HD Guru Presents Best Of CES Awards To 15 Stunners
CES 2020 was covered wall-to-wall with amazing new products and technologies, but it’s television and home entertainment gear that excites The HD Guru enough to break a deep meditation session to hand out crystal trophies for excellence.
This year, the process was no easy exercise with new 4K and 8K television technologies pushing the boundaries of peak brightness, wide color gamut and high contrast ranges as never before.
This year’s session also featured the present or pending arrivals of new display technologies including mini-LED LCD TVs (from TCL) and Dual Cell LED-LCD TVs from Hisense, each designed to challenge OLED for deep black performance and near 1,000 nits or peak brightness and higher.
The show also featured some of the first TVs to include NextGen TV (ATSC 3.0) broadcast TV tuners (20 models from three companies so far), and some of the first models to feature the Ultra HD Alliance’s new Filmmaker Mode, designed to put a TV in the proper viewing settings to see a movie as the filmmaker intended it to be seen.
But the biggest trend of the show was the global fascination with bigger and bigger screen sizes, requiring higher resolution levels (like 8K) and better picture processing systems to make those blown up images look as pretty as they do on smaller screen 4K sets. Not surprisingly, artificial intelligence (AI) is coming into greater use to carry that out.
There were a lot of winners with products and systems worthy of consideration. Samsung and LG tied for the most individual awards this year at four apiece, followed by Hisense with three, Sony with two and TCL and newcomer Konka with one apiece.
Find out about each of our honorees and their products below:
Best of Show
Samsung’s 292-Inch 8K “The Wall” MicroLED Display
It isn’t going to be an option for most consumers’ homes anytime soon, but Samsung’s MicroLED TV technology continues to get more and more impressive — and bigger every year. This year the technology that uses modular panels that fit together to make moderately large to giant-sized screens of various shapes and resolution levels, looked dramatically impressive in a 292-inch 8K configuration positioned in the center of the company’s large CES booth. We won’t even venture an estimate of the price, since at this size (measuring over 24 feet) the target will be primarily commercial markets, but the technology statement does show that Samsung engineers are achieving higher resolution levels and a wider range of screen sizes. It won’t be long before this is ready for more mainstream consumer living rooms, in one size or another. Case in point, Samsung also showed various Micro-LED panel configurations to create a 150-inch version with 8K resolution, and a 4K version at 75 inches. Samsung said new advancements for 2020 are enabling larger-scale production of fixed screen sizes, “including new 88-, 93-, 110- and 150-inch sizes.” These displays aren’t just big, they leverage thousands of tiny direct-emitting LED pixels to present images that are both powerfully bright and capable of producing an OLED-like level of black for an impressive range of contrast. This is perfect for all of today’s new high dynamic range (HDR) content. Of course, Samsung applies its brilliant Artificial Intelligence upscaling technology with deep learning to ensure lower-resolution content still looks tack sharp even blown up to fill a giant wall. Keep an eye on this technology as production efficiencies evolve and economies of scale drive prices into affordable ranges in the next several years.
Best 8K TV
Sony Z8H Series LED-LCD TVs
For those looking for a very big-screen 8K Ultra HDTV today, it is hard to better the upscaling and image processing inside Sony’s Master Series Full Array LED-LCD TV introduced last year. So the company moved that quality down a step into what is expected to be a somewhat more affordable Z8H Series for 2020. Sony is carrying over the 2019 8K Master Series models, at least for the early part of 2020, but it will soon bring forth the Z8H series, which is based on Sony’s impressive X1 Ultimate processor to drive the picture processing that cleans up most of the artifacts from upscaled lower-resolution source material while painting gorgeous looking, bright and colorful pictures on the screens’ dense pixel structure (16x that of those HD images you used to think couldn’t look better). Issues like color banding are impressively reduced, along with many issues with jaggies on edges of objects in the picture. The series will include models in the 85-inch and 75-inch screen sizes. Both use Full Array LED back lighting, have a two-position stand supporting smaller cabinets, and are 4K/120 fps compatible. To play the still sparse selection of native 8K content and other resolution-level sources, Sony includes the Android TV operating system (version Pie 9) for streaming and interacting with the television via Google Assistant. Voice pickup for Google Assistant is built into the TV for hands-free control, and Sony also supports Apple devices (via AirPlay 2 and HomeKit) and Amazon Alexa voice assistance. Other features include “Sound-from-Picture Reality,” which, like Sony’s Acoustic Surface sound in OLED models, aligns the position of the sound coming from the TV with the images on the screen. The technology places narrow vibrating drivers in the frame of the TV to emit sound that appears to be coming out of the screen. The TVs also include Ambient Optimization, which automatically calibrates the picture and sound quality to the characteristics of the room surroundings. As in last year’s Master Series models, the line also supports Netflix Calibrated Mode, ISF Autocal, Imax Enhanced Certification and Dolby Vision/Atmos support.
