Consumers will see both LCD TV improvements and new competition in the OLED market
Based on what we’re seeing at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas this week, 2017 is shaping up as an interesting year for anyone shopping for a new TV. While there weren’t any knock-your-socks-off developments that will revolutionize consumers’ choices, you’ll see some important changes in what’s available.
In general, TVs are getting bigger, with more 65- to 75-inch models being shown at CES—with prices coming down, televisions that big are within reach for many shoppers. And televisions are gettig better, too, with technologies such as new twists on quantum dots helping bring LCD TVs closer to OLED TV display performance, which has more vibrant colors and darker blacks.
We also got some behind-the-scenes looks at technologies that won’t have an impact immediately, but are waiting in the wings for their time to shine.
Here are our picks for the top TV trends of 2017.
4K TVs Are Mainstream
Prices on 4K, or ultra high-definition, TVs dropped significantly in the back half of 2016. And looking at the lineups from TV manufacturers for 2017, it’s clear that all but the least expensive, or very smallest, TVs will now be 4K sets. It may actually be hard to find a large 1080p set later this year.
The big question is how much prices will drop over the next eight to 10 months. Last year, 4K TV prices hit all-time lows around Black Friday, with some lower-priced brands offering 55-inch 4K smart TVs for as little as $300.
That’s good for consumers, but a challenge for manufacturers, especially since you also don’t pay much of a premium to get a smart TV. So we expect sets with other features, such as high dynamic range—with the potential to boost the difference between the darkest and brightest images a TV can produce, creating brighter, more vibrant images—to be priced a bit higher. More on HDR in a minute.
LCD TVs Get Better
LCD TVs dominate TV sales, but they’re not without their shortcomings. This year you’ll see a number of manufacturers use new technologies to address these issues.
Both LG and Samsung are turning to nano technologies—films embedded with microscopic particles—to help improve color, black levels (so you can see details in the darkest scenes), and viewing angles (so you get a great picture even if you’re sitting off-center from the television).
Samsung has been using quantum dots in its top-tier TVs for a few years now. But the company says its new Q-series models—marketed under the “QLED” umbrella—use a new metal quantum-dot formulation that is markedly better than its predecessor. (What’s a quantum dot? Glad you asked: It’s a nano-size crystal technology that can produce very pure colors.)
Samsung’s Q-series sets are also as much as 50 percent brighter than last year’s already-bright SUHD sets. That could mean a significant improvement in HDR performance, where peak brightness really matters.
LG calls its technology “Nano Cell,” and its film will help to create better, more realistic colors and wider viewing angles, the company claims.
For example, LG says the technology, which will be used in this year’s “Super UHD” sets, “absorbs excess light wavelengths,” meaning that it prevents adjacent colors from bleeding into each other. That’s supposed to make the colors more accurate and resistant to fading as the picture gets brighter.
Like Samsung, LG claims its technology improves LCD performance in other ways, especially off-axis viewing. LG TVs already offer comparatively wide viewing angles, and the nano film helps maintain picture quality when you’re viewing it from a corner of the room. LG also says the TVs are brighter than last year’s Super UHD models.
HDR Remains Confusing
High dynamic range (HDR) will be among the hottest TV topics this year, both for consumers and the people trying to sell them televisions. Unfortunately, it will remain very confusing, for two reasons.
First, there are now multiple HDR formats to consider, including HDR10, Dolby Vision, HLG (Hybrid Log Gamma) and Technicolor Advanced HDR. One format, HDR10, serves as a baseline now, so all TVs support it.
The other problem is that most consumers will have no idea what level of HDR experience their TV can deliver until they take it home.
Not all so-called HDR-compatible sets are created equal. Many less-expensive sets won’t have the hardware to really show off HDR programs to their full effect. These TVs will be able to read the HDR metadata that tells a TV how to display the picture, and they’ll do their best to map the content to the TV’s capabilities. But many lower- and even mid-priced sets won’t have the brightness, black levels, or video processing to produce a truly dramatic HDR effect.
“There are companies that are focused on HDR,” says Paul Gagnon, director of TV sets research at IHS Markit, a data and market analysis firm. “And there are companies looking to take the HDR logo and slap it on the set somewhere without doing any enhancement of the product, hoping to confuse consumers and get a premium for a lower price product.”
Sony Challenges LG in OLED TVs
OLED TVs have topped our TV ratings for the past two years, but they’ve been pricey, at least partly because they’re only sold be one company, LG. But that’s ending this spring when Sony enters the market with its new 4K OLED, the XBR-A1E Bravia, which is the company’s flagship model for 2017.
That means that this year, for the first time, people shopping for OLED performance will have a choice in brands. Sony didn’t disclose pricing for its three OLED sets—in 55-, 65-, and 77-inch screen sizes—but we’re hoping that the competition makes OLED sets more affordable.
One interesting feature of the new Sony TV is its sound, which comes from the screen itself rather than from conventional speakers.
New TV Technologies Gather Steam
CES is always a great place to get a glimpse of work-in-progress TV technologies that aren’t quite ready for prime time.
One development we’re following is self-illuminating, or emissive, LEDs. In this technology, each LED generates its own light, just like OLEDs do, so there’s no need for a backlight.
That could help eliminate some LCD weaknesses, such as narrower viewing angles and blacks that often look more gray than black. Several companies, including Panasonic, Samsung, and Sony, are working to develop the technology.
A good number of TV manufacturers are already showing prototypes of 8K displays, or TVs with four times the resolution of 4K sets. These are still several years away from being a real option or consumers, but 8K broadcast trials are already under way in Japan and we think you’ll be able to buy an 8K TV by the end of the decade—if you have enough money. They’re bound to be expensive.
Another development is content recorded at faster frame rates. Sports networks are especially interested in this technology, which will double the number of frames displayed each second on a TV. This can help reduce motion blur during fast-moving scenes.
Finally, we believe “color volume” will become a new TV buzzword in 2017. (And the tech industry loves buzzwords.) This refers to a new way of evaluating color that takes into account how well a TV can maintain the intensity and accuracy of colors at different brightness levels.
In most current TVs, increasing the overall brightness of the set can cause colors to look washed out. A TV where that happens would have a lower color volume than a TV where the colors stay saturated even when the image becomes much brighter.
We expect to hear more about color volume from LG, Samsung, and Sony, and perhaps other companies.
The first 2017 TVs will start arriving as early as next month, and we’re looking forward to testing these new sets, and getting you the results as soon as possible.