ATSC Contributing Members Celebrate Finalization of the ATSC 3.0 Core Specifications at CES.

CES 2018 will likely be remembered as the year that the stakes changed for television contrast performance, picture processing and color accuracy. Virtually across the board, every leading manufacturer advanced and expanded 4K OLED and/or LED-LCD TV lines with more powerful picture processing and brought back full-array LED backlighting to LCD TVs in a bigger, brighter and blacker way.

At the same time, we got a clearer vision of the future direction of television technology with the debut of the first MicroLED screen intended for home use, and a handful of 8K sets that appear to be heading to the home faster than many might have expected.

It was also the year that Artifical Intelligence (AI) took a central role in smart TV platforms of virtually every major TV brand, allowing the power of spoken commands to take on new levels of capability from controlling a home theater to ordering a pizza through the display (or its mic-equipped remote).

See our five key takeaways for the show and what to expect in the months (and years) ahead after the jump:

TVs Get Bigger, Brighter, Blacker

Many of the top television brands upped the ante on the video processing, upscaling and contrast expansion through the addition of more powerful processing chips and algorithms designed to stretch the limits of brightness, blackness and color volume supported under various profiles of high dynamic range (HDR). Sony showed new 4K OLED and full-array backlit LED-LCD TVs carrying its powerful X1 Extreme processor that delivers deeper black levels and brighter whites on the same the screen. It also gave showgoers a glimpse of the future with its next-generation X1 Ultimate processor that is twice as powerful of the X1 Extreme and will eventually be capable of driving displays that produce specular highlights of up to 10,000 nits, which is the limit of HDR technologies.

While Sony’s A1E 4K OLED TVs produced some of the best pictures we saw in 2017, the new A8F Series for 2018 will bring improved image processing and a different stand/mounting system that exchanges the back-tilted tabletop lean of A1E models for a more traditional vertical presence. It also takes away much of the large gap that existed between the panel and the wall from last year’s multi-purpose built-in stand/wall mount. Sony intends to give shoppers a greater selection by offering both series for much of 2017.

What really wowed many showgoers were demonstrations of Sony’s X1 Ultimate processor that was said to be capable of producing up to 10,000 nits of peak brightness in highlighted areas of a picture for a more natural appearance.

Similarly, LG unveiled its new Alpha 9 processor included in most 4K OLED TVs (except the entry B8 series) in 2018, and the Alpha 7 processor, which will be found in the B1 OLED models as well as LG’s Super UHD LED LCD TVs. Like Sony’s X1 Extreme processor, the Alpha 9 was designed to improve image processing to further reduce common artifacts like banding and mosquito noise, while enhancing the look of lower-resolution content upconverted to 4K Ultra HD resolution.

Meanwhile, LG Display, the panel manufacturing arm of LG, showed prototypes of 65- and 88-inch flexible OLED TV screens that can be rolled up into a smaller box when not in use. The 65-inch display, which is nearest to market introduction, is available in 4K Ultra HD resolution. The 88-inch was an 8K model, which is probably a little further away from market introduction. Neither is expected to be available for sale to consumers for the next year or two.

Not to be out done, Samsung stunned audiences by introducing its MicroLED “The Wall,” 146-inch television, which is the first display of its kind introduced for home applications. The system is based on the same technology Samsung is selling as a flat-panel TV technology for professional movie theaters. The display uses OLED-like self-emitting RGB LEDs as pixels, eliminating the need for an LCD screen that is back illuminted 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 realitic looking images yet produced. The technology is said to have a virutally 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.

Samsung also remains fully committed to its QLED-based 4K Ultra HD LED-LCD TV technology, and showed some OLED-threatening models with full-array LED backlighting with local dimming that generated inky blacks, brillinatly bright highlights and pure, bright color volume. The flagship of the QLED line is the 85-inch Q9S with 8K resolution and very high peak brightness levels.

The display is said to have thousands of LED local dimming zones and uses artificial intelligence to generate deep black levels and brilliantly bright peak luminance levels. Again, we don’t have a price, but expect it to cost a lot when it arrives by the end of the year. Meanwhile, none of the 2018 QLED models will have the razor-thin screen dimensions of OLED TVs, but Samsung was able to achieve full-array LED back-lit models this year that are as thin as its 2017 edge-lit QLED versions. The full-array backlighting and local dimming technologies also reduce blooming artifacts and widen viewing angles by controlling lighting in zones of LED blocks directly behind the LCD pixels.

Smart TVs Get Intelligent

Perphaps the biggest trend of CES 2018 was the arrival of voice-controlled Artificial Intelligence (AI), like that used in Amazon’s Alexa smart speakers, and the Google Home-powered Google Assistant speakers, allowing TV viewers to simply call out the actions it would like the television to perform, without the need for a remote or smartphone app.

These systems had different tradenames like LG’s ThinQ and Samsung’s SmartThings platform with Bixby voice control, but each one was promising similar functionality, from changing the TV volume, to finding a favorite program to controlling a smart thermostat, simply by audibly asking the system to perform the function. Most of these systems, like Sony’s, first introduced last year with the Android TV platform, are designed to integrate with existing Amazon Alexa and Google Home systems that typically use smart speakers equipped with far-field microphones.

In Samsung’s case, the company’s Bixby voice system, first introduced in its Galaxy smartphones and smart refrigerators in 2017, are being added to the television to control tasks and television functions with spoken commands. When a SmartThings hub is connected to the in-home network, a mic input on the television remote can be used to accept commands to control compatible SmartThings smart home automation devices.

Similar voice AI technology was also integrated in other brands of televisions, typically through the use of Amazon Alexa, Google Home or both platforms. These platforms require the use of a smart speaker for the compatible system to accept spoken commands via always-on far-field microphones.

