CES 2018 Thoughts and Recap
By Chris Heinonen on
2018 was the first CES with an In-N-Out on the strip in walking distance
TVs: Minor Improvements for 2018
The main thing for TVs in 2018 is that we’re mostly getting moderate improvements over 2017. For example, LG added the new LUT access to their higher-end TVs for 2018, but the OLED panel itself looks to be very similar to last year. There’s black frame insertion, better color, better shadow detail thanks to improved DACs, but some of this is adding final polish to what was already a fantastic TV last year.
Sony did the same by adding Dolby Vision and some extra brightness to the X900F compared to the X900E that we loved last year, along with an 85” size, but these are all tweaks to a successful TV. TCL did the same by improving the 6-Series displays and added the 65” that was missing last year. The major improvement was that Samsung went back to a full array backlight on their Q-Series models this year, bringing them in-line with their competition, but we don’t know how much the Q-Series is going to cost. They also added calibration at multiple saturation points (100%, 50%, and 25% I believe) which should improve performance but only if you do a calibration.
Every TV in 2018 will be better than what you got in 2017 it looks like, but you’re seeing smaller upgrades to the line than what you might have seen the past year or two. Those that bought a TV in 2017 should feel just fine about the one they got. If you were waiting then you will get improvements but not major breakthroughs.
Future TV Tech looks great
Two demos at CES that are not coming this year for TVs stood out from the pack and are what you come to CES to see.
My favorite demo of the show, by far, was Sony’s 10,000 nits LCD panel TV. While this might cause some people to recoil at the thought of 10,000 nits in their face, you need to remember that HDR is absolute, not relative. In most content, the majority of things are 100 nits or lower, and on a 10,000 nit panel those things will still be 100 nits or lower. It’s just those highlights that will be incredibly bright. The Sony TV just looks more true-to-life and realistic than any TV you’ve ever seen. Colors are fully saturated and rich even compared to the Z9D next to it, and sometimes specular highlights made me squint or even look away from the screen for a second. The Sony prototype just looked more like real life than any image I’ve ever seen, and I wasn’t even close enough to see the difference with 8K vs 4K resolution.
The second great TV concept was the rollable LG OLED screen. Think of all the people you know that want a large TV, but don’t want it to dominate their living room or family room. Now imagine that you could have a 65” TV with incredible image quality, but it is only there when you need it. A future where you see these OLED panels mounted in the ceiling, or built into a credenza, and only appear when needed is one that appeals to lots of people, myself included. Paired with some in-wall speakers or something similar and you now have a great TV and movie system that disappears completely when not in use without any compromise. It’s certainly years off and will cost a lot, but while I want that Sony 10,000 nit display for my theater room, the roll-up OLED is ideal for my living room and bedroom.
Audio: Moving towards powered speakers
The number of exhibitors at The Venetian was much smaller than years past, but there was still plenty to see. What I did notice is that companies are moving towards powered speakers it seems, with many introducing them. GoldenEar showed off a powered bookshelf model for 4Q in 2018 that uses Google Chromecast for streaming and runs for $2,000 a pair. ELAC also had powered monitors coming that are $2,000 a pair for bookshelves, $4,000 for towers, and sounded great in my demo. SVS has a more affordable set of bookshelves coming that use Play-Fi and were $500-600 a pair I believe, making them by far the most affordable.
While passive speakers are by no means dead, powered speakers certainly make a lot of sense for companies to produce. More people have gotten used to using Bluetooth speakers and other options that don’t require an amplifier or receiver and cables. I know from experience that as people move into something like their first turntable, the idea of needing a phono preamp, a receiver, speakers, and extra cables is confusing and seems unnecessary. If these companies can come out and offer high-quality audio that works as easily as a Bluetooth speaker does now, but lets you also get into vinyl or use them with your TV (many are packing Optical inputs), it seems like the approach I would take.
A Ho-Hum CES
CES seems to alternate in how important it is for AV every year. This year we got the moderate improvements in products, while last year we had bigger advancements. I’m not going to complain as everything got a bit better and a bit cheaper, and we saw some cool tech demos for the future. It wasn’t a CES to blow people away, but it did introduce some cool things I can’t wait to test later this year.