will be available in three screen sizes including the 65-inch QN65QN900A, the 75-inch QN75QN900A and the 85-inch QN85QN900A. These will feature a nearly bezel-less design, a new Neo Quantum Processor, and new expansive sound technologies. The TVs also feature HDMI 2.1 with 4K/120fps, Variable Refresh Rate, Auto Low Latency Mode (ALLM), and enhanced Audio Return Channel (eARC). In addition to 8K/HDR, the Samsung QN900A also offers the new One Design presenting a near bezel-less, wide-viewing-angle screen and a slim, sleek design that seamlessly fits the room decor.

Neo QLED 8K’s use an attachable Slim One Connect box and cable management system in which the box can be attached to the back of the TV, removing clutter. Among the newer features in the 2021 Neo QLED 8K is more expansive room-filling surround sound with Object Tracking Sound (OTS) Pro delivering audible effects that follow subjects and objects in relationship to their position in the scene. SpaceFit Sound analyzes the installed TV’s physical environment and outputs immersive sound tailored specifically to the viewing room. Samsung’s Neo QLED MiniLED full-array backlight system uses LEDs with 1/40th the height of conventional LEDs, allowing more densely packed micro lighting layers with many more LED dimming zones to reduce blooming, increase luminance, and improve HDR performance. Ahead of CES 2021, Samsung had already announced its 2021 QLED TV series will include a new HDR10+ Adaptive high dynamic range (HDR) mode to present dynamic HDR images customized to the scene and the room lighting conditions. Of course, they also offer Samsung’s QLED (quantum-dot) color enhancement film for wide color gamut coverage. Samsung has significantly upgraded its Tizen smart TV platform this year with additional apps and connected services to help purchasers better communicate and interact virtually, post pandemic. And it is all controlled with an innovative new solar-rechargeable remote. We expect this series to help push the needle on premium 8K adoption.

Best 8K TV Value
TCL 6-Series R648 8K Roku TVs

TCL is expected to have 8K TVs for more budgets in the 2021 TCL 6-Series Roku TVs.

TCL’s 2021 6-Series (R648) Roku TVs are expected to break new ground for 8K displays by introducing models into one of the company’s most price-aggressive and highly popular model series. TCL still has not disclosed a lot of the details for this line, which will be introduced later in the year, but we do know it will use the excellent AiPQ upscaling engine, and the user-friendly Roku TV operating system. As with most products introduced at CES, we don’t have exact pricing yet but the past year’s 6 Series models have yet to disappoint.

Best OLED TV Design
LG G1 Gallery Series 4K OLED TVs

LG has further evolved its WRGB OLED TV panel technology this year for the G1 4K Ultra HD “OLED Evo” Series in 2021 by delivering sets with some of the brightest pictures to date for an OLED display. This was achieved using a new heat-dissipation technology designed to get brighter images without risking damage to the organic components of the panel. It preserves color brilliance and accuracy in the process. LG assures this will preserve all of the best features its self-emitting light-based technology was designed to deliver while making HDR images brighter and colors bolder and more realistic. What really makes this series standout is its complete package of features, performance and style.

See What Your 4K UHD TV Can Really Do With The Spears & Munsil 4K UHD Blu-ray Disc, $39.95.

Amazon’s Best Selling 4K Ultra HDTVs

Amazon’s Camera, Photo & Video Deals

Amazon Fire TV Cube Media Adapter with Alexa

Amazon Fire TV Stick with Alexa Voice Remote

Amazon Echo Smart Speaker with Alexa Voice Control

Amazon Echo Show 8 Alexa Voice Controlled Smart Screen

Amazon Echo Dot with Clock Voice Controlled Speaker

Amazon Echo Studio 3D Audio Alexia Smart Speaker

Best Selling Soundbars and 5.1 Surround Systems

Best Selling Blu-ray Players

The G1 line features LG’s popular ultra-thin panel Gallery Design that first appeared last year in the LG GX 4K OLED TV series. This is optimized to mount the display up tight against the wall, like a framed painting. As part of the package, purchases will get a full suite of advanced HDMI 2.1 gaming features like 4K/120Hz, VRR (generic and branded versions), ALLM, eARC and more.– It’s a gamer’s dream come true . Further, a new webOS 6.0 smart TV platform is included bringing greater customization, a redesigned Magic Remote with Magic Tap smart device pairing, extensive AI voice control support and a new Alpha 9 Gen 4 picture and sound processor with significant A/V enhancements to make movies, television shows and video games more engaging. LG is also adding support for popular video game streaming apps like Stadia.

Best Soundbar
TCL Alto R1 Roku TV Ready Wireless Soundbar

The TCL Alto R1 is the first Roku TV Ready sounbar certified for the Roku TV wireless reference design.

TCL virtually introduced at CES 2021 the Alto R1 Roku TV Ready wireless soundbar that was the first announced as conforming to the new Roku TV Ready Wireless soundbar reference design, revealed a few days ahead of the show. This isn’t the most feature rich soundbar in the field, but for Roku TV owners it should be one of the easiest to use while delivering excellent room-filling surround sound at a value price. The R1 is designed to reduce the challenges of setup and use by eliminating the need to physically connect the soundbar with the television. A power cord plugged into a the wall is the only cable necessary. The soundbar is designed to work wirelessly with TVs based on the Roku TV operating system, so its application and audience is more limited than some other soundbars. But for those who can benefit, the design enables using one remote to control both the Roku TV and the soundbar. Setup features are provided in a common on-screen user interface menu. The soundbar can also be connected to other wireless peripheral speakers that support the Roku TV platform, including Roku wireless subwoofers to drive complementary punch and bottom-end accents to music and sound effects, while keeping voices distinct and clear.

