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CES 2021: TV-makers turn to 8K, super-sized panels

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CES 2021: TV-makers turn to 8K, super-sized panels

Major TV manufacturers including Sony Corp., Samsung Electronics Co. Ltd. and LG Electronics Inc. all took the virtual stage to show off their upcoming display lineups during the Jan. 11 kick-off of CES, the Consumer Technology Association's annual technology and media trade show. Here is a roundup of some of the most noteworthy trends featured in the presentations:

The 8K race begins

While the first TVs supporting 8K Ultra HD resolution were unveiled at CES 2019 and went on sale later that year, the number of models supporting the super-high-definition resolution and are set to proliferate this year, particularly at the top-end of the market. The upcoming 8K displays include Sony's Z9J Master Series LED TVs, two new QLED models from Samsung and the Z1 OLED line from LG.

Meanwhile, Chinese electronics manufacturer TCL Technology Group Corp. is pursuing 8K more aggressively than its larger competitors, rolling out the 8K resolution capability for all of its new mid-range 6-series TVs as well as its high-end panels.

One issue constraining 8K adoption, however, is a lack of video content that supports the higher-end resolution. The primary resolution for the bulk of content offered by both broadcast and cable networks remains 1080p, and most content has yet to reach 4K resolution. However, like 4K TVs before them, 8K TVs can perform a process called upscaling, which increases the pixel count of a lower-resolution image to allow for better overall picture quality. TV manufacturers are hopeful this will entice enthusiast TV buyers to upgrade to 8K TVs and watch their HD or 4K content upscaled till 8K content becomes more mainstream.

Evolving LED technology

Aside from bumping up the resolution, TV manufacturers are also actively advancing LED technology to further improve picture quality and brightness in their new panels. Both Samsung and LG are set to launch a line of mini LED TVs, which drastically shrink the traditional LED modules that most modern LCD TVs use to produce their images. This results in better brightness, higher contrast ratio and lower power consumption compared to conventional LCD TVs with regular LEDs.

TCL, which was the first company to offer mini LED TVs in 2020, is advancing the technology further in its new range of TVs. This year, it is introducing a new panel branded as "OD Zero," because the gap between the display and backlight system is zero millimeters. TCL claims this will result in an ultra-slim display with tens of thousands of mini LEDs.

Sony, by contrast, is not jumping onto the mini LED bandwagon and is instead focusing on increasing the brightness on its new range of OLED, or organic LED, panels. OLEDs offer superior image quality to traditional LED TVs, but lag the competition in brightness. LG also announced a new range of OLED TVs to go along with its new mini LED panels.

SNL ImageSamsung's new 110-inch micro LED TV
Source: Samsung

While Samsung has not added an OLED TV to its lineup, the company is looking to bring micro LEDs to the masses. Micro LEDs technology shrinks the LEDs even further, resulting in better picture quality than any other existing display standards. Samsung's new micro LED line will bring the technology to a traditional TV form for the first time. It will be available in a 110-inch model and a 99-inch model initially, with smaller sizes set to launch by the end of the year.

The smart factor

All TV manufacturers are also updating the operating systems in their new models, adding new features and enhancements to keep up with increasing demand for streaming services that all have their own apps.

LG is giving its webOS a major overhaul, including a new home screen that will provide faster access to the most frequently used apps as well as streamlined content discovery with the ability to receive recommendations based on the user's preferences. Samsung, meanwhile, is including a new Smart Trainer feature within the Samsung Health app of its new TVs, allowing users to track and analyze their posture during workouts and receive real-time feedback.

Sony, which was one of the earliest TV-makers to use Google LLC's Android TV operating system, is now going to be among the first to use the company's new Google TV platform. The new Sony Bravia XR TV lineup will offer Google TV, which was previously only available through Google's own Chromecast device. TCL TVs, which typically run on Roku Inc.'s operating system, will also roll out a line of panels running on Google TV later this year.

Gaming tech

Microsoft Corp.'s new Xbox Series X and Series S and Sony's new PlayStation 5 video game consoles feature new technologies that take advantage of the HDMI 2.1 standard. While most mid- and high-range TVs launched last year included at least one HDMI 2.1 port, few managed to take advantage of every single feature in the new devices. This changes with 2021 TVs, as panels from every major manufacturer are set to include HDMI 2.1 ports as well as compatibility with next-gen gaming features.

Samsung and LG are also adding extra gaming-centric options in their new TVs. Samsung's 2021 QLED TVs will include a "game bar" allowing quick access to settings such as refresh rate and aspect ratios. The company will also bring ultrawide ratios typically reserved for PC gaming monitors to its TVs. Meanwhile, LG's new TVs will include a "game optimizer" that fine-tunes the pictures for both consoles and PCs.

Google's Stadia and NVIDIA Corp.'s GeForce Now video game streaming services are coming to LG TVs as well. Stadia is expected to be available in the second half of the year, while GeForce Now will arrive sometime later.

Other coverage from CES:

CES 2021: Samsung unveils new AI-enabled smart home products