Samsung PN60F8500 580

2013 represents two major changes in TV technology. 2013 model UHD TVs with four times the panel resolution of HDTV will be start shipping next month at prices below the $20,000-$25,000 range set by the 84-inch 2012 offerings. In the meantime, the next generation plasma TVs with HDTV resolution are arriving at retailers and Amazon.  All announced 2013 UHDTV models are edge-lit LED LCDs (with the single exception of the 85-inch $40K Samsung).  One would believe higher resolution will mean a sharper looking picture.  However, that is not necessarily the case.  The reasons appear after the break.

The most important aspect of picture quality is contrast ratio.  This is the difference between the darkest black and the brightest part of the picture. A lower contrast UHDTV will produce an image that does not appear as sharp and three dimensional as an HDTV with a better contrast ratio.

To create the best contrast ratio an LED lit LCD requires the LEDs to be located behind the LCD panel and must have the ability to dim small areas of the image. Except for the aforementioned Samsung 85-inch S9 there are no announced 2013 UHDTVs with LED backlights and local dimming There are a number of 2013 UHD and HDTVs that claim local dimming, however they really can’t localize the darkening of the picture because the LEDs are only mounted under the edge of the screen (usually just the right and left sides). Many of these TVs have a dynamic contrast circuit as well, which lowers the intensity of a large portion of the screen while simultaneously obscuring detail and image accuracy, especially in dark scenes.

Sony $1 Million UHDTV 580

Sony’s 2012 XBR55HX950 and XBR65HX950 offer local dimming at HDTV resolution. Read our review here. Sharp offered its Elite LED LCD HDTVs in 2012, (read our review) however to date there has been no replacement.  LG also had its rear lit LED LCD with local dimming. All brands are being replaced with UHD edge-lit models. Why? Cost, LED back lighting with local dimming is expensive and would have priced the new UHD models higher than the expected $5000 for Sony’s  55-inch XBR-55X900A and $7000 for the 65-inch XBR-65X900A.  (According to the Sony website it’s priced at $999,999.99 -see photo above).

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Enter Plasma

Panasonic and Samsung’s 2013 high end plasma models offer very high contrast ratios and each can dim the image down to the individual pixel. We’ve seen the production model of Samsung’s F8500 series and its contrast ratio and black level are outstanding (see top unretouched photo). Ditto for Panasonic’s soon to be released VT60 plasmas and it best ever HDTV the ZT60, scheduled for May release.  Based on our observations and knowledge of the edge lighting tech they’ll beat out any UHD LED LCD in real world contrast and black levels based on the  production or prototype models we’ve seen to date.

Bottom line, we fully expect the 2013 Samsung 51-inch PN51F8500 , 60-inch PN60F8500  and 64-inch  PN64F8500 as well as Panasonic’s 55, 60 and 65-inch VT and 60 and 65-inch ZT plasmas will appear sharper than their UHD counterparts due to a better contrast ratio and deep blacks as well as black uniformity.

What About OLED?

Ahh, OLED the Holy Grail of TV pictures, with the potential to have the best contrast ratio of any display technology. Unfortunately, Samsung and LG recently informed us their offerings have been delayed once again. LG was supposed to ship into the US in March at a price of $12K for its 55-inch HDTV.  LG is now saying “second half of 2013”.  Samsung told us “second half of 2013 at a price to be announced”.  As time passes the likelihood of either firm entering mass production dims. Industry history tells us manufacturers are only willing to throw X number of dollars to get a new display technology cost effective. If not successful, sooner or later they will stop poring money into getting production efficiencies  with 55-inch and larger screen sizes.

Market research firms agree progress has slowed, pushing back mass production predictions to 2015 or beyond.  According to an iSuppli announcement today, US shipments will be a “total of just 56,000 OLED TVs cumulatively in 2013 and 2014, with sets commanding extremely high retail pricing because of a lack of wide scale manufacturing. But shipment numbers will grow quickly from 2014 onward, jumping to 370,000 by 2015, and then surging to 1.9 million units by 2017.”  Readers note: the US TV market is around 35 million units.


For more about Plasma vs. LCD read our article here.


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