It's here. Haier, LG, Panasonic, Samsung, Sharp, Sony, TCL and Toshiba are already embracing the post-Full HD era: this year, it's all about Ultra High Definition/4K. At CES 2013 we saw UHD TVs galore... But only one brand made it out alive.And the prize for best Ultra High Definition TV goes to... Samsung!
Why? Because all the others need to wake the something up.
The first reason is the absurd presets the brands insisted on using. They seem to have forgotten that CES is more than a regular, old marketing event and that the people there to see TVs are hardcore techies with a passion for a quality image. If that weren't so, then they wouldn't keep flocking back to a trade show that's growing more and more TV-oriented with every passing year.
And then there were the Edge LED IPS panels that a number of brands had on display. Why in the world are they keeping this schtick up? Especially Sony and LG—that's all they had. We just don't get it. Here are a bunch of TVs that cost several thousand pounds (some even tens of thousands!), with the washed-out contrast of a budget TV.
The one advantage, of course, is that clouding isn't usually an issue on low-contrast televisions, simply because the panels' shortcomings tend to conceal the variations in brightness...
As for Toshiba, its stand was a disappointment. We can only hope the AU Optronics panel that was on display isn't market-ready, because the picture wasn't close to as good as the Full HD TVs Toshiba has out right now (which, truth be told, are generally equipped with panels made by Sharp or Samsung, not AUO...).
The Edge LED technology found on the company's entire UHD range is poorly suited for panels this size. So much so that even a basic photo such as the one above will reveal the screen's flaws. Look at the letterbox bars above and below the image... they look closer to navy blue than black.
Let's not forget to mention Sony and Panasonic's stunning UHD/4K OLED TVs, which 1) had far too flashy colours and 2) we have no chances of seeing in stores this year. Automatically disqualified! And again, why not make some video demos that actually make you want to buy the TV? Demos that demonstrate whether or not OLED is more responsive and has better shading than LCD? The videos Sony and Panasonic used were too slow, with unnatural colours.
If we had to base our opinion of OLED TVs solely on the ones that were on display at CES 2013, the obituary would be easy to write: that OLED died before it ever got a chance, incapable of producing realistic colours.
The only home run was at Samsung's stand, in a tiny room hidden from the public that only a select few were allowed to enter. Samsung's take on UHD is an LCD TV with PVA-derived technology and (finally!) Direct LED backlighting with local dimming.
Samsung gave us a demonstration in Movie mode (finally again!). By looking at the screen and comparing it to other TVs on display, we could tell that Samsung has considerably improved its dynamic backlighting on this generation; you can see the difference, for instance, in the transitions from brightly lit scenes to darkly lit scenes. And the black was truly black! Thank you, local dimming.
And yet, Samsung didn't choose the easy route. The guy at the stand showed us a scene from Sherlock Holmes 2 in total darkness (we weren't allowed to take pictures). We saw no light leaking out of the frame or washed-out blacks amid the surrounding blacks. The scene they used was extremely fast, and there wasn't a hint of ghosting.
Bravo, Samsung! What a pleasure it is to have a video's sharpness, colour, movement—even sounds—bowl you over!
At Sony's stand we got a chance to listen to the very cool-looking speakers built into the sides of its UHD TV. We've actually already seen them on other Sony home cinema kits, except this time there's no amp—and you can tell. The sound was a real let-down, which is too bad for such stylishly designed speakers.
But we were pleasantly surprised with Samsung's new TV stand, with its bizarre shape and speaker-laden bezel. The gunshot noises in Sherlock Holmes 2 really felt like they were coming right at you. Good stuff.
As it turns out, the real winner in this game may turn out to be Sharp. The Japanese brand has vetoed UHD altogether and decided to go straight to 8K. (Stations are already gearing up to broadcast in 8K as early as 2020.)