Samsung announced at Virtual CES 2021 this week its new NEO QLED televisions that will bring advanced 8K and 4K Mini LED TV technology to select Samsung QLED model series in 2021 for the first time.

We caught up with Dan Schinasi, Samsung Electronics America CE Product Planning director, to drill down into the NEO QLED introduction for further specifications and feature benefits consumers will be able to expect from these advanced new offerings.

Schinasi said that Samsung trademarked NEO QLED terminology denotes a part of the broader umbrella term MiniLED TV used by the industry.

“Not all MiniLED TVs are created equal,” he said. “Samsung’s approach not only reduces the size of the LED about 40 times, with 10 times the density of LED light coverage, but the real secret to this in our approach is the very narrow light dispersion that affords the near elimination of haloing and blooming artifacts.”

Schinasi said Samsung has refined and improved the MiniLED category (previously available only in TCL Series 8 and 2020 Series 6 televisions) for significant performance enhancements in an LCD device.

Importantly, this year the series affords 12-bit luminance control, he said.

“You are going to see much improved dark shadow detail due to the better granularity of detail getting close to black,” according to Schinasi. “It’s not related to the quantum dots, but to the ability to refine adjustments to the luminance, especially at the lower levels.”

The technology does not use a true 12-bit LCD panel, however, so the claimed 12-bit performance is related to luminance only and not color shading, Schinasi clarified.

“The inside color path is better than 10 bits, but the panel itself is not,” he said. “So color rendering isn’t currently affected.”

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Nevertheless, the internal AI processing, which has been amped up this year, especially in 8K models, should significantly reduce if not eliminate artifacts like color banding (false contouring).

Samsung will be announcing details on the NEO QLED series models, pricing and availability at a later press event, but in general the 2021 Samsung “NEO QLED” TV assortment will include two 8K Series (QN900A and QN800A) and two 4K Series (QN90A and QN85A), Schinasi told us.

For 2021, Samsung is adding more powerful AI picture and sound processing, with 8K TV models offering top performance levels, he said. The system has been enhanced this year to more extensively to deliver Object Tracking Sound effects that seem to more directly follow objects around in relation to their position in the scene. This will also be extended with higher end models linked to Samsung’s 2021 soundbars to provide even more convincing and room-filling surround sound effects. 8K series models will have the most dramatic impact of the various NEO QLED series.

Samsung has further improved the near bezel-less design introduced in select models last year. The bezel now measures as little as 0.9mm, which virtually disappears into the picture.

“The result is that when looking at the screen you actually feel it,” Schinasi said. “The immersive experience is greatly enhanced bringing more emotional attachment to the engagement. You can see it. You can measure it and it really makes a difference.”

While Samsung isn’t announcing any pricing at this time, he hinted, “I don’t think anyone is going to be disappointed.”

“The sound enhancement this year is pretty remarkable, offering up to 6.2.2 sound through internal speakers,” he said. “We’ll have a whole series of soundbars that improve the experience even further.”

Meanwhile, the lockdown experience necessitated by the COVID-19 pandemic inspired Samsung engineers to do more in providing content and work-from-home experiences using the televisions’ big screens as better communications tools.

“We’re taking the smart home platform even further in 2021. New QLED TV owners will find more health and fitness experiences with a whole suite of fitness apps. We have partnered with Logitech, which makes a whole suite of peripherals including USB attachable cameras that will work with our Fitness App to engage a virtual personal trainer to lead and assist with exercise routines while monitoring the user’s performance via the camera. This will capture proper posture, monitor calorie burn count and other relevant metrics,” Schinasi said. “You can use a split-screen function to watch the trainer and monitor your own performance at the same time.”

As with Samsung’s previously announced new MiniLED TVs, the 2021 NEO QLED models will offer the ability to view up to four separate frames on the screen at one time. It will also allow linking with PCs to perform video conferencing on big screens instead of small laptop screens.

Important for gamers, Samsung will continue to support features in the new HDMI 2.1 specification, Schinasi offered.

“There’s been a lot of confusion concerning HDMI 2.1 and in general there is no single answer to `what is 2.1,’ ” Schinasi said. “The guidelines say that as long as its mentioned along with the supporting features you can mention it as HDMI 2.1, and some of the features of HDMI 2.1 can be supported in older chipsets. When I think 2.1 I’m thinking FRL bandwidth. We will support things like 4K/120fps with Variable Refresh Rate (VRR) to work with new consoles like Xbox Series X and PlayStation 5 or some of the newest PC graphics cards. Not only do we have that in 2021 but we rolled it out to an extensive part of our 2020 lineup via firmware update (affording bandwidth of up to at least 40Gbps) in models that had panels that could support it, just ahead of the Xbox Series X launch.”

When we spoke to Schinasi just prior to CES 2021 show week, he was not aware which of the 2021 models would support full bandwidth 48Gbps HDMI 2.1, or how many inputs each model would have supporting it. More details will be announced later.

“Just keep in mind that the sources that are going to support 48Gbps are very limited — primarily PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X and some commercial test equipment — and that’s about it,” he offered. In 2021, most Samsung QLED models support many of the other advanced gaming features in addition to enhanced Audio Return Channel (eARC) that supports 4K/HDR and 10-bit color along with lossless audio formats and Dolby Atmos surround sound.

Important for gamers, Schinasi said all of the company’s 2021 QLED TVs will support Ultra Wide Gaming this year. This will be a bonus to people who play PC gaming titles with mid to-high-end graphics cards supporting Ultra Wide Gaming frame dimensions with 21:9 and 32:9 aspect ratios.

PC gamers will be able to take advantage of the wider field of view, which is especially important for some shooter games. It enables seeing enemies that were previously outside of the field of vision, he said.

This is further enhanced in select QLED models with Samsung’s wide viewing angle features that widen the angle of view on the televisions by retaining contrast and color performance while, in some cases, dramatically rejecting screen glare. This benefit will continue select 2021 model series.

Regarding ATSC 3.0 (aka NextGenTV tuning), Samsung will be “going a little bit beyond putting it in all of our 8K sets, as we did last year,” Schinasi said. Samsung will have more detailed announcements on that capability coming later.

“There is a lot of forward progress with ATSC 3.0, and NextGen TV can deliver up to 4K and different flavors of HDR, with even 2K HDR being possible,” he said.

For TVs that lack the new tuners, Samsung has no currently announced plans for an ATSC 3.0 dongle solution for aftermarket support, but “there are several third party companies that are offering add-on solutions for that.”

As for the Ultra HD Alliance’s Filmmaker Mode introduced last year, Schinasi said Samsung will continue to support extensively across the 2021 TV model range.

Samsung was interested to find that the improved audio enhancements of ATSC 3.0 broadcasts, including clear voices and advanced audio volume leveling attributes, resonated as strongly as they did in consumer research studies.

“It’s hard to expand it much further than we supported it last year — it was offered virtually across our line. But the standard encourages manufacturers to further refine picture elements where possible and for us that refinement is for ambient light conditions. We recently announced that our TVs are adding the new HDR10+ Adaptive system that uses the light sensor in our TVs to make automatic changes for ambient room light conditions and further adjustments. It’s supplemental to HDR10+ high dynamic range and Amazon is among the services and studios that will be supporting it with content.”

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By Greg Tarr

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