8K Television Comes Closer

As mentioned earlier, a number of prototype televisions on display at CES 2018 had 8K resolution, indicating where the market is quickly heading. In the case of Sharp Corp., 8K TV is already here. In fact, it showed a 70-inch television it is making and selling in Japan for use with NHK’s 8K Super Hi-Vision system, that uses satellite TV delivery. The company also produces a $90,000 8K camera with built-in recording, live-playback and image capture in a single integrated device. The camera and display were central to Sharp’s 4K/5G strategy that Terry Gou, the chairman of Foxconn, who purchased controlling interest in Sharp last year, is planning to use to globally re-launch the Sharp brand in coming years.

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Currently, it appears that the company is waiting for the Hisense brand license to expire in 2020 before re-starting it for televisions in the United States. Sharp Corp. plans to break ground this Spring on a TV industrial park in Wisconsin, where it will build a 10.5 Gen LCD fab and TV assembly facility for 8K as well and 4K Ultra HD televisions, with 65 and 75-inch screen sizes “in the sweet spot,” according to Sharp executives.

As previously mentioned, LG Display showed an 88-inch rollable 8K OLED panel, designed to roll up into a box out of sight when not in use. Samsung also showed an 85-inch 8K QLED (quantum dot) LED-LCD TV it plans to bring to market later this year. In addition to using AI to control voice commands, the set uses AI to upscale and process picture quality for brilliant sharp and bright images.

Although nothing is planned to bring native 8K resolution content to these sets, all were said to include advanced upscaling technology that produces ultra-sharp pictures from 4K UHD and Full HD content. In addition, the extra pixels in each screen will make even more dynamic use of new picture enhancements like HDR and wide color-gamut content.

Over-The-Air Broadcasting Comes Of Age

It took a few years, but the key developing members of the Advanced Television Standards Committee (ATSC) used CES 2018 as the site of their celebration for completing the core specifications for the ATSC 3.0 digital television broadcasting system that will be rolling out on a market-by-market basis across the country over the coming years.

Unlike the first ATSC system, ATSC 3.0 is voluntary, requires no firm time table for broadcast adoption and implementation and will not make the prior broadcasting platform obsolete. In fact, both ATSC 1.0 and ATSC 3.0 platforms will be operating simultaneously for many years, so that today’s TVs will continue to receive free OTA programming as the new signals are transmitted.

The new platform will make possible transmission of 4K Ultra HD (and even 8K some day) resolution content, will deliver advanced emergency alert systems, and will eventually make possible use of conditional access systems that will enable broadcasters to provide premium pay-per-view or subscription-based TV content in addition to the free OTA, ad-supported programming they’ve traditionally delivered.

HDR Support Gets Clearer

The ATSC 3.0 platform will support both Hybrid Log-Gamma (HLG) and Perceptual Quantization (PQ) methods for delivering content with high dynamic range (HDR) to consumer televisions. This means effectively, broadcasters will be able to pick and choose the HDR flavor profile they perfer most for delivery to consumer televisions. In the case of live broadcast content, HLG HDR is expected to be used most often, as it doesn’t require the use of special metadata and is backward compatible (under certain conditions) with standard dynamic range broadcasts, so that one signal can be used for both HDR and SDR broadcasts. It’s also an open platform developed by the BBC and NHK tailored to broadcasters. The good news for live broadcasting is it doesn’t require metadata or post-production color grading. Grading is done automatically and on the fly.

The bad news is, it doesn’t use post-production color grading so the quality of the HDR images won’t be as deliberate or likely as noticeable as it would be with all of the other PQ-based HDR formats. That’s because the metadata-based profiles use color grading in post production to deliver exactly what the artist intended.

The PQ-based formats include: HDR10, Dolby Vision, HDR10+ and Technicolor HDR. As we’ve reported previously, HDR10 is the open, baseline HDR system that requires an entire movie to be graded at one set level from beginning to end. This can look great, but might not be as realistic as the other formats that can apply dynamic metadata with color and highlight grading on a scene-by-scene or even frame-by-frame basis, for enhanced detail and realism.

HDR10+, which was developed by Samsung, 20th Century Fox and Panasonic, got a big push at CES 2018 with the announcement that it is now part of the accepted optional HDR formats in the Ultra HD Blu-ray specifications. HDR10 is mandatory for inclusion on 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray Discs with HDR, and the other three are options for the studio to include. HDR10+ is open and free to use, while the other two will have licensing fees. Technicolor HDR claims to have very low implementation costs for broadcasters and producers. Dolby Vision is neither open nor free for use by studios, broadcasters and manufacturers, but it provides one of the most robust and flexible systems from camera to television screen.

At CES, Panasonic announced plans to include HDR10+ in its TVs (for the European and Asian markets) and Ultra HD Blu-ray players, along with HDR10 and Dolby Vision. Others may be joining in the near future. Current 2017 Samsung 4K Ultra HDTVs will be adding HDR10+ to join HDR10 and HLG support through upcoming firmware updates, and all 2018 4K models are expected to have it in 2018.

At CES, P&F USA said it will add Technicolor HDR support in 2019 Philips’ branded 4K televisions in the United States. Previously, LG added support for the Technicolor HDR profile in 2017 4K OLED and Super UHD TVs, along with the HLG, HDR10 and Dolby Vision profiles.

Sony, added support for HDR10, HLG and Dolby Vision in select 2017 4K Bravia LED-LCD and OLED TVs. That practice continues in 2018 models. Dolby Vision is to be added to select 2017 4K Sony sets through a firmware update Feb. 17th.


By Greg Tarr


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