Best New 8K Display Technology
The TCL Vidrian 8 Series 8K Mini-LED Roku TV
TCL astounded videophiles late last year when it introduced to the U.S. market the first 4K Ultra HDTVs based on Mini-LED Full Array back lighting in its 8 Series 4K Roku TVs. This year it is upping the ante with an 8K version called the 8 Series Vidrian offering a very bright, clear and colorful screen, while at the same time bringing the 4K Mini-LED technology down into the popular 6 Series Roku TVs for 2020. The 8 Series 8K Mini-LED TVs with quantum dot color expansion technology come in 65- and 75-inch panel sizes at prices to be announced later. The Vidrian Mini-LED 8K TVs will be TCL’s new flagship Roku TVs for 2020. In addition to upgrading last year’s Mini-LED system to 8K resolution, the Vidrian series introduces a new “glass on LED” Mini-LED panel technology. This places tens of thousands of very small LED back lights and circuitry directly into the glass substrate of the panel. The approach minimizes filters between the back light and LED, boosting brightness and clarity in the process. The technology greatly increases the number of local dimming zones over traditionally back-lit LED TVs for greater control over brightness and black level performance. This enables brighter pictures with better high dynamic range and should allow for more subtle shading and a better sense of depth to the image. In short, images just look more realistic. TCL says their Vidrian panels also create longer lasting performance. As for pricing, TCL assures the series will be priced competitively against other 8K TVs on the market. Other features in the series include “8K HDR” with Dolby Vision video support, a very wide color gamut and high color volume from the combination of the Mini-LED back light and quantum dot technology. For video gamers, TCL equips these models with an Auto Game Mode, a 120Hz Game input and variable refresh rate (VRR) support. They also carry the new Roku TV Ready certification for easy integration with conforming soundbars, AVRs and other certified home theater products. This should give OLED TVs a run for their money.
Best 8K OLED TV
LG ZX Series
LG introduced its first OLED “Real 8K” TVs late last year, but its upping the ante for 2020 with its ZX OLED models that will be available in the 77- and 88-inch screen sizes at prices to be announced later. LG remains the only company offering 8K OLED TVs in the United States, so far, and while other 8K makers tout the brightness benefits that Full Array LED-based LCD displays bring to 8K, LG continues to show just how impressive 8K images can look on OLED displays that present nearly pure black reproduction, shifting the wide HDR contrast range to a lower starting point. The result stands out when viewing these big screens up close, offering 16 times more detail than HDTVs. LG points out that the 88- and 77-inch LG ZX OLED models surpass the measurement criteria recommended by the International Committee for Display Metrology and are among the first to earn the new CTA 8K Ultra HD logo. In addition to making a beautiful picture, the LG ZX series 8K OLED TVs feature the company’s new “Gallery” design. This enables an ultra-thin panel that is not tethered to a separate outboard box or soundbar to hold the system electronics and inputs. Those are now all incorporated inside the screen making for a presentation equivalent to a framed picture. LG further supports the concept by making a range of artwork and photos available to display on screen when the television isn’t being used to watch video programming. The 2020 models include LG’s upgraded Alpha 9 Gen 3 8K video processor that powers deep learning technology to optimize the picture and sound quality for all types of content through AI-based 8K upscaling. A new Auto Genre Selection feature recognizes the type of content being watched and automatically applies the ideal picture settings for movie, sports, standard and animation content. In addition, an AI Sound Pro function can analyze and adjust the audio appropriately for five content categories including: music, movies, sports, drama or news. The system will also up-mix soundtracks to virtual 5.1 surround. The TVs will be outfitted with HDMI 2.1 ports capable of supporting 8K video inputs up to 60Hz as well as optional HDMI 2.1 features including HDMI eARC, ALLM, and VRR. LG also adds support for PC gaming via Nvidia G-Sync compatibility. These models will also be among the first TVs to incorporate NextGen TV ATSC 3.0 over-the-air broadcast tuning.