Best Value 4K OLED TV
XC9000 Series

The Skyworth 55-inch XC9000 Series 4K OLED TV

Skyworth unveiled its step-up XC9300 4K OLED TV series at CES 2021, but quietly it was also talking about its forthcoming entry XC9000 4K OLED series positioned to bring even better value for consumers waiting to get a 4K/HDR organic light emitting diode (OLED) display with nearly pure black reproduction, vibrant wide natural color gamut coverage, ultra-wide viewing angles, and strong contrast. Skyworth North America 4K OLED TV series for 2021 offer what the company calls a “Boundless Vision” (98.6%) screen design for immersive entertainment. In addition Skyworth OLED TVs support HDR10, HLG and Dolby Vision high dynamic range (HDR) profiles. Little known is that Skyworth has more than 9 years of R&D investment in OLED display technology and is a strategic joint venture partner with LG in a major new OLED panel factory in Guangzhou, China. With this core competency, Skyworth is able to take the raw OLED panel to its own neighboring factory where it completes the module using its own ID. When they arrive later this year, the Skyworth 55-inch XC9000 model is expected to see an opening minimum advertised price of $1,299 and a 65-inch model for $1,799. Those who can’t wait that long will find Skyworth’s new premium XC9300 4K OLED series in April bringing 120Hz with Variable Refresh Rate (VRR), and Filmmaker Mode. These will start at a $1,499 MAP for the 55-inch model and $1,999 for the 65-inch version. Stay tuned, Skyworth hinted it might even bring larger screen OLED models in late 2021 or early 2022.

Best Projector
Hisense TriChroma Laser TV

Hisense has been showing its TriChroma triple laser-based light engine technology for DLP projectors for a couple of years, but they now appear to be ready for prime time. Hisense TriChroma Laser TV now attains 20% brightness enhancement at the pixel-level with a 430-nit peak picture brightness performance, exceeding that of traditional projectors. Hisense Laser TV product lines package various screen sizes, from 75-inch to 100-inches, while offering ambient light rejection capabilities. Dr. Liu Xianrong, Hisense Chief Scientist of Laser Display, explained that the advanced TriChroma technology is packaging and controlling separate lasers to get purer colors for display. TriChroma technology now delivers a 128% improvement in RGB color, and color gamut coverage reaches up to a whopping 151% of the DCI-P3 cinema color space recommendation and 107% of the previously unreached BT.2020 wide color space. That’s almost 50% better than recommended for high-end cinemas. Meanwhile, the screens packaged with Hisense Laser TVs afford wider viewing angles and greater eye comfort to allow viewers to sit closer to the screen for the most immersive experiences. More specifics on models and pricing are expected later.

Best 4K Streaming Ecosystem
Sony Electronics/Sony Pictures BRAVIA Core Powered by BRAVIA XR Processing

This is an unusual Best of CES category for us, but then the technology and its diverse applications are as well. We also wanted to acknowledge Sony for stepping up the collaboration between its content and hardware businesses. BRAVIA XR leverages Sony’s extensive expertise in micro processing development that gets even better when applied to Sony Picture’s vast library of remastered assets delivered via the innovative new BRAVIA Core digital distribution platform. Sony’s televisions this year are based on a new Cognitive XR Processor, which in addition to providing advanced AI picture and sound processing, now adds Cognitive Intelligence content analysis adapted to read incoming pictures and sound in a way that better replicates how human senses experience the world. This data than instructs the AI processing system to produce more beautiful and emotional A/V experiences attuned to viewer cognition. In addition to presenting contrast and color from a new focal point, the AI platform uses a new texture data sample library to more distinctly present objects of different textures in the same scene. BRAVIA XR TV models will all have access to the BRAVIA Core video streaming service. The power of the Cognitive XR Processor will allow the service to deliver higher quality UHD video streamed at bitrates of up to 80Mbps (near UHD Blu-ray quality) using Sony “PureStream” technology. This also includes support for IMAX Enhanced titles with DTS surround sound support. The service will carry the best of Sony Pictures’ newest releases along with the studio’s “all-time classics,” including some 100 IMAX Enhanced titles with DTS sound.

Best NextGenTV (ATSC 3.0) Broadcast Support
Sony 2021 BRAVIA XR Televisions

The Sony 2021 BRAVIA XR 85-inch 85X95J will have a built-in NextGenTV tuner.

Sony should have cord cutters and television broadcasters alike jumping for joy after its CES 2021 TV introductions. The company revealed that all BRAVIA XR Televisions will feature built-in NextGenTV (ATSC 3.0) tuners this year. This will supplement reception of existing ATSC 1.0 stations for as long as they last. That means any BRAVIA XR set will be ready bring you free new IP-based over-the-air local broadcast stations once the digital transmission standard goes live in your area. All that’s needed is an antenna suitable to the reception conditions of your location. Sony proved to be the most forward-thinking supplier of NextGenTVs in 2020, by building its affordably positioned X900H series TVs with NextGen TV tuners, to the delight of cord-cutters around the country. Sony now brings that capability across the BRAVIA XR TV series range, cutting across budgets while helping to solve the chicken-or-egg conundrum facing the start of next-level over-the-air broadcasting.

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By Greg Tarr

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