In the aftermath of CES 2017 what remains clear is that the industry is in for more transitions and updates ahead, as growing pains for 4K Ultra HD, high dynamic range (HDR) and even forthcoming 8K video continue to keep us all guessing.

Meanwhile, the field of video display technology continues to evolve and improve with new OLED participants taking on LG Electronics this year while Samsung seeks to keep LCD TVs in the picture with the latest and greatest improvements in quantum dot technology.

Just when we thought it was safe to buy AV receivers, 4K Ultra HDTVs with HDR and many of the source devices needed to drive them, the HDMI Technical Working Group revealed new specifications for HDMI 2.1 on the day before CES 2017 opened. Although this will bring much-needed new features and capabilities to the future evolution of home and mobile video entertainment, we must wait and see if this will be a smooth transition or a disrupting conduit to the massive field of legacy equipment in consumer homes. Fortunately, the system appears to have been designed with work arounds that will keep today’s equipment from premature door-stop status.

Read our CES top 5 takeaways after the jump:

I – Here It Comes: HDMI 2.1

The HDMI Forum through its licensing association, the HDMI LA, revealed at CES 2017 that it has developed the newest version of the HDMI digital interface standard, known informally as HDMI 2.1. Making things somewhat confusing, or at best cumbersome, the HDMI developers don’t want members to refer to the various versions of HDMI by their number designations, insisting instead that the various newly supported features be referenced when distinguishing one HDMI version from another. There are some very compelling new capabilities in this version, which we will be covering in more detail in coming days. Here’s the basics that you’ll want to know: HDMI 2.1 will be released to members in the second quarter of this year, and some insiders told us they expect to see the first devices carrying the new input to reach market in 2018. There’s also a strong possibility that we will start to see the first supporting cables identified in the spec. by the end of 2017.

The new specification will double 4K Ultra HD frame rates to 120 Hz, and 8K to 60 Hz. This will enable smoother and sharper fast-action images, among other benefits, but will depend on movie producers supporting it in content.

The specifications will also support multiple high dynamic (HDR) technologies, including those with “Dynamic HDR,” (a.k.a., dynamic metadata) like that included in the Dolby Vision system and a handful of other proposals. It will also support the Hybrid Log-Gamma (HLG) HDR system, which doesn’t use metadata, but embeds live HDR elements into each frame. Other than Dolby Vision and the basic HDR10 formats, we don’t know yet if any of the other HDR approaches will ever be relevant to U.S. viewers. However, it seems certain that HLG will be used in some other regions of the world very soon. Currently, the Advanced Television Systems Committee (ATSC) is developing the next over-the-air television broadcast standard known as ATSC 3.0, and this will determine which HDR system will be used for live broadcasting of 4K Ultra HD and HDR images in the future. The winner of that selection process (expected later this month) will be a major factor going forward.

HDMI 2.1 also calls for use of a single 48 Gbps cable, compared to the 18 Gbps version available in 2.0 today. The connector uses the same physical size and shape as earlier HDMI versions and the cable will be backward compatible with legacy HDMI-enabled devices for content conforming to earlier standards.

Other features of HDMI 2.1 will include enhanced audio return channel (E-ARC) support for Hi-Res music and object-based surround formats. This will be a much more robust and less problematic version of the audio return channel (ARC) feature today and should aid in backward compatibility.

In some cases HDMI 2.0 devices might be upgraded to HDMI 2.1 through a firmware update, sources involved in setting the specification told us, but it will depend on whether or not a device’s architecture was designed by the manufacturer to support forward compatibility in the product in question. Stay tuned for details.

II – Waiting On The ATSC

It was hard to look at any new television or Ultra HD Blu-ray player introduction at this year’s CES without asking, “What version of HDR will the ATSC select for the new ATSC 3.0 over-the-air broadcast standard?”

The selection is likely to play a huge role in what HDR content we view most often in live 4K TV and perhaps even in packaged or streamed programming. We asked everywhere, and no one was willing to make a guess about which of the competing formats would be selected by the broadcast standards body. (The selection is expected to be revealed later this month). But Dolby Vision generated huge momentum at CES 2017 with support from additional studios and television brands, including Sony, TCL, Hisense, and Philips (P&F USA), joining LG and Vizio.

In addition, the Dolby system was announced as receiving support for use on forthcoming Ultra HD Blu-ray discs from several more Hollywood studios including: Warner Bros., Lions Gate and Universal. Dolby Vision is already supplied by streaming services supporting 4K Ultra HD movies including: Vudu, Netflix and Amazon. Dolby Vision has one issue, however. It’s not an open standard and will cost manufacturers and disc producers more in licensing fees. That means more added cost to the TV buyer.

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Enter HDR10, which is already in wide use by Ultra HD Blu-ray discs and most of the largest movie streaming services. Samsung, which is determinedly hanging onto HDR10 as its only HDR format for 4K Ultra HDTVs and Ultra HD Blu-ray players, has developed an enhancement to HDR10’s static metadata-based platform to enable dynamic-HDR, like that used by Dolby Vision. It will also be open and royalty free to use, Samsung executives told HD Guru. Could it be the winning candidate for ATSC 3.0? We’ll have to see. Meanwhile, Technicolor and Philips have teamed on a candidate for HDR selection as have British and Japanese broadcasters the BBC and NHK, which co-developed HLG. Even Qualcomm has a couple of proposals in play with different partners.

So-called Dynamic HDR is crucial for broadcasting because it allows for grading scenes frame-by-frame on the fly, instead of it having to be added in post-production color grading, like the current HDR10 system. Whichever format wins is likely to be a big element added to televisions at CES 2018, and that coming development is something to consider when selecting a television in 2017. Unfortunately, we don’t know yet if the winning HDR format can be accommodated by the dongle/adapter the ATSC is proposing to use to add ATSC 3.0 tuning for over-the-air reception by legacy TVs.

