The Panasonic CES press conference comes at an odd time for that company. Just a few months ago Panasonic, which last year earned praise for making some of the industry’s best-looking TVs (The ZT60 line), decided to stop making those TVs because apparently plasma is harder to sell than LCD (even though plasma sets tend to cost less and look better). And then a couple weeks ago the company announced the end of its partnership with Sony to develop OLED TVs.
The first half of the Panasonic press conference focused not on consumer products (despite this being the Consumer Electronics Show) but on technology for the commercial market, including a 4K projector.
Eventually, though, the company got around to TVs, and focused mostly on a new concept the call LIFE+SCREEN. LIFE+SCREEN is an overhaul of the smart TV platform and is meant to integrate the user’s life closer with the TV. LIFE+SCREEN TVs employ gesture and voice control, face recognition and motion sensors to react or respond more naturally to the user. The system can be customized and used to automatically select content tailored to a user profile it builds of you.
The LIFE+SCREEN system will be found on both 1080p LED TVs and the new AX800 4K series. The AX800 series will be available in both 58- and 65-inch models. Panasonic promised plasma picture quality in LED TVs. To that end, the new models include a feature Panasonic calls Studio Master Color, which delivers 98% of the DCI color standard, helped by a new LED backlight for a wide color gamut. Local dimming is included for optimizing contrast and a 4K image processor scales less-than-4K images up to the panel’s full resolution. The AX800 series features THX certification.
Unfortunately for Samsung, more people were talking about Transformers’ director Michael Bay than the company’s TVs after the press conference. That’s because shortly after he stepped onstage as a guest to talk about how much he loved Ultra HD, his teleprompter failed and he hadn’t memorized his lines. Instead of just winging it, he walked off.
Samsung’s new TV lineup more than made up for the flub though.
As is usual, Samsung and LG are frequently closely matched when it comes to new TV technology, as if they even share some of the same panel suppliers… hmm. Samsung also showed a 105-inch 21:9 aspect ratio, curved 4K TV. Samsung also showed a big bendable 4K TV. Something’s happening here.
Samsung introduced 3 4K TV series, the S9, U9000 and U8550, from 50- to 110-inches. Both curved and flat models are in the line. One of the interesting things about Samsung’s 4K TVs is the company’s promise to make them upgradable so the buyer isn’t frustrated when an important innovation comes out in another year. This is done with the Evolution Kit, an option Samsung has offered on 1080p TVs before. All Samsung’s 4K TVs support HEVC, HDMI 2.0, MHL 3.0 and HDCP 2.2.
The other important Ultra HD news from Samsung was on the content side. Yes, we’re always asking about the lack of content for these 4K sets, and again it looks like streaming is going to be the primary delivery model. The company’s new UHD sets will be able to stream 4K content from their respective apps on the Samsung Hub smart TV platform, from Amazon, Comcast Xfinity, DIRECTV, M-GO and Netflix. Samsung also plans to offer a UHD video pack in the form of a hard drive filled with movies from Fox Home Entertainment and Paramount Pictures. Additional movies will be available to download to the hard drive. Samsung says it plans to have about 50 movies available this year. The UHD video pack sounds very similar to the 4K video server Sony launched last year. No word on how much it will cost or if it will work with non-Samsung TVs (Sony’s server only works with Sony TVs).
The day of new TVs wrapped up as it always does, with Sony. Surprisingly, Sony didn’t bring out any music or movie celebrities this time, but the company did bring out Reed Hastings, CEO of Netflix. He told the crowd to expect 4K versions of shows like House of Cards and Breaking Bad this year.
When asked about the network speed needed to stream 4K video to the home, Hastings said that compression algorithms make it possible to stream 4K with as little as 15Mbps. Considering how much trouble Netflix has getting 1080 into my home over a FiOS network, I’ll be skeptical until I try it myself.
Sony announced three new 4K TV lines with sizes from 55- to 85-inches. The flagship line is the X950B, which sports a thin profile and full array back light with local dimming. The X900B series TV is designed in a wedge shape profile. When viewed from the side, the narrow top widens down to several inches at the bottom. The shape is meant to support the built-in side-mounted speakers. This line use an edge-lit LED system, rather than the better, and more expensive, full-array back-lit method of the X950B. The final X850B series is also edge-lit, but includes no local dimming.
Sony X950B 85-inch Ultra HD TV
Sony’s 4K TVs will be ready for streaming services like Netflix and others. The company is also upgrading its hard drive movie server and adding more titles to it.
If you want to make your own 4K movies, Sony announced a $2,000 Handycam 4K home camcorder, so you won’t have to wait for Hollywood to get 4K on your TV.
Sony did not show any new OLED TVs. Last year’s OLED came about as a partnership with Panasonic, which ended in 2013.
How does this year’s TV news compare to last CES? Read the 2013 TV roundup here.
As CES continues, we’ll get more details about these TVs and other developments.
For a look at the new TVs, check out the slide show here.
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Grant Clauser has been covering home electronics for more than 10 years with editorial roles in several consumer and trade magazines. He's done ISF-level damage to hundreds of reviewed products and has had training from THX, the Home Acoustics Alliance, Control4 and Sencore. His latest book is Necessary Myths
. Follow him on Twitter @geclauser.