Accepting the award from HD Guru editor-in-chief Gary Merson (left) is Byungseok “Carlos” Min, Samsung Visual Display Business principal research engineer.

CES 2018 will probably be best remembered as the show that brought true voice control AI operation to America’s 4K Ultra HDTV screens.

In addition to unveiling new products with advances in the different flavors of high dynamic range (HDR), new OLED, QLED and MicroLED technology and more Ultra HD Blu-ray players, most televisions and devices of all categories featured either direct voice input control to command a whole-home network or were tied into a network anchored to a smart speaker that serves as the voice AI interface.

To make all of this magic work seamlessly together, manufacturers either adopted home automation network platforms from third parties or built their own from whole cloth.

We also saw a handful of new Ultra HD Blu-ray players, including some of the first models to support the open HDR10+ dynamic HDR metadata platform, in addition to HDR10 and Dolby Vision .

This year, HD Guru editor-in-chief Gary Merson presented 11 coveted HD Guru Crystal Awards to eight lucky manufacturers.

On to our picks.

Hit the jump to see all the winners:

Best in Show: Samsung’s 146-Inch 4K Ultra HD MicroLED TV

Samsung wowed early CES 2018 showgoers by introducing its MicroLED “The Wall,” 146-inch television, which was billed as the first display of its kind for home applications. The system is based on the same technology Samsung is selling as a flat-panel TV technology for professional movie theaters, and uses OLED-like self-emitting RGB LEDs as pixels, eliminating the need for an LCD screen that is back illuminated by LEDs like most of today’s TVs. But unlike OLED TVs, it can produce very bright images without the risk of image retention.

At the same time, MicroLED enables deep blacks like OLEDs along with fine shadow detail for some of the most realistic looking images yet produced. The technology is said to have a virtually limitless range of screen sizes through the use of MicoLED modules that knit together to produce a single large screen size with virtually invisible seams between the modules.

Currently, the size and pixel pitch of the MicroLEDs requires a screen size of 146 inches to achieve full 4K Ultra HD resolution. However, Samsung said it is hard at work now to develop modules with a smaller pixel pitch to eventually bring screen sizes and prices down to more consumer-friendly levels. Samsung wasn’t discussing pricing or delivery dates for the 146-inch version although the intention was to possibly have something in the market by the end of the year. When ever it arrives, we’re betting it will be very expensive, although production efficiency should bring prices down more quickly than we’ve seen with OLED TVs.

Best 8K TV: Samsung 85Q9S 8K QLED LED-LCD TV

Accepting the award from Gary Merson is Byungseok “Carlos” Min, Samsung Visual Display Business principal research engineer.

Samsung used CES 2018 to show that it remains fully committed to its QLED-based 4K Ultra HD LED-LCD TV technology by showing some OLED-threatening models with full-array LED backlighting with local dimming, highlighted by the new flagship 85-inch 85Q9S with 8K (7,680 x 4,320 pixels) resolution. The set, which will ship later in the year, featured QLED quantum dot light and color enhancement and a “Micro Full-Array” LED backlight system with a precise local dimming process and thousands of LED zones. The technology generated inky blacks, brillinatly bright highlights and pure, bright color volume. Despite the lack of 8K content, the set featured an advanced upsaling system that made 4K Ultra HD, Full HD and even HD sources look incredibly sharp and bright. Samsung uses artificial intelligence in the processing system to improve the details while eliminating artifacts, including blooming (white halos around a luminous object on a black background) that is common to most LED-LCD displays. The 85Q9S is said to cover 100 percent of the Digital Cinema Initiative (DCI) P3 wide color gamut recommendation and will produce one of the brightest pictures yet seen in a consumer-level display.

Best 4K Ultra HD OLED TV: The Sony 65-inch 65A8F

Accepting the award from Gary Merson is Cheryl K. Goodman, Sony head of corporate communications.

