Home entertainment displays major improvements at CE Week conference

ScreenerBlog

“No, darling. Let’s stay home and watch…”

With home TV displays (aka panels, screens or television sets to those who remember black-and-white) getting better and better, might the familiar movie line above be uttered more often by film fans come Friday or Saturday evenings? Such was the question prompted by a visit to New York’s recent annual CE (Consumer Electronics) Week Exhibits and Conferences at Chelsea’s adjoining Metropolitan Pavilion and Altman Building, where the latest in digital gizmos, gadgets, accouterments and other state-of-the-art (and state-of-confusion) electronic consumer products were showcased.

If you ask former TV engineer Robert Zohn about the very latest in displays and their advances since only last year, you better sit down. Zohn, who founded and runs Value Electronics, a large tri-state audio-video retailer and A-V entertainment systems designer based in New York’s wealthy Scarsdale suburb, was at CE Week, where he again staged his “Value Electronics TV Shootout.” This event, held for any interested CE attendees, chillin’ couch potatoes and experts, affords a look at a handful of the most advanced and popular 4K TVs (e.g., LG, Samsung, Sony, Vizio) and asks participants to vote on nine key attributes of the various displays (black quality, color accuracy, sharpness, HDR/WCG, etc.). HDR and WCG refer respectively to high dynamic range and wide color gamut, the major upgrades brought to the displays since last year.

Displays used for this event are on the large side, in the 65 to 75” range. Last year’s winner was a curved LG OLED display, but the LED-LCD Samsung and Sony models in the competition were close behind. OLED stands for the Organic Light Emitting Diode display technology, which allows each panel pixel to provide its own illumination; pixels in the LCD displays are illuminated by an LED backlight. Results of this year’s CE shootout again had the LG OLED getting the most votes. Detailed results for all competing displays are available at ValueElectronics.com.

Referring to HDR and WCG, Zohn says, “This year, we’re dealing with a big new TV system.” With understandable delight and occasional un-understandable lapses into geeky technology (although discouraged by a plain-talkin’ reporter), he shared details of these advances, which “now make home screens better than what movie theaters can offer.” Yikes, might say those who remember Jack Benny or “Million Dollar Movie” on their old tubes.

The news was a little startling, even considering its potentially biased source, though Zohn looks every bit as honest as the day (or a salesman’s spiel) is long. Displaying his engineering background and an unabashed appreciation of what the home displays can now deliver, he explained the new developments behind this year’s “big” improvements. Loosely described, these include better picture quality regarding color, brightness/pop, purer blacks, purer whites.

What Zohn is talking about and what can now be purchased are next-generation display systems benefiting most from the HDR (high dynamic range) that has already been going to the movies but now finally also goes home.

HDR, he says, now gives home viewers the wide color gamut that means better color saturation, detail, fidelity and availability of too many color shades to even count (Zohn says in the millions, if not billions). He gets to the point: “HDR means that we now have DCI [Digital Cinema Initiatives] standards in the home for the first time,” these being the standards that SMPTE and the Hollywood studios have been working on since the early 2000s.

Another major advance that has recently come to displays, he continues, is EOTF, which stands for Electro-Optical Transfer Function. By describing how to turn digital code words into visible light, EOTF is meant to bring accuracy and conformity to “reference” displays used by professionals who work with color (artists, technicians, et al.) during the various pre-release processes of capture and correction. The problem was there was insufficient uniformity or consistency in dealing with color and this affected its “trueness.” Now EOTF allows color and contrast to be dealt with accurately.

Put more simply for average viewers and the plain talkin’, EOTF equates to an image that matches the human visual system, or how people really see things with the human eye.

This year’s display advances—amounting to about four major changes—are seismic, he maintains. Underscoring his point, he likens these upgrades to the biggest enhancements for TVs since “we went from analog to digital in 1998 and as significant as the 1951 advance from black-and-white to color.” (Maybe a relief to some, he leaves out the historic late-’20s transition from silents to sound.)

Which brings us to content. (What are razors without blades?) Martin Mbogho, who is global electronics giant B&H sales manager for displays, etc. says that while programming is available that can take advantage of the new bells and whistles and continues to grow and grow, more is needed for this new generation of displays to really turn the corner. This will happen, but who knows when?

For now, much of the high-end, 4K programming comes from Blu-ray discs and through streaming platforms like Netflix, Amazon, YouTube and the like. Titles are continually being added and better sound capabilities too (Dolby Atmos, DTS-X, etc.) are on the increase for software and high-end displays. Parties interested in all these improvements should also be reminded that the new displays keep getting lighter and are capable of giving a more 4K-like picture to programming not captured as 4K.

And a nice surprise for many: Costs for the latest/greatest aren’t scary/crazy. Remember when a really tiny OLED screen went for something like $12,000 a few years ago? Now, and without plugging a brand, an amazingly gorgeous 49-inch OLED display can be had for a couple thou and change.

Homebodies with both older and newer displays might want to add media players like Apple TV and Roku, among others, to their system. But the only media devices that support state-of-the-art 4K HDR are the 4K Blu-ray players that can play the new 4K HDR discs (more and more are hitting the market) and can stream Netflix, Amazon Video, VUDU and YouTube in 4K with HDR where the content is available. (But what kind of deadbeats need all this content?)

For the time being, Mbogho sees no big technical improvements for displays on the horizon, as this year has introduced so many enhancements. What he does suspect for the future in homes is, yes, VR (virtual reality), as “there will be much more filming in 360-degree video.”

So what does the ever-improving in-home TV experience mean to theatres? Praising like others the Dolby Vision theatre experience, Zohn suggests that “it might make sense for theatres to build out more Dolby Vision screens” like the one at Manhattan’s AMC complex on 42nd Street and the handful of others.

Going a less expensive route and with seemingly no need to hit any panic buttons, recall that radio didn’t displace TV, nor did TV or VCRs or DVD players displace traditional TV or theatre-going. And don’t most of us still listen to radios and many still spin vinyls? As for DVRs, media players, streaming, new businesses crossing over into content creation…well, you get the blurry picture speeding by at 2,000 frames per second. (Whoever said “the more things change, the more they stay the same” should be sent to the principal’s office.)

For now, what we all know is that as long as an increasingly obscene amount of content continues to pour forth, screens everywhere and every which way will get eyeballs. And might more comfort come from knowing that B&H’s Mbogho, who knows what’s best to buy and can get it at the best insider price, hasn’t upgraded his home entertainment equipment in eight years?