In-depth analysis: CEDIA Expo 2016 and IFA 2016 reveal the trends to look out for

posted on Saturday, 17th September 2016 by Steve May

4K  CEDIA EXPO  High Res Audio  HDR  IFA 2016 

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As the dust settles on CEDIA in Dallas and the Berlin IFA 2016 show, the future of High-Res entertainment and smart home technology is beginning to look a little clearer. But what do these two super-shows tell us about CI and technology developments on each side of the pond?

When it comes to 4K UHD TV, there’s clearly a groundswell of support for OLED. At IFA Loewe introduced its 65-inch Bild 7, while Philips offered the 55-inch Ambilight 55POS901F. Panasonic also teased a new OLED prototype (pictured below), scheduled for a proper introduction around CES 2017. Panasonic European Marketing Manager for TV, Craig Cunningham, told Inside CI that engineers were working on improving OLED’s near black response. “We can make a real difference in picture quality,” he promised.

Panasonic Oled

Philips OLED

In the US, CEDIA attendees saw OLED pioneer LG unveil its 77-inch top-end Signature OLED77G6P model. Priced at $19,999 it joins the brand’s existing 65- and 55-inch screens. Like all the other LG 4K OLEDS, it supports HDR10 and Dolby Vision, and became available for pre-order immediately after the show closed.

While 4K UHD and HDR continue to be hot water cooler topics, the scene in the UK seems to settling down faster. HDR10 has real traction, with little awareness for Dolby Vision, while the imminent inclusion of HLG (Hybrid Log-Gamma) into the DVB specification provides most display manufacturers with a clear roadmap to follow over the next 12 months.

The LG booth at IFA provided a variety of fascinating TV technical demonstrations, including different HDR implementations. Perhaps the most fascinating was Hybrid Log-Gamma HDR running at variable bitrates and High Frame Rates, up to 100fps, from satellite via Astra and over IP.

What’s more, the broadcast overhead for all this tech doesn’t look too high. A stream of 3840x2160p at 100fps running HDR and HLG was coming in at just 25mbps.

IMG_0378 (1)

Panasonic HLG

While no 4K screens currently support HDR and HFR, an LG spokesperson told Inside CI that there was no technical reason why these could not be developed quickly as the market case for commercialisation gets stronger. The quality of the HFR HDR demonstrations was undeniable, with motion on sports footage looking cleaner and more naturalistic than any interpolated high frame rate technology we’ve seen on screens so far.

Panasonic and Samsung were also running HLG UHD demonstrations at IFA, the former in conjunction with Sky Deutschland (pictured above). Samsung says all its 2017 HDR models will be firmware upgradable to HLG. 

Inevitably, Samsung was one major brand not eulogising OLED. “The origin of the next TV begins with Quantum Dot,” declared Visual Display VP Michael Zoller, insisting: “Light created with QD is brighter, has better colour and is more power efficient.” 

Samsung used IFA to launch a 10 year screen burn-in warranty for TV buyers. The company says market research indicated that screen burn remains a concern for consumers, but says its Quantum Dot TVs are immune. This prompted LG to announce its OLED screens are now rated at 100,000-hours to half brightness.

Sasmung Serif

Samsung Gaming

David Lowes, Samsung’s Chief Marketing Officer, used his IFA keynote to stress just how important Europe is to the Samsung brand. “We are a technology and design company,” he declared, “and Europe influences Samsung. Our Serif TV (pictured) was designed by French designers. We employ 14000 people in Europe. We spend €30m on R&D globally ever single day.” One in three families watched the Rio Olympics on a Samsung TV, he added. “Over the last three years we’ve grown five times faster than the industry average when it comes to appliances.”

While Samsung didn’t revise its TV range at IFA (that will come as CES), it did introduce two high-end gaming monitors, the first to use Quantum Dot technology, the 1500R and GFG70 (above).