For the second year in a row, Sony has produced what HD Guru considers to be the best all-around looking and performing 4K OLED TV of CES. Sony made a lot of noise and earned its first HD Guru Best 4K OLED award last year with the brilliant A1E series. This year, Sony is expanding the OLED selection with the addition of the A8F line — including 65- and 55-inch models — that eschews the back-tilting integrated easle-like stand design for one that is more conventionally positioned and easier to mount flush against a wall. The new models also keep the really cool and unusual “acoustic surface” screen of the A1Es that essentially turns the flat screen into a hi-fidelity stereo speaker. Both A8F TVs feature most of the same specs as the higher-end A1E line with a new look and possibly, a more affordable price.

Best Soundbar: The Polk Audio Command Bar From Sound United

Accepting the award from Gary Merson is Aaron Levine Sound United senior director of global marketing.

Sound United’s Polk Audio brand became the first company to integrate Amazon’s Alexa voice-activated assistant in a soundbar. The Command Bar made its debut at CES 2018, and set the benchmark for others to follow. Polk Audio’s Command Bar has Alexa far-field microphones built in to accept spoken commands without the need of a separate AI speaker. The unit includes four Alexa hardware buttons like any Amazon Echo device. Users can speak voice commands within listening range of the soundbar to control audio settings such as volume and mute. In addition, the system will handle requests for streaming songs from a favorite music player to control smart home devices.

The Command Bar will accommodate Amazon’s Fire TV stick through a dedicated space built into the bar along with an adjacent USB port to power it. The system features both Wi-Fi and Bluetooth connectivity to simplify the process.

For sound fidelity, The Command Bar includes two 1 x 3-inch full-range drivers, two 1-inch tweeters and a ported, wireless 6.5-inch subwoofer. Inputs include two HDMI 2.0b, HDCP 2.2 compliant ports (supporting 4K, HDR10 and Dolby Vision). The included remote features an Alexa action button that, when pressed, briefly lowers the volume level of the soundbar so that the users’ voice command can be clearly heard from a distance. The Polk Audio Command Bar will be available in March 2018 at a $299.95 suggested retail price.

Best Ultra HD Projector: The Hisense 150-Inch Laser TV Short-Throw 4K UHD Laser Projector

Accepting the award from Gary Merson (on right) is Hisense USA marketing VP Mark Viken.

Hisense stepped up its game in the 4K Ultra HD DLP projector category at CES 2018 by introducing a 150-inch version of its Laser TV. The ultra-short throw DLP projector will be packaged with a 150-inch screen and will incorporate both a dual red and blue laser light engine and dual color wheels to present sharp, bright images with vivid colors using Texas Instruments’ 4K DLP technology. The short-throw projector is based on a single 2716×1528 digital micromirror device (DMD) chip and pixel-shifting processing that produces two independent pixels from each mirror for a total of 8.3 million pixels presented on screen at one time. This is said to be the equivalent of a native 4K signal. No release date or pricing had been set yet, but it is expected to join the $10,000 100-inch 4K Ultra HD Laser TV model introduced last Fall.

Best Voice Controlled AI System: Samsung SmartThings With Bixby

Accepting the award from Gary Merson (on left) is Scott Cohen, Samsung Electronics national product training manager.

Most TV makers attending CES 2018 showed upgraded smart TV platforms that integrated voice control AI running Amazon Alexa, Google Home or some other third party variant, but Samsung demonstrated it is prepared to do the job all in-brand. Samsung introduced its digital voice assistant called Bixby last year in its Galaxy smartphones and tablets. This year, it moves into televisions as the living room big-screen takes on a central roll as command center of the SmartThings Home. Unlike some other platforms that use an always-on far-field microphone system, Samsung assuages the privacy concerns of our increasingly paranoid global societies by providing push-button mic control on the TV remote to trigger Bixby and engage a wide variety of command interactions, from turning up the volume, to getting the latest weather report, to turning on the lights without getting off of the couch. SmartThings with Bixby may not have the network of compatible devices and brands that Alexa and Google Home have now, but Samsung assures it is working on building up the platform.

In one such step, Samsung is working with Microsoft’s Xbox to include new features that work between the TVs and consoles, so that when an Xbox is connected, a Samsung television will automatically recognize it and switch into game mode to provide optimized [and reduced] input lag.