Best 8K TV Design
Samsung Q950 Infinity Screen TV
The Samsung QLED Q950TS is the company’s 2020 flagship series, offering a very impressive image and sound performance from what we were able to sample on the show floor, but what struck us the most was the series’ beautiful ultra-narrow bezel (just 2.3mm thin) that from a distance is almost invisible. Samsung nicknamed this an “Infinity Screen” because the “99% picture” screen appears to be floating in space where ever it is placed. As with last year, the 8K flagship TV uses a massive Full Array LED backlight with numerous local dimming zones for brightness control in tandem with a nearly reflection-less wide-angle screen that almost looks like a projection screen. The TV depth is a very thin 15mm deep, despite having a Full-array back lighting system. New this year is a “local power distribution” system in the back lighting system that takes power from dark areas of the picture and reassigns it to brighter areas to boost points of peak brightness while achieving near black in the darkest shadow details. This reduces blooming and flashing. Samsung has also added a new and improved Quantum Processor 8K with enhanced AI upscaling using a deep-learning neural network that continuously teaches and improves itself to adjust algorithms for the best image presentation.
Best 4K TV Design
LG GX Gallery Series 4K OLED TV
As in the ZX 8K OLED TV series, LG is bringing “the Gallery” design styling to a series of 4K Ultra HD OLED models it calls the GX “Gallery Series”. This lineup includes the 55-, 65-, and 77-inch screen sizes, each of which is designed to replicate the picture-on-a-wall look of the company’s “WX Series” ultra-thin panel wallpaper TVs. However, these models will dispense with the tethered soundbar/component box that houses inputs and other features. Those are now all incorporated inside the screen. LG further supports the concept by making a range of artworks and photos available to display on screen when the television isn’t being used to watch video programming. The GX series uses LG’s new Alpha 9 Gen. 3 4K processor that handles picture and sound AI processing to provide significant improvements handling upscaled video while smoothing out color banding, and reducing video noise and jaggies. Like all of LG’s 2020 OLED TVs, the GX series includes Filmmaker Mode that automatically adjusts the picture settings for the look recommended by filmmakers, the new Dolby Vision IQ Ambient Room lighting adjustment technology and the webOS smart TV platform with ThinQ AI home control layer. It also offers hands-free voice control using Google Assistant. The GX series models will also be among the first TVs to include a NextGen TV ATSC 3.0 OTA tuner.
Most Innovative TV Design
The Samsung Sero TV
Samsung’s “The Sero” 4K Ultra HD LED-LCD TV has one of the most unusual designs ever introduced with a motorized screen that rotates between horizontal (landscape) and vertical (portrait) mode positions with the push of a button on the remote or in sync with the rotation of a smartphone linked wirelessly to the screen. The Sero is the latest in Samsung’s line of “lifestyle TVs” that also includes The Frame and the The Serif TV series. The Sero is a 43-inch 4K QLED model with quantum dot color enhancement film and uses edge-lit LED LCD panel lighting. The rotating screen is positioned on a floor stand designed to have a small, narrow footprint in the room. The design concept was intended, in part, to appeal to younger consumers who have grown accustomed to viewing video, photos and other content on smartphone screens that are usually viewed in a vertical format. But the screen can be synced to automatically rotate to follow the orientation of the connected mobile device. The Sero TV is equipped with a 40-Watt 4.1 channel audio system using speakers that enable the TV to double as a music system.
Best New 4K Display Technology
Hisense XD9G Dual Cell TV
Hisense first showed its 4K Dual Cell LED LCD TV last year and in 2020 it plans to bring it to the U.S. market. The technology uses two LCD open cells, including a monochrome filtering layer used to feed light to the front RGB color layer to act as a light valve of sorts. This achieves more precision of light handling than conventional LCD back lighting systems. Hisense’s Dual Cell ULED XD9G due in the third quarter will use a 1080p grayscale light filter panel, delivering up to 1,000,000 local dimming zones to the TV’s 4K RGB screen. The RGB layer is then capable of producing a wide contrast ratio for optimized wide color gamut HDR presentation. It will include Full Array LED backlighting with 132 local dimming zones, quantum dot color enhancement film, Dolby Vision and Dolby Atmos support, the Android TV platform, a near-bezel-less-design, and built-in far-field microphones for hands-free voice control. Hisense said the suggested retail pricing for the ULED XD9G models will be set with respect to where OLED prices are later in 2020. The company is promising that the XD9G will be “hundreds of dollars less” than prices of comparably sized OLED TVs.