Home cinema projection is moving steadily toward a 4K future. There was clear evidence of this in Dallas. Sony has been the only real player in the game for some time, but the long awaited arrival of Texas Instruments DLP 4K chips is getting nearer. First teased at CES, Sim2 and Digital Projection are hoping to be early beneficiaries.

Digital Projection says it is planning to release a single chip 4K projector, the E-Vision laser 4K, expected to sell for around $20,000.  It will be joined by a three-chip DLP projector, the Highlite Laser 4K (yours for around $45,000). They’re likely to appear first quarter 2017.

Barco is also hoping to annex some of the ultra high-end market, with a proprietary 4K projector, the $60,000 Loki.  Visitors to IFA would already have seen the first JVC native 4K projector, the BluEscent DLA-Z1. In the US, Epson offered an early look at its uprated laser faux-4K projector, the LS10500. The model launches in November at a highly competitive £6000. However it didn't show this at IFA. Instead the company demonstrated its new 4K-ish lamp range (pictured below).

IMG_0591 (1)

Sony Signature

Hi-Fi is charting again.Technics made a strong showing at IFA, with a glorious array of high-end Hi-Fi. According to the brand, the company has now sold out its limited edition SLG-1200GAE turntable.

A look at both shows revealed some key differences between Sony’s US and European strategies. At CEDIA it announced more AV receivers, positioned below its ES flagship, the STR-ZA5000ES. Incoming are the STR-ZA3100ES, STR-ZA2100ES, and STR-ZA1100ES. All support 4K HDR and have Dolby Atmos and DTS:X codec support. They feature a raft of functionality and plenty of CI control support. However we’ll be surprised if any of these models make it to the UK. Sony here has demonstrated no real appetite for the home theatre AVR market. It even declined to range the STR-DN1070, a mainstream Hi-Res Audio model earlier this year, instead leaving last year’s model in situ. The message is sound bars are better for business.

By way of contrast, Sony’s IFA audio push centred around a new Signature line of High Res Audio personal audio components. Incoming is a high-end headphone amp, the €2000 TA-ZH1ES, along with two premium Walkman models, the €3300 NW-WM1Z and €1200 NW-WM1A, and the studio-grade €2200 MDR-Z1R headphones. Sony also introduced the £330 MDR-1000X, a new high-performance Bluetooth noise-cancelling headphone, with fancy control functionality.

There was no talk of 4K Blu-ray, either, although Sony did have an unlabelled player chassis on its stand. This was named as the UBP-X1000ES at CEDIA, although it’s not clear if that nomenclature will be used in Europe. We’ll learn more when the player launches early 2017.

Meanwhile, Oppo was previewing its debut UHD Blu-ray player at CEDIA. The UDP-203 has the same enviable build-quality as regular Oppo machines and features twin HDMI outputs, ports plus one HDMI loop through, 7.1 analogue outputs, optical and coaxial digital audio outputs, USB, Ethernet and integrated Wi-Fi. It’s expected to retail stateside for around $500. No news yet on a UK release.

LG Fridge

Smart home systems are getting easier to use - and install. One CEDIA debutant that will doubtless make it to the UK though is the URC MX HomePro, a new cloud-based smart home control system. It offers users simplified control of home entertainment and IoT smart home devices, like thermostats, lighting and security cameras.

MX HomePro is intended to be quick to install and program. There’s an MX HomePro Mobile app for smartphone control, while installers can use the MX HomePro to manage and maintain the system remotely. The H500 Smart Hub connects devices via Wi-Fi or Ethernet, while the R500 Wi-Fi Smart Remote Control, with 2-inch colour LCD, provides a dedicated remote option. There’s also the URC Z-Wave Gateway TRF-ZW2 which controls all Z-Wave-based lights, thermostats, door locks, and security cameras.

Kitchen appliances are finally getting connected. Finally, IFA had a strong showing of networkable kitchen appliances, from interactive displays on fridge freezers from Samsung and LG (pictured above), to an entire smart kitchen ecosystem prototype from Panasonic, including a laundry folding robot!

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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