A big-screen SmartThings app turns the TV screen into a central hub to control SmartThings smart home devices in multiple home automation categories, providing on-screen notifications of remote operation status. The app will automatically find and connect to devices on the same network, and will not require any external dongles, like earlier implementations of the technology. The platform will also work with a smartphone to simplify setup with Wi-Fi networks by taking log-in passwords from the phone without the need to do a separate sign in.

A new universal program guide now consolidates shows from streaming and cable sources in one place, taking listings off of all major brands of DVRs and even provides alerts on a smartphone when a favorite team’s game is about to begin.

4K UHD and HDTVs

Amazon’s Camera, Photo & Video Deals

Amazon Fire TV 4K Ultra HD Set-Top Media Adapter with Alexa

Amazon Fire TV Stick with Alexa Voice Remote

Amazon Echo Plus Voice Controlled Wireless Speaker and Home System Interface

Amazon Echo Dot Voice Controlled Home System Interface

Amazon Echo Spot with Alexa and Screen

4K Ultra HDTV Specials From Abt

Panasonic  Deals

Best Selling Soundbars and 5.1 Surround Systems

Best Selling Blu-ray Players

Best 4K Ultra HD Home Theater Package: TCL Roku Smart Soundbar with 65-inch Series 6 4K Ultra HD LED-LCD Roku TV

Accepting the award from Gary Merson (on right), is Chris Larson, TCL North America Senior VP.

TCL used CES 2018 to announce its status as the first company to introduce a soundbar designed to comply with the new Roku Connect initiative that optimizes sound performance while simplifying the process of component connection, setup and operation between a soundbar and a compatible Roku TV. TCL showed a new 6 Series 65-inch 4K Ultra HDTV from the 2018 line and the Roku Connect Soundbar. The TV features a new brushed metal finish and the ability to handle powerful high dynamic range (HDR) formats including HDR10 and Dolby Vision with an accurate wide color gamut using the company’s NBP Photon technology and new HDR Performance Package Pro. The latter includes Contrast Control Zone Technology, a new iPQ Engine and a versatile HDR Pro Gamma control. The 55-inch 6 Series model has 96 LED zones and the 65-inch has 120 zones that leverage the Contrast Control Zone technology. This identifies bright and dark areas in each frame of content and adjusts brightness levels for each zone within the frame to precisely control the contrast between light and dark areas.

Complying with Roku Connect guidelines the television will integrate with the company’s new Roku Connect Soundbar and other AV devices in the Roku ecosystem to easily add sound to a TV and audio system around the home. Roku Entertainment Assistant, a voice assistant for entertainment, will let customers launch podcasts, movies and TV shows from their favorite services with a simple voice command. The Roku Connect Soundbar and 6-Series TV (or any other complying Roku TV) provide an immersive home theater experience. This soundbar is the first device to take advantage of Roku Connect’s technology, but it can be used with any TV to offer a premium sound experience. When set up with one of the existing Roku TVs the soundbar adds hands-free voice and audio capabilities to the TV.

The soundbar will also work with other Roku Connect-enabled devices in the home, including smart speakers, to optimize sound between the television and connected audio component. The 6 Series TVs and Roku Connect Soundbar will arrive later in 2018.

Best Smart Speaker: LG ThinQ Speaker With Google Assistant, WK7

Accepting the award from Gary Merson (on left), is John Taylor, LG Electronics USA public affairs and communications senior VP.

With voice controlled AI devices all the rage at CES 2017, LG Electronics showed that it is not only prepared to participate but to lead the trend by introducing its WK7 smart speaker with built-in Google Assistant and integration into the company’s new ThinQ home automation network.