III – LG Covers All Bases

One of the most pro-active television manufacturers making forward-compatible 4K Ultra HD/HDR TV announcements at CES 2017 was LG Electronics, which announced a number of top-tier 4K Ultra HDTVs, including all OLED models, will support not only HDR10 and Dolby Vision, as LG’s OLED TVs did last year, but Hybrid Log-Gamma (HLG) and the Technicolor/Philips candidate HDR proposals for ATSC 3.0 adoption, as well. From the standpoint of forward compatibility with the future HDR broadcast standard, these appear to be some of the most robust offerings in 2017.

Although rival Samsung isn’t including support for any HDR format other than HDR10 in its 2017 4K Ultra HDTV models, all of its new Q Series TVs will include a One Connect box that could, if necessary, be swapped out for another box that would enable adding on hardware or software to support future standards. However, Samsung didn’t announce any definite plan to offer a One Connect upgrade box this year.

IV- OLED TV Gains Ground

LG Electronics revealed its most successful year to date for OLED TVs was 2016 and it plans on taking that higher in 2017. The company got a good head start at CES 2017 by unveiling its W7 wallpaper OLED TV that is so thin (0.10118 inches) it can be held virtually flat against the wall with magnets and an ultra-slim bracket. LG keeps the panel dimensions thin in part by putting the circuitry and connections in a Dolby Atmos sound bar that also provides high-quality surround sound. The sound bar connects to the OLED panel by a thin proprietary ribbon cable that can snake behind the wall or be painted for over-the-wall installations.

The W series TVs, which will be offered in 65- and 77-inch screen sizes, are expected to see retail prices topping out in the $8,000 range, but you’ll be able to get the same high picture quality from a slightly thicker lower-tier model — like the LG OLED B7 series — costing thousands less.

All of LG’s 2017 OLED TVs will be 25 percent brighter than 2016 models and, as mentioned earlier, will support HDR10, Dolby Vision, Technicolor/Philips and Hybrid Log-Gamma HDR formats.

This year, Sony re-entered the OLED category with a pair of models of its own measuring 65 and 77 inches. Although they use panels sourced from LG Display, Sony’s 4K Ultra HD OLED TVs in the Bravia A1 Series will use picture and sound processing developed by Sony offering the company a unique high-quality performance claim. Sony incorporates in the OLED sets its X1 Extreme picture processing system used in last year’s Sony Z9D series. The models also include support for both HDR10 and Dolby Vision HDR. What makes the TVs really standout is a new sound system that resonates the ultra-thin OLED panel to generate dynamic stereo sound that seems to follow objects around the screen. For deep bass, a specially developed subwoofer is built-into the TV stand. A touch of a finger to the screen lets you feel the sound as well as hear it.

Panasonic also continued to keep a toe in the high-performance TV market — at least in markets outside of the United States — by showing second-generation 4K Ultra HD OLED TVs in its EZ1002 4K OLED series. The TVs double the brightness of Panasonic’s first attempt in 2016, and offer HDR10 and Hybrid Log-Gamma HDR support. Panasonic includes an Absolute Black filter that deepens the already impressively dark black level, and sound is enhanced using a new “dynamic blade” audio system developed in consultation with the company’s Technics high-end audio division.

V -Connecting The Quantum Dots

Samsung used a pre-show press briefing two days before the CES 2017 floor opened to put the world on notice that its quantum dot-based television technology is achieving new high picture quality performance levels as well.

Samsung unveiled for the world its Quantum Light Emitting Diode, or “QLED”, technology that is being used in a “Q” tier of high-performance 4K Ultra HDTV model series: the Q7, Q8 and Q9. Although QLED has been used to identify another quantum dot advancement in development using an OLED-like, self-emissive lighting technology for quantum dots, Samsung chose to bring the name out for its new technology that promises to deliver significantly brighter peak luminance levels, better black levels and most importantly, wider viewing angles for LCD TVs. Samsung said the brightness range has been elevated from just over 1,000 nits last year to an HDR-enhancing 1,500 to 2,000 nits of peak brightness. This is impressive, since the Ultra HD Alliance set 1,000 nits as the peak luminance threshold for Ultra HD Premium level certification compliance. Demonstration material looked incredibly bright and rich in color, with a gamut covering almost 100 percent of the DCI-P3 recommendation for professional digital cinema projectors.

Two of the three Q series lines will feature models with flat screens while one series will continue to offer curved screens. To continue with an ultra-slim design, Samsung is using its One Connect box system that puts input/output connections in a separate box, but this year the box is tethered to the screen by a flat optical cable that is more easily hidden or snaked behind a wall. Pricing and availability will be announced later.

Although Samsung appears to be cornering the market on quantum dot technology through acquisitions and equity investments in top nano crystal manufacturing companies, other TV makers will soon have quantum dot technologies of their own to compete against OLED TV models. Both Hisense and TCL mentioned work is underway to have quantum dot TVs in the market soon, including a big-screen model planned for the Hisense H10D series.

Meanwhile, U.K.-based Nanoco is developing quantum dots for sale to special film-developer partners like Merck and Dow to create quantum dot (a.k.a. nano crystal) films that can be sold to LED LCD TV makers to boost colors and brightness levels in higher-performing displays.

Even LG Electronics unveiled its own Nano Tech solution for step-up 4K Ultra HD LED LCD TVs planned for 2017 using a nano film approach, similar to quantum dots, but using uniformly shaped dots to produce brighter, truer colors in LED LCD TVs with wide viewing angles enhanced by In-Plane Switching (IPS) technology.


By Greg Tarr


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