Last weekend New York electronics retailer Value Electronics hosted another of its widely followed TV shootouts (we can’t call it an HDTV shootout anymore, because most of the TVs were Ultra HD).
Every year Value Electronics assembles a panel of experts (professional reviewers, home theater calibrators) and high-level video enthusiasts to evaluate the best TVs of the year. Robert Zohn, owener of Value Electronics, selects the models from the most interesting and premium offerings from the top manufacturers. This year he enlisted the help of the industry’s best calibrators and other experts including Kevin Miller, DeWayne Davis, David Mackenzie, Joe Kane and Dr. Larry Weber, to set up the TVs and provide some context to the audience.
The TV lineup was particularly interesting for the 2014 event. For one thing, it’s the year when we all know that plasma technology is dead, even though there was one plasma in the competition, a Samsung 2013 model (PN64F8500) carried over from last year. In previous years, plasma, particularly those by Panasonic and Samsung, have been favored by many of the expert reviewers in attendance. The Sharp Elite LED LCD TV also did very well in previous shootouts (here are articles from the 2013 and 2012 shootouts).
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This year there were five 4K Ultra HD TVs, all LED LCD models. The biggest was the 105-inch 21:9 aspect ratio Samsung UN105S9W. In fact all the 4K TVs were big ones (the smallest was a 78-inch Samsung), which drives home the importance of size when considering a 4K TV. You can see the list of all participating TVs below.
This Samsung was the only plasma TV in the shootout, and it tied with the LG OLED.
What’s striking however (though unsurprising to many people) is that the 1080p TVs dominated the day. After viewing a number of test patterns and content footage, the score cards were filled in, collected and tallied, and the winners declared: a tie. Well, sort of a three-way tie, depending on how you look at it.
Two overall winners were named, the LG 55EC9300, which is a 55-inch curved OLED TV that was only recently released for $3,500. Co-winner was actually the 64-inch 2013 plasma from Samsung, the PN64F8500, which sells for $3,099. Yes, a 1080p, year-old plasma beat out all the new 4K TVs. Also of note, the professional calibrators in the room selected the Samsung OLED KN55S9, also a 1080p curved model that sells for $9,999.
Calibrators picked this Samsung OLED KN55S9 as their favorite.
Zohn noted on the Value Electronics Facebook page that while the Samsung plasma had the highest overall score, the LG OLED scored higher in more important areas, thus he declared a tie.
The two OLEDs beat everything else in black level and contrast level, which is a benefit of that technology. The plasma beat all the other TVs in motion resolution and color accuracy. It’s interesting to note (see the scorecard image below) that all three 1080p TVs, including the year-old plasma (which will be discontinued by the end of this year) swamped all the more expensive Ultra HD TVs.
Among the 4K Ultra HD TVs, the 85-inch Sony X950B ($24,999) brought in the highest score.
So what conclusions can we draw from this (I didn’t attend this year, so I didn’t see the TVs in action myself)? First, the loss of plasma technology (Panasonic already stopped making plasma TVs; Samsung announced it will do so this year, and LG is expected to follow) is a big blow to video enthusiasts. Plasma TVs have consistently produced better pictures for less money than LCD TVs. The bright spot is that OLED TVs appear to be delivering on that technology’s promise in creating excellent black levels. So what about 4K? The results of this event emphasize that picture quality isn’t all about, or even mostly about, resolution.
Value Electronics 2014 TV Shootout:
4K Ultra HD models:
• Samsung S9 Direct Lit LCD/LED w/local dimming 105” UN105S9W
• Samsung UN78HU9000 78” Edge lit local dimming
• Samsung UN85HU8550 85” Direct lit full array w/local dimming
• Sony XBR-79X900B Edge lit locally dimmed
• Sony XBR-85X950B Direct lit full array locally dimmed
• Samsung PN64F8500 64” PDP
• LG OLED 55EC9300 55” OLED
• Samsung KN55S9 55” OLED
More articles on new TV technology:
Almost Everything You Need to Know About Ultra HD 4K TVs
Understanding OLED TVs
Samsung Big on UHD and Curved TVs
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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.