Time for our awards!

CES 2016 brought us at long last some standards we can point to for guidance in determining what high dynamic range (HDR) and a wide color gamut (WCG) should be for new generation high performance TVs.

We also saw some of the first players for the next, and possibly the last new class of optical discs: Ultra HD Blu-ray. This physical media will be delivering 4K Ultra HD resolution along with HDR and WCG enhancements at bit rates of up to 100 Mbps, well beyond the range of content delivered by cable and satellite TV services or over-the-top (OTT) streaming video providers. That should mean you’ll be seeing even better images and surround sound, including Dolby Atmos surround delivered by this year’s winning sound bar (See more below).

This year, HD Guru has added a little more dazzle to make our picks a little more fun, by having the popular Las Vegas model Julita Palomera present the coveted HD Guru crystal award to some of our favorite industry executives on the floor of CES.

On to our Top Picks.

Hit the jump to see all the winners:

Best in Show: LG’s 77-Inch G6 Signature Series Flat-Screen 4K Ultra HD OLED TV (pictured at top).

LG OLED sets have been among the top performers for picture and sound almost every year since they were introduced. At CES 2016, the company unveiled four new OLED series, including new flagship G6 models that will be offered in 65- and 77-inch screen sizes. The 77-inch model awarded here is also positioned as part of a new LG Signature Series of premium products encompassing the best of LG’s TV and major appliances categories.

LG said the 65-inch version will arrive in late February (with the 77-inch coming a little after that) and will be one of the first TVs to be certified to wear the new “Ultra HD Premium” logo as determined by the Ultra HD Alliance. Pricing has not been announced.

Other features in this model include: support for HDR under the new characteristics that include the nearly perfect black levels that OLED technology can produce. This helps make images seem more true to life by broadening the difference between the brightest and darkest images the TV can produce at the same time on the screen. The new TVs will support both the new SMPTE (HDR 10) standard that was included in the Ultra HD Alliance and Ultra HD Blu-ray specifications, and the alternative optional Dolby Vision HDR technology. They will also support a wider color gamut than most TVs, with the color range covering up to 99 percent of Digital Cinema Initiative’s P3 color space used for professional digital cinemas.

The G6 models are also super-slim, measuring less than 1/10th of an inch deep at their thinnest point, and feature a design LG calls a picture-on-glass with very minimal bezels. The G6 models will house connections and circuitry in a forward-facing soundbar style base to help the TV achieve a super slim dimension.
The G6 TV also adds LG’s newly updated webOS 3.0 smart TV system that simplifies and quickens switching between sources and makes it even easier for users to quickly find the programs they want to watch.

Accepting the award from Julita (at top) is John Taylor, LG public affairs VP.

Best TV Design: Samsung’s Perfect-Slim Curved-Screen 4K Ultra HDTV


The Samsung Perfect Slim KS9500 UHD TV hits all the right notes for picture performance and elegant styling. Samsung is calling the TV “the world’s first bezel-less curved TV” making the picture appear to have very little border around the edges. The rear of the set features a smooth rounded backing and One-Connect Mini cable management system.

This will stand as one of the flagships of the 2016 Samsung TV line, and will be among the company’s sets that earn the UHDA’s new “Ultra HD Premium” logo, along with the rest of the models in Samsung’s high-performance SUHD tier. That means, the set is HDR compatible, using a new cadmium-free quantum dot technology in its 10-bit display to deliver greater color accuracy, brightness and contrast. This is said to enhance brightness while using less power. It will also produce a billion color shades across 92-93% of the DCI-P3 color spectrum.

Other features include: a new edge-lit LED system that allows for up to 1,000 nits of peak brightness; and the ability to read and display the HDR 10 metadata. The KS9500 uses Ultra Black technology that absorbs ambient light to reduce reflection and glare. Availability and pricing will be announced later.

Like other Samsung SUHD TVs this year , the KS9500 will act as a smart home hub, controlling a wide range of smart home automation devices from Samsung and other compatible manufacturers.

Samsung has added on top of its Tizen smart TV operating system a Smart Things Extend USB dongle that gives the TVs the ability to control more than 200 home devices compatible with Smart Things technology. This allows controlling things like IP-based in-home cameras, smart thermostats and smart lights through a user-interface on the TV screen.

Samsung said it is also expanding the features and functionality of its Tizen-based TVs in 2016, bringing a wider selection of games, including more sophisticated titles to the TVs. It has also changed the interface slightly, bringing various connected input sources onto the same screen along with favorite apps and even favorite programs from apps to quickly find and play a TV show from a single menu.

Receiving the award (above) is David Steel, Samsung executive VP.