LG positioned the WK7 as a premium audio option in the field of voice-assisted speakers available for the past two year. LG has partnered with high-fidelity audio specialist Meridian to optimize the speaker for not only standard music streaming but lossless Hi-Res Audio music as well. The speaker has built-in Google Chromecast capabilities to enable connecting to a TV to stream video, music, photos and web pages. LG’s ThinQ AI system turns the speaker into a hub for controlling LG’s new smart home products that range from refrigerators to ovens, air purifiers, washing machines and others that are coming all the time. Users will even be able to bark commands into the speaker to turn on the dryer and measure the performance status on a connected TV screen.

Best High Fidelity Speaker: GoldenEar DigitalAktiv 3

Accepting the award from Merson (on right), is Sandy Gross, founder of Golden Ear Technology.

GoldenEar Technology used CES 2018 to present a sneak peek at its upcoming DigitalAktiv 3 high-performance, powered, wireless loudspeaker with voice control and multizone capability. Coming later in 2018, the speaker will support Bluetooth and Wi-Fi, which enables use with Google’s Chromecast to support Cast-able access to all of the popular music streaming services through the speaker and a wirelessly linked mobile device. The DigitalAktiv 3 can be used as a single speaker or as a stereo pair, linked by low-latency WiSA wireless audio technology.

The DigitalAktiv 3 is equipped with the same High-Velocity Folded-Ribbon (HVFR) tweeter used in the company’s $8,000 per pair Triton Reference tower, and a 6-inch cast-basket midrange-bass driver that is similar to one in the Reference products. The bookshelf speaker has a 200W class-AB amplifier to power the midrange-bass driver, and a 60W class-AB amplifier to power the tweeter. Inertially balanced 8-inch passive radiators are positioned on the sides.

Best Ultra HD Blu-ray Player: Panasonic DPUB820 

Accepting the award from Gary Merson (on left), is Jim Reilly, Panasonic Corp. of North America corporate communications VP.

Panasonic had the distinction of introducing at CES 2018 the first Ultra HD Blu-ray players to support not only HDR10 and Dolby Vision high dynamic range (HDR) but the latest HDR10+ platform as well. Although other players are out there with HDR10 and Dolby Vision support, the UB820 adds HDR10+, which Panasonic, Samsung and Twentieth Century Fox are championing as an open and royalty-free dynamic HDR metadata alternative to Dolby Vision. The Ultra HD Blu-ray player is also based on Panasonic’s HCX advanced video processor, which processes and upscales both lower-resolution content to 4K UHD resolution as well as down-scales native 4K content for optimal playback on HDTVs with standard dynamic range (SDR). Another new feature is an ‘HDR Optimizer’ that does tone mapping on the player to adjust the brightness values before reaching the television’s processing. This will help improve HDR and other picture values on lesser quality 4K Ultra HDTVs. The player will also support Google Assistant and Amazon Alexa voice commands for hands-free operation.The UB820 will also support full 4K camcorder video and JPEG playback and will carry a range of built-in streaming apps, including 4K/HDR support, from services including Netflix, YouTube and Amazon Video.

Best 4K Ultra HD Camera: Panasonic Lumix GH5S

Accepting the award from Gary Merson (on left), is Kazuki Sugahara, Panasonic Americas Imaging Marketing Group manager.

Last year we gave the Best 4K Camera award to the Lumix GH5 so it seems only natural that the next iteration, the GH5S would win in 2018. The Panasonic GH5 is an excellent video camera that was designed as a hybrid to also shoot high quality stills. The GH5S shoots stills as well, but has been engineered to accentuate its advanced tools as a video camera. The GH5s is a strong low-light shooter which goes up directly against the Sony A7S II. It includes a 10.2-megapixel dual-ISO, multi-aspect sensor, which is half the resolution of Panasonic’s 20.2-megapixel GH5, but is said to actually improve the camera’s ability to handle low light. The camera has a native ISO of up to 51,200 (204,800 extended). It includes support for Cinema 4K (4,096 x 2,160) resolution at up to 60 fps (with a full sensor readout), 10-bit HDR and up to 240 fps slow-motion capture. The camera also allows limitless 4K recording time, so a shot can last as long as the battery and SD card will allow. The Lumix GH5S will be available in February at a $2,499 for the body only.


By Greg Tarr


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