CES 2016: 4K HDR picture finally gets clearer, as UHD Blu-ray gears up for launch

posted on Sunday, 17th January 2016 by Steve May

Blu-ray  4K  HDR  CES 2016 

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When it came to high-end TVs, this year’s CES was all about HDR. While the technology still has too many iterations to easily sell, what was an unregulated mess at least appears to gaining form and function.

The UHD Alliance finally rubber-stamped a specification, providing goal posts for manufacturers and some level of certification for consumers. The UHD Alliance, made up of CE vendors, chip suppliers and content providers, has worked with the Consumer Technology Association, Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineers and International telecommunications Union, to decide the standard.  Or rather, standards. The Ultra HD Premium badge can be applied to LED displays which offer more than 1000 nits peak brightness and less than 0.05 nits black level, or OLED TVs which only offer 540 nits peak brightness but dive to 0.0005 nits black level. This disparity actually makes perfect sense when talking about range rather than absolute brightness.

Of course, this doesn’t mean there’s an end to confusion likely any time soon.

UHD Alliance Chiefs

UHD BD Press Conference

Sony notably didn’t display the UHDA Ultra HD Premium logo on its booth, choosing instead to use its own 4K HDR branding. This may be because the standard was simply released too late for the Japanese giant, or it may mean that Sony’s hero TV, the XD93/94D series, doesn’t actually comply with the spec. Sony pointedly refused to specify the peak brightness of its new HDR models.

Of course that didn’t stop it stunning everyone with an ultra high brightness technology demo. Its Backlight Master Drive, a full array LED backlight with over 1000 zones of local dimming control, delivers peaks of 4000 nits and almost OLED-ike black levels.

Perhaps the biggest excitement at CES was seeing 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray working at the show, with real movie content. All previous demos have involved dummy players and 4K files playing off media servers. Here, both Panasonic and Samsung went real with UHD decks, and the footage looked spectacular. Panasonic’s demo of Mad Max Fury Road, in HDR 4K, looked absolutely amazing.

The Panasonic DMP-UB900 isn’t just a cutting edge Blu-ray player. It also has a host of audiophile grade components, is compatible with DSD, and features a 7.1 channel analogue output. It’s expected to sell for £999 or less. Samsung’s UBD-K8500 is less an audio deck and is now available in the USD for preorder at $400. Both models offer dual HDMI outputs, allowing them to route audio through non 4K compliant AV receivers.

Expect the OTT streaming services to push hard on HDR too. Amazon is already committed and Netflix says it will offer streams. The catch is OTT streaming services will not deliver the same level of quality as BD discs. HDR is so noticeably different to standard dynamic range content, that an adaptive streaming servicer simply can’t drop in and out of HDR if the broadband speed fluctuates. Instead, service providers will most likely drop from 2160 to 1080p. In truth, consumers will probably never be able to tell exactly what they’re watching at any given time.

Samsung Press Conf

Samsung Quantum Dot

Arguably the best looking screen at the show was the Panasonic DX900. This HDR-compatible LED TV offers deep blacks, courtesy of a new honeycomb local dimming technology. Hundreds of individually controlled lighting zones are all isolated from each other, eliminating light leakage and halos. It also sports a new video processor, the HCX+ (Hollywood Cinema eXperience plus). Expect to see the DX900 in 65- and 58-inch screen sizes this Spring.

Samsung also had some great looking TVs at the show, unveiling five new SUHD ranges. The brand also offered some sublime engineering demos, with panels that split apart and then reformed seamlessly. As an example of digital signage, it looked sensational.

LG introduced its own Super UHD LED screens, the 65-inch UH9500 and 86-inch UH9550, and UH8500/UH8550 models. There’s a load of new tech onboard, including SDR-to-HDR conversion. The higher-end models feature a sound system developed by Harman/Kardon, complete with room-tuning auto-calibration. 

LG also went big with OLED, but surprised everyone with an announcement that it was working with Dolby on incorporating Dolby Vision HDR compatibility. While no Dolby Vision screens were on show, the company did says that it was planning to introduce its first Dolby Vision models before summer.

Hisense 8K

LG Smart Home

Panasonic offered a particularly impressive prototype lifestyle solution. Using a transparent LCD panel with ingeniously hidden LED edgelight (pictured top), the screen can adjust height depending on viewers, turn transparent to reveal knickknacks behind, or go semi translucent to dispense info such as weather and news ticker. There’s no street date for the innovation yet. And just in case you thought all this 4K stuff was beginning to look a little fuzzy, there was a good deal of 8K about too. Panasonic, Hisense and Samsung showed 8K panels, and LG even went so far as to promise to sell a 98-inch one this year.

Both LG and Samsung seemed to be keen to position their screens at the centre of the Smart Home, with IoT control of connected devices directly from the TV. Is this the first glimpse real future of mainstream Smart Home control? Guess we’ll find out at CES 2017.

Steve May

Steve is a veteran of the UK consumer electronics industry, having covered it for
various media outlets for more than 20 years.

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