Best 4K Ultra HDTV Value: Hisense H8 Series


Hisense used CES 2016 to make a big push forward in the U.S. TV business this year. It marks the first year for the company’s dual-brand strategy using the Sharp brand to gain additional distribution to spread the message about Hisense’s advanced technological capability. The H8 series includes 50- and 55-inch models that will be available in April at suggested retail prices of $599.99 and $699.99, respectively. Both models offer full-array LED backlighting with local dimming, have HDMI 2.0a inputs with HDCP 2.2 and can read HDR 10 metadata and remap the information for display at the full capabilities of the screen. The TV will also present a wide color gamut of up to 90% of the DCI-P3 recommendation, using a phosphor coated LED technology and a 10-bit panel. Hisense is using a proprietary smart TV platform supporting leading HD and 4K UHD streaming services including: Amazon; Netflix; YouTube; and Toon Googles. On top of that, Hisense backs up the TVs with an industry leading 4-year warranty.

Hisense president Liu Hongxin (above) accepts the HD Guru award.

Best Ultra HD Blu-ray player: Samsung’s UBD-K8500


Samsung was one of only a handful of manufacturers that brought an Ultra HD Blu-ray player to CES 2016 with firm marketing plans. Model UBD-K8500 will be available in March at a $399.99 unilateral pricing policy list and will be able to play more than 100 Ultra HD Blu-ray disc titles promised for release this year by major Hollywood studios, including Warner Bros Home Entertainment; Sony Pictures Home Entertainment; Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment; and Universal Studios Home Entertainment. The UBD-K8500’s UHD Blu-ray player will also offer built-in upscaling technology that enhances the picture quality of standard Blu-ray discs and DVDs. Among supported optical discs will be UHD Blu-ray, Blu-ray, and DVDs, as required by specifications. It will also support the optional audio CD and 3D Blu-ray Disc formats, Samsung said. As for high dynamic range, the player will only support the base level HDR 10 format deemed as mandatory in the specifications, but none of the optional HDR formats, like Dolby Vision.

Other features include: support for lower resolutions when used with non-4K TVs; built-in Wi-Fi for streaming video and music from dedicated apps, including Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Instant Video, Spotify, and Pandora; HEVC for watching streamed 4K content from sources like Netflix and Amazon Instant Video; AllShare to share and mirror screens from compatible Samsung smartphones and tablets; BD-Live and BonusView support for added bonus features; support for external storage via USB; Multiroom Link for syncing wirelessly with Samsung Shape wireless speakers; ripping of CDs to MP3 files with a USB storage device; on-board web browser; remote control; built-in audio decoding for Dolby Digital, Dolby Digital Plus, Dolby TrueHD, DTS, and DTS-HD Master Audio; 2 HDMI outputs for separating audio and video signals with the main HDMI output supporting0 HDMI 2.0a for HDR and HDCP 2.2 cotent protection. The sub HDMI support audio only.

Receiving the award (above) is David Steel, Samsung executive VP.

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Best Professional Quality 4K Ultra HD OLED TV: Panasonic 65CZ950


As one of the experts in achieving the best black levels in television displays through its work with plasma technology, Panasonic excited CES 2016 attendees by demonstrating a 4K Ultra HD OLED TV that the company is hoping to have ready for the U.S. market this year. The 65CZ950 features a 65-inch curved 3840×2160 OLED screen that provides deep blacks and outstanding color saturation. Unfortunately, the company was still gauging its marketing and distribution plans for the product at the show and few additional details were available. To ensure the TV produces picture quality levels that match the vision of the original filmmakers, Panasonic had professional Hollywood colorist Mike Sowa tune and approve the TV to Hollywood standards, making it useful for Hollywood professionals today. Hopefully, it will be headed to home theaters very soon. The OLED TV comes with Panasonic’s 4K Studio Master Processor, professional-quality color management technology, and a high-quality OLED panel that Panasonic said is capable of achieving absolute black.

Accepting the award from Julita (above) is Panasonic VP Peter Fannon.

Best Sound Bar: Samsung’s Dolby Atmos HW-K950


Samsung unveiled its first soundbar to support the Dolby Atmos object-based surround sound system. Model HW-K950 includes two Dolby Atmos-enabled wireless rear speakers and a wireless subwoofer to deliver 5.1.4-channel sound. The soundbar also offers a slim, 2.1-inch high design that packages three forward-facing and two upwards-facing speakers that reflect sound off of the ceiling to produce a rich, full sound that makes objects like arrows and jets appear to moving around the listener in the room. The soundbar connects wirelessly to the subwoofer and rear speaker units. Pricing and availability will be announced later.

Accepting the award from Julita (above) is Samsung Executive VP David Steel.

Best 4K Ultra HD DSLR Camera: Nikon D500


Showing the world that 4K Ultra HD video recording and playback are here to stay, Nikon, one of the photo industry’s top two leading camera brands, unveiled at CES 2016 its first two DSLRs offering support for 4K Ultra HD video. On the pro-side is the D5, which offers a wide range of top performance features including a full size 20.8MP sensor. But the D500 offers many of the same capabilities in a much more consumer-friendly price point and a lighter body design.

The Nikon D500 will be available in March 2016 (body only) for $1999.95 and in a kit configuration with the AF-S DX NIKKOR 16-80mm f/3.5-5.6 G ED VR lens for $3069.65. Comparatively, the much larger D5 will run you $6,499.95 for the body only.