Best 4K OLED TV Value
Konka X11 Series 4K OLED
Konka used CES 2020 as its coming out party in an effort to jump start the relaunch of the Konka television brand in North America. Manned with an experienced team of U.S. marketing executives with strong reputations and relationships in the CE retail community, Konka is addressing the market from both a high value direction and a high technology direction at the same time. Konka has been making televisions in China for many years, and although you may not recognize the brandname, there’s a good chance that the television you own today under another trademark was made at a Konka TV assembly factory. Konka said its position in the market will start at “above opening price point” where aggressive competitors play, ranging up to premium performance models. The first example of the latter is the Konka X11 Series 4K OLED TV, where the company intends to establish a value offering for the heretofore pricey self-emissive display technology controlled by LG, Sony and B&O in the United States, so far. Models will include the 55- and 65-inch UHD screen sizes. Final prices will be announced later, but Konka figures to offer bargain hunters a chance to jump into the long sought-after OLED technology that has won shoot-out awards and dazzled window shoppers for the past several years. Konka said the X11 Series feature set includes Pixel Level Dimming using the inherent self-emissive technology in the HiBright Ultra OLED panel with ColorWave Ultra Wide Color Gamut. The X11 Series produces pure black and bright specular highlights for optimal high dynamic range performance. Other features include the company’s ZeroBezel Ultra Design with built-in sound bar including dbx TV Sound enhancement.
Best 4K Projector
The Hisense 100L5 Laser TV
If you are looking for a really big screen TV that won’t break the bank, Hisense continues to evolve single-laser-based 4K Ultra HD DLP ultra-short-throw projection technology to new levels of performance and value. The 100L5 4K Ultra Short Throw Laser TV package will ring in at a $5,999 suggested retail price when it hits the market this year. For that you get everything needed for a theater-like experience in the home, making it a relative bargain inch-for-inch against a comparably sized flat-panel TV. To get LCD or OLED flat-panel-like contrast levels in moderately well-lit rooms, Hisense uses a laser light engine (based on a single laser) capable of greater light intensity, accurate color performance, a long lifespan, and lower power consumption level than many flat-panel approaches. To get around the high cost of both a projector and a projection screen that optimizes ambient light rejection, Hisense bundles the 100-inch screen (a $2,000 value) with the L5 4K Ultra Short-Throw Series projector. The screen’s surface is specially developed to produce the best images (in brightness, color and contrast) from projectors placed up close to and below the screen surface. The projector features built-in sound and offers a small footprint for tabletop or floor placements. Hisense said the L5 will output up to 2,600 lumens of peak brightness, and features an exclusive calibration app to simplify setup. It is also one of the first projectors with the Android TV platform built-in to access streaming apps.
Best 4K TV Value
The Hisense H9G Quantum Series
Hisense continues to offer 4K LED-LCD TVs at better and better levels of picture and sound performance in affordable price ranges. This year, the Hisense H9G Quantum series takes the crown as one of the best bargains for TV performance and value in 2020. The H9G series is based the company’s premium “ULED” performance package. The set uses a single-cell 4K LED LCD TV technology (a step-down from the aforementioned Dual Cell XD9G) with quantum dot color enhancement film for better than 93% wide color gamut, 1,000 nits of peak brightness, a 120Hz native refresh rate panel, Dolby Vision and HDR10 high dynamic range support. This also includes full array back lighting with 132 local dimming zones in a 55-inch model (priced at a $599.99 suggested retail) and 180 zones for the 65-inch model ($999.99). Both are slated to arrive in April. The series uses the Android TV OS and built-in Google Assistant voice-control capability using far-field mics built into the TV bezel.
Best NextGen TV Implementation
The Sony 4K Ultra HD LED-LCD TV X900H Series
When it comes to supporting the brand new NextGen TV over-the-air broadcast system (aka ATSC 3.0) Sony has taken a divergent path from other TV makers introducing supporting models this year by including it only in one series near the bottom of the range of its 2020 premium TVs. TV makers like LG and Samsung are adding the feature in their highest end models. A Sony spokesman told us that the company is going after cord cutters, who tend to be the most eager users of free OTA broadcasts today, and tend to be attracted to more affordable TV models as well. After a forthcoming firmware update, models in Sony’s X900H 4K Ultra HD LED-LCD TV series will be able to tune in the first ATSC 3.0 stations as they go live in many markets around the country later this year, the company said. The X900H series will have four models in the 55-, 65-, 75- and 85-inch screen sizes, all with mid-level Full Array LED back lighting (the number of zones were not disclosed), Android TV (9.0 “Pie”) smart TV platform with Google Assistant via a voice remote, Apple TV/Home Kit and works with Amazon Alexa support; Acoustic Multi-Audio with X-Balanced Speaker and a Diamond-cut bezel.
