By Joseph Palenchaar
LG's rollable OLED TV debuts this week at CES 2019.
TV suppliers are turning to big screens and advanced display technologies to bolster ASPs and improve earnings at CES 2019, where 8K TVs, improved contrast ratios, voice assistants, and new display technologies such as micro LED and rollable OLED are front and center.
The first roll-up TV — a 65-inch LG OLED model — is making its debut along with a greater selection of LCD TVs with quantum-dot WCG technology.
During the first 10 months of 2018, the retail ASPs of U.S. LCD TVs were flat year over year, with both dollar volume and unit sales up 3 percent, The NPD Group’s Retail Tracking Service found. LCD accounted for the vast majority of North American flat-panel shipments in 2018, or 98.4 percent of 42.6 million units, IHS Markit said.
Continuing growth in demand for larger screen sizes could help boost ASPs in 2019, when sizes of 50 inches and up will account for almost 100 percent of North American 4K/8K TV shipments, said IHS Markit executive director Paul Gagnon. Among all TVs, sales of 60 inches and larger will increase faster in 2019 to account for 23 percent of all North American TV shipments, thanks to rapidly declining costs of 65-inch panels.
Big-display demand will help stoke 8K demand, Gagnon noted. 8K resolution will be more apparent on big screens that also reduce pixel visibility when viewers are close. Chris Larson, TCL’s North America senior VP, expects 8K “will be represented by all major brands” in the U.S. in 2019, though IHS expects 8K shipments to account for only 0.1 percent (or 42,700) of 42.7 million TVs shipped in North America.
Although native 8K video in noticeable quantities might be a few years away, 8K TVs will use up-scaling technology that has improved dramatically to deliver 8K resolution from HD sources, said Gagnon. Content from 8K cameras can also be displayed, as can a few 8K YouTube videos.
In Japan in December, NHK launched an 8K satellite channel, but David Mercer of Strategy Analytics said “expectations for 8K services should be cautious.” The rest of the world “will be slower to follow suit, given that the number of homes with 8K-ready TVs will remain low until the mid 2020s.”
Despite the excitement surrounding 8K TV, added Strategy Analytics director David Watkins, “It is important to remember that image resolution, whether native or otherwise, is only one element in perceived video quality, and TV vendors and content players alike should not lose focus on other important drivers of consumer satisfaction, such as high dynamic range (HDR) and high frame rate (HFR).”
At CES, 8K launches include LG’s first two SKUs (an 88-inch OLED and 75-inch LCD) and a 98-inch Samsung LCD. They join Samsung’s $15,000 85-inch LCD. TCL is demoing a 75-inch 8K LCD and plans 2019 shipments of an 8K model, expected to feature 8K-capable HDMI 2.1 inputs. Samsung’s current 8K TV features an outboard HDMI switching box that can be swapped for a future HDMI 2.1 version.
8K screen sizes could trickle down below 75 inches in the U.S., said TCL's Larson, but “anything below 65 inches will be a challenge in a real-use environment.”
Nonetheless, Nanosys sales/marketing VP Russell Kempt expects some suppliers to push LCD-based 8K into more mainstream sizes down to 55 inches in coming years. OLED displays, however, will be challenged to bring 8K to anything but “very large form factors.”
In other big-screen developments, LG is expanding its selection of 70-inch-plus sizes, Samsung is launching a 98-inch 8K model, Philips is showing a 75-inch 4K Android TV, and TCL is bringing back a 75-inch SKU (at less than $1,800 MAP).
Here’s what else to expect:
Select suppliers will demo micro LED displays, which use emissive red, green and blue LEDs to create 4K color images. Each LED can be turned off to deliver perfect blacks and improved contrast, with faster response times and better off-axis viewing, compared to LED-lit LCD displays. Samsung is showing a smaller, 75-inch version of last year's 146-inch Wall TV. The Wall is available for commercial and custom residential applications. Sony showed a pro model at the CEDIA Expo.
Full-array local dimming (FALD) will spread to more LED-backlit 4K LCD TVs in 2019 to improve contrast ratios. “Almost all premium LCD sets at about $1,500 and up will transition to FALD in 2019,” predicted Kempt of Nanosys. “We can achieve excellent contrast that a couple years ago people didn’t think possible with LCD technology.” In a new flagship 8 series, TCL is offering 300 percent more zones versus 120 and 96 in its 65- and 55-inch 6 series SKUs, respectively. Select 2018 Sony and Samsung TVs sport around 500 zones, and Vizio offers up to 192.
With new mini LED backlights, more LCD TVs will feature thousands of FALD zones, Nanosys’s Kempt said. Samsung features thousands of zones in its current 85-inch 8K TV. TCL is demoing thousands of zones. Other demos might be private.
Mini LEDs are smaller than typical LEDs but larger than micro LEDs.
More TV suppliers at CES will build far-field microphones for digital assistants into the chassis of select TVs rather than deliver voice control solely through a remote with built-in near-field mic. At a minimum, TVs with embedded far-field mics will be available later in 2019 from TCL and Philips, joining Sony models.
Separately, LG will offer three voice assistants — Google Assistant, Amazon Alexa and proprietary ThinQ — in all new 4K smart TVs, with voice control delivered by a mic-equipped remote. ThinQ delivers voice control over more TV functions than other assistants alone provide, the company said.
More TVs will get closer to delivering 100 percent of DCI-P3 color gamut, delivered by 4K Blu-ray discs and streaming services. TCL plans its first U.S. TVs with gamut-widening quantum-dot displays sometime in 2019 in multiple screen sizes. “In 2019, quantum dot delivers the right performance for the cost for mainstream consumers,” said TCL North America SVP Chris Larson.
Attendees will likely find more 4K LCD TVs with peak brightness levels of 4,000 nits, as delivered by Samsung’s current 8K TV. One of the brightest 4K displays has been a 2,000-nit 65-inch Vizio TV.
As quantum-dot costs fall, added Kempt of quantum-dot supplier Nanosys, “it is now becoming possible for set makers to waterfall the technology across their product lineups.” As a result, by the end of 2018, “we’re beginning to see quantum-dot technology entering the mainstream market for TVs with several 65-inch TV products available below $1,500.”
At least one more company, LG, is adding select HDMI 2.1 features to TVs. All LG OLEDs and three top LCD series add 2.1’s variable refresh rate (VRR), auto low latency mode (ALLM), and eARC. Sony added them to select TVs in 2018.