Content partnerships and innovation to define AV in 2020

posted on Sunday, 20th October 2019 by Steve May

8K  UHD  4K  IFA 2019  Broadcast 

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There may not have been many new product announcements at IFA 2019, but that didn’t mean Europe’s biggest technology expo lacked innovation and intrigue. Indeed, it set the scene for what we’re about to see at CES 2020 and beyond.

IFA Berlin 2019 featured nearly 2,000 exhibitors, attracted 245,000 visitors, and a new all-time high for international attendance, with more than 50 percent of trade visitors coming from abroad. Three big technology trends dominated: voice, artificial intelligence and connectivity, driven by high bandwidth 5G mobile networks.

It was also clear the world’s biggest panel vendors are moving 8k centrestage, with competing strategies coming to the fore.

8k screens were shown by Sony, LG, Sharp and Samsung. However, a lack of 8k content, indeed the lack of any agreed standard from this new breed of UHD, is rather undermining the format.

Streaming services are hampered in the real world by broadband speeds, and consumer demand is low. IHS Markit describes the 8k situation as ‘supply-push’ rather than ‘content-pull’.

Samsung 8k Range

LG Samsung Comparision

Samsung used IFA to add a 55-inch model to its Q900R 8k line-up. At first glance, this would offer few benefits in the average living room, as the panel size simply isn’t big enough to reveal tiny details at typical viewing distances. However, the 55-inch launch could prove prescient. The display offers few benefits as a living room telly, but it could come into its own when next generation games consoles arrive, the PlayStation 5 and XBox Scarlett, both of which will have 8k display options.

A 55-inch 8k model used for close monitor gaming will have huge appeal to high-end games players.

Elsewhere, LG showcased its 88-inch 88Z9 OLED Signature screen, and the 77-inch 75SM99 LG NanoCell LED LCD. LG lambasted rival Samsung for falling short of the Information Display Measurements Standard (IDMS) recommendation for 8k UHD, as set by the International Committee for Display Metrology (ICDM).

According to the ICDM, the minimum CM value required to deliver true native 8k must exceed 50 per cent. A comparison of a Samsung 8k screen and LG Nanocell model, revealed the LG offered a CM value of 90 percent, while the Samsung could only manage 12 per cent.

One possible solution to 8k content distribution could come via 5G networks. The UK government has freed up £200 million to test 5G rollout as part of a digital connectivity development strategy. £40m is going into trials and logistical projects.

5G offers unparalleled connection speeds, greater capacity and lower latency. With 5G at 10 Gbps, a two-hour movie can be downloaded in just 3.6 seconds, compared to six minutes with 4G at 100 Mbps.

Sharp had a 120-inch 8k display which showed how an 8K+5G ecosystem might be used in medical and education applications.

IFA Next

IFA Next also focused on the development of TV and home cinema. In a booth furnished like a living room it demonstrated 8k content as well as various HDR standards, including HDR 10+ and Dolby Vision, as well as 3D audio and High Frame Rate (HFR).

Significantly there was also a presentation of Versatile Video Coding (VVC) advanced video compression by Fraunhofer HHI. The new technology is poised to replace HEVC and achieve a compression performance around 50 percent better.

While Panasonic kept its 8k gameplan under wraps at IFA 2019, it still pushed the technology envelope, committing to the launch of a transparent designer OLED screen before the year is out. A co-production with interiors specialist Vitra, this OLED display bridges the divide between furniture and flatscreens.

Designer Daniel Rybakken told Inside CI that he hoped the interiors industry would embrace the concept, and pioneer new ways to utilise the display. When in standby, the panel can be used almost as a lighting feature, with coloured washes and ambient treatments.

The good news for integrators is that this innovative display doesn’t come with any onboard audio, meaning that there’s a real opportunity to provide equally invisible sound systems (no one is going to want to use this display with something as crass as a soundbar), be they invisible plaster-over speakers or architectural in-wall/in-ceiling loudspeakers.

Panasonic also showed the astonishing potential offered by dual layer LCD. Its prototype MegaCon monitor is intended to find a role as a client monitor in mastering suites. The Panasonic manufactured module combines a 4K outer panel with a monochrome inner panel, which is used to modulate the direct LED backlight.

By utilizing a dual LCD layer, it can deliver a black level performance similar OLED, with comparable shadow detail, but it also has the ability to sustain 1000 nits of HDR brightness indefinitely. Contrast ratio is rated at1,000,000:1, with99 per cent DCI P3 colour standard coverage.

There’s currently no launch date for MegaCon, but we would expect to see it adopted in 2020 by Panasonic’s existing Hollywood partners.

Transparent Oled

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Hisense Dual Lcd

While MegaCon isn’t intended for consumer use, other TV vendors are planning to launch dual layer screen solutions. Hisense previewed just such a screen, the ULED XD, comprising 4k outer panel coupled to a 1080p monochrome panel.

Hisense also showed a 21:9 ratio LED LCD, and introduced a new smart platform SKU in association with Roku.

Roku CEO Anthony Wood used his keynote to outline his vision of how online streaming will increasingly dominate the TV experience, and announced his company’s expansion to the UK, with plans to move to other European countries as well. Roku technology powers one third of all set-top boxes in the United States.

The Roku Hisense proposition will likely go head to head with the first Amazon Fire TV Edition smart TVs, produced in a partnership with Currys PC World using its JVC brand license. The low cost Fire TV screens will support HDR10 and Dolby Vision, and have Freeview Play tuners.

Representing high-end home theatre at the show was IMAX Enhanced. A joint venture between IMAX Corp and DTS, IMAX Enhanced is an ambitious certification initiative which covers high-end TVs, AV receivers and surround sound processors. Significantly, it also uses proprietary software encoding and mastering program to produce superior 4K image quality.

IMAX Enhanced content will primarily come via streaming services. Owner Xperi has recently inked a deal with European operator Rakuten TV.

IMAX Enhanced software releases are mastered using proprietary post production software, to minimise noise in the 4K encoding process, with audio delivered using the DTS:X platform.

Inside CI enjoyed a selection of movie clips in the format and was excited by the cinematic, visceral nature of the presentation. IMAX audio is particularly interesting. A metadata flag is recognised by an IMAX Enhanced processor, automatically optimising settings (including adjusting the crossover, for a beefier bass response).

IFA Executive Director Jens Heithecker said he was hugely impressed by the level of innovation at this year’s show. "As the number of exhibitors has grown, so did the quality and quantity of innovations as well as the number of product premieres that were shown in Berlin for the first time."

Steve May

Inside CI Editor Steve May is a freelance technology journalist, who also writes for T3, TechRadar, Home Cinema Choice and ERT (amongst others).

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