The D500 features an APS-C 20.9MP CMOS sensor with a sensitivity range of ISO 100-51,200, which is expandable to ISO 50-1,640,000. It will capture up to 10 fps with full AF and AE with a buffer of up to 79 shots at 14-bit for uncompressed NEF files.

The D500 shares the D5’s AF system, and includes the Multi-CAM 20K AF sensor module and 180K RGB metering system. The 153-point AF array fills the frame from side to side, to track and lock-onto subjects from the edges of the viewfinder. The camera also adds a 3.2-inch 2359K-dot touchscreen LCD.

The D500 stores captured images to either a fast XQD card slot or to an additional SD card slot. Other features include a new Nikon SnapBridge that improves the camera’s built-in connectivity by allowing for a Bluetooth supported connection between the camera and compatible smart device.

Other features include: 4K video capture at up to 30p and 1080p video available at up to 60p. The D500 offers uncompressed HDMI output. When capturing 1080p footage, the D500 uses a new 3-axis electronic VR feature that can be activated regardless of the lens being used.

Accepting the award (above) is Mark Soares, Nikon DSLR product manager.

Best Design In An Ultra HD Blu-ray Player: Panasonic DMP-UB900


Like Samsung, Panasonic was one of the early leaders in Ultra HD Blu-ray technology and the company underscored that at CES 2016 by showing a player, model DMP-UB900, it expects to bring to the U.S. market later this year. The unit will include a 4K high-precision chroma processor; will play back 4K JPEG/video; supports 3840×2160 resolution and HDR metadata; supports high-resolution audio formats including: DSD, ALAC, FLAC, and WAV; and incorporates “high-quality audio parts,” including the power supply; audio circuit and digital circuit. It will deliver up to 7.1-channel analog audio output and includes twin HDMI ports to isolate the audio signal from video. The DMP-UB900 also supports 4K streaming apps and DLNA. It will not support Blu-ray 3D. Panasonic officials could not offer any official launch time or pricing at the show, except to say they expect it to ship in the U.S. market sometime this year. The company previously launched an Ultra HD Blu-ray player for the Japanese market, but that model incorporates a hard drive to record broadcast TV programming in addition to playing UHD Blu-rays. It also costs considerably more than the U.S. model is expected to run.

Pictured above: Panasonic’s Peter Fannon excepts the HD Guru.

Most Innovative 4K Ultra HDTV Technology: Sony’s XBR 65-inch 65X930D


Like LG and Samsung, Sony also used CES 2016 to flex its 4K Ultra HD and HDR-supporting muscles behind a series of thin-panel LED LCD TV sets. The 55- and 65-inch models in the edge-lit XBR X930D series include a new “grid-array” backlight layout called Slim Backlight Drive to produce the high peak brightness levels needed to read and display HDR metadata. The X930D models feature ultra-thin bezels, Sony’s Triluminos display technology, X-tended Dynamic Range Pro system and Google’s Android TV interface. Picture quality during the show demos lookiing excellent with deep blacks and bright highlights. The TVs’ refined color engine boosts accuracy from all forms of content, whether produced with a wide color gamut or not. Sony is also launching on its HDR sets this year a new smart TV app called Ultra that lets you buy and stream 4K HDR shows.

Accepting the HD Guru award from Julita (above) is Sunil Nayyar, Sony Home Entertainment & Sound (HES) TV product management director.

Best 4K Media Player: TiVo Bolt


Although it was introduced last summer, TiVo brought its Bolt 4K Ultra HD capable DVR to CES 2016 and made a splash with its flashy commercial-skipping capabilities. The beautifully-styled Bolt is a 4K Ultra HD-ready set-top DVR for cable and over-the-air TV programming. But there’s a lot more: It adds built-in standard and 4K streaming services to recording favorite programs from a range of sources and resolution levels including: SD, HD, Full HD and 4K Ultra HDTV. The TiVo Bolt is available for $285.99 for a 500GB version or $394.19 for a 1TB version. Pricing includes a year’s worth of service for either package. After the first year, TiVo applies its $15 per month service guide fee. Yearly and lifetime subscription options are also available. For added convenience the Bolt includes a CableCARD slot for cable TV subscribers looking for a more robust solution to DVRs supplied by their local cable system operator.

In addition, TiVo has added SkipMode and QuickMode buttons that allow fast forwarding over programs or commercials or jumping over whole commercial segments at a time with the press of a button. To do this, viewers must watch programs on certain networks between 4pm and midnight. The Bolt records the show and presents it with commercials ready to be skipped about 30 minutes after the shows are recorded. Shows that qualify for commercial skipping are identified with a green “skip” button in the guide. SkipMode passes over commercial breaks of certain recorded shows with a single button press, and will notify viewers on screen when a commercial can be skipped.

Accepting the award from Julita (above) is Jim Denney, TiVo management and strategy VP.

By Greg Tarr


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