Best Gaming TV
LG 48-Inch CX Series 4K Ultra HD OLED TV
LG introduced one of the first 4K OLED TVs for the U.S. market to feature a new 48-inch screen size in its CX series 4K OLED lineup. The model will join other CX series models in the 55-, 65- and 77-inch screen sizes, but LG said the smaller 48-inch screen size should be especially attractive to hard-core video gamers who want a screen that can be placed on a desktop for use in a lean-forward way, such as video game play. The series includes HDMI 2.1 inputs with support for G-Sync, VRR, and HGiG Mode. The latter is a standard for High Dynamic Range (HDR) in video gaming and was developed by the HDR Gaming Interest Group. All models in the line also support Filmmaker Mode, Dolby Vision IQ auto ambient light adjustment, and webOS with ThinQ AI smart home control.
Best Smart Home AI IoT platform
LG ThinQ AI
At CES 2020, LG Electronics (LG) President and Chief Technology Officer Dr. I.P. Park unveiled enhancements to his company’s ThinQ artificial intelligence (AI) platform. This is to serve as the framework for intelligent control of smart home devices that can be interoperated through the ThinQ AI hub on LG television screens, among other devices. The conceptual framework aligns with the LG ThinQ brand that LG uses to provide intelligent touchpoints to help connect all aspects of people’s lives. LG said the roadmap calls to develop a cohesive system comprising products and services that can make anywhere feel like home. LG said it will use ThinQ to share a structured framework for the development of AI across the industry. LG is working with Element AI, a Montreal-based company developing AI systems anchored on four levels of AI experience including: Efficiency, Personalization, Reasoning and Exploration. Smart home devices will be designed to learn as they go, continuously improving effectiveness of use and simplicity of user interaction with greater personalization.
Samsung ‘Q-Symphony’ HQ-Q800T
Samsung used CES 2020 to unveil a portion of its 2020 soundbar lineup, highlighted by the HQ-Q800T 3.1.2-channel soundbar offering the company’s unique “Q Symphony” technology that is designed to integrate with the new speaker system in select 2020 8K QLED TVs to present a significantly wider sound stage with more immersive surround effects, even without the use of overhead or rear-channel speakers. The caveat here is that to get the best performance from this model it should be used in tandem with a supporting Samsung 2020 “Q-Symphony” QLED TV. Surprisingly, the HQ-Q800T isn’t even the flagship soundbar in the 2020 high-end Q series. The company will be introducing its HQ-Q950T and HQ-Q900T series later in the year. Each should make the experience even better. Together with one of these TVs, the surround sound impact of the HQ-800T was impressively enhanced and dynamic from the short demos presented at the show. The system is designed to connect via HDMI-ARC to a Samsung 2020 QLED TV but the soundbar can be used with other brands of TVs as well. The Q-Symphony feature will not work with other brands of TVs or even QLED TVs from previous years, however. The soundbar offers a nice wide soundstage on its own, but via Q-Symphony this is taken to a new level by leveraging the side and up-firing speakers positioned along the back edge and top of the new TVs. This leverages reflected sound from the ceiling and walls to engulf the listener with reflected channels coming at the listener from what seems to be every angle. It is most effective with Dolby Atmos and DTS:X object-based surround sound, which the soundbar supports. However, the experience is also impressive with standard surround sound tracks and the well-engineered driver layout in the soundbar delivers respectable sound quality from non-Samsung TVs as well. The Samsung HQ-Q800T soundbar comes with a wireless subwoofer and supports Samsung’s Acoustic Beam 2.0 technology to present directional sound. For eye appeal, Samsung has redesigned its 2020 soundbars to match more closely with the look and dimensions of Samsung’s 2020 televisions. Both the width and height of the HQ-Q800T soundbar have been reduced to fit between the legs of tabletop mounted Samsung TVs and in most cases underneath the screen so the soundbar can slip in against the wall without interfering with either the picture or the sound quality. This includes moving the full-array speakers introduced in the Acoustic Beam feature last year from the rear to the front to prevent any sound blocking when the soundbar is up against the wall.
By Greg Tarr
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