CES 2018 Show Report Day 1 Coverage
I began my day with a 45-minute bus ride to the Las Vegas Convention Center. It was only a four-mile trip. If that doesn’t give you an idea of the chaos that is CES, I don’t know what will. My first appointment was with LG which is conveniently located by one of the entrances to the hall. They usher all visitors through a tunnel made entirely from OLED panels, bent in all sorts of shapes. My guide informed me that over eight billion pixels were represented by the display, amazing!
Their main focus for 2018 OLED TVs is a new processor, the A9 which combines CPU and GPU functions on a single chip. To combat banding, often seen in heavily-compressed content, they are using a high bit-depth lookup table to up-convert the incoming signal. Their demo shows two screens, one above the other, with unprocessed and processed signals. The improvement in picture quality is obvious. I also saw better motion resolution and fewer artifacts in sharp transitions. The new algorithms should also improve color saturation by reducing the effects of compression. This will have its greatest impact on streamed content which LG brings in by way of its WebOS interface. You saw an example of it in my review of the HU80JA projector I published a few weeks ago.
Speaking of projectors, the line gets two new additions with the HU80KA and HF85JA displays. Both use a laser light engine for 20,000 hours of maintenance-free service. The HU comes in a unique chassis that stands up like a little kiosk and bounces the image off a flip-up mirror. Or you can lay it down and fold the lid under for a more conventional installation. The image is produced by a DLP running at Ultra HD resolution. It also supports HDR and has a wide color gamut. The HF85JA is a short-throw model that can create a 120” picture from just 8” away. Both displays offer great flexibility and a built-in WebOS streaming interface. Or you can connect traditional sources to one of the two HDMI inputs.
LG also makes traditional LCD TVs and this year, they’re showing an all-new full-array backlit line. They’re calling it NanoCell, which translates to, “the number of backlight zones isn’t specified.” I got the same line from Sony at CEDIA so I suspect it’s a similar panel. The bottom line is, better HDR, better contrast, and a wider color gamut.
Here is LG’s OLED tunnel. Here it is from the entrance. The people in the foreground help show the scale of this structure. It’s amazing that this can be built as a temporary display, then broken down and hauled away.
RCA is a storied brand which has existed for nearly one hundred years. Their televisions aren’t as well-known these days but they have some very affordable models ranging from 50 to 70 inches. You can find an Ultra HD panel for a good bit less than $1000 in big-box stores like Wal-Mart. It was hard to gauge their performance at the booth but the reps I spoke to are eager to have review coverage. I’ll be checking out their displays in upcoming articles this spring. They also have a line of affordable projectors. One even had a DVD player built in. That’s something else I’ll be checking out very soon.
They showed me a newly-integrated version of the Roku interface which is super-cool. As much as I’ve been impressed with the proprietary operating systems from the major manufacturers, they still don’t measure up to Roku or Apple TV in my opinion. It’s unlikely we’ll ever see Cupertino bundling its software in a mainstream display but Amazon seems more than willing. I saw it in other brands’ displays too like Philips and Hisense.
Later this year, RCA will be shipping a curved television. I thought that experiment had withered on the vine after LG dropped theirs and Samsung reduced its commitment to fewer models. But there is still one place where that curve is cool – gaming. If you are an enthusiast, there is no better way to play games than up close with a curved screen. For proof, check out the computer monitor market. It’s full of curved ultra-wide (21:9) and standard 16:9 screens in a variety of radii from subtle to extreme. RCA might be able to take advantage of the niche left open by the more mainstream brands.
You might be wondering about Hisense. Aren’t they one of those fringe brands sold only in wholesale clubs? As it turns out, they are the largest television manufacturer in China and they sell TVs all over the world. The US market is new for them however and they’re here at CES in a big way. Their booth is impressively large and they look like an experienced company. It’s another new maker I’m looking forward to reviewing. And I think they are looking for more coverage. I first saw them at CEDIA showing the Laser TV. This is a short-throw projector that incorporates Harman Kardon speakers and a wireless subwoofer along with a light-rejecting screen. It puts a 100-inch TV in your living room for $10,000 installed. Now they have 88” and 80” versions and a mammoth 150” model with two color wheels which provides an extended color gamut.
Their TVs are extremely impressive. One HDR model I looked at boasts 2000nits peak brightness. When I saw it, I didn’t doubt that claim. It is searingly bright. It also has some of the best HDR I’ve seen outside an OLED panel thanks to a 1000-zone full-array backlight. That’s not a typo, 1000 zones. And it incorporates quantum dot tech for a wide color gamut. We’ll see that, and a whole host of other displays by spring. And hopefully, my test bench will too.
This retro-styled panel caught my eye. It’s a standard LCD with actual working dials and a speaker on one side. I must admit, it brought me back a little. I still remember when I bought my first TV that included a remote control. It wasn’t as long ago as you might think.
I also saw a prototype panel with 8K resolution. Now this is nothing new but to see it in person, running native content is impressive. Words and photos can’t do it justice. The detail is simply staggering. Their demo material showed lots of super-fine textures that you won’t even see in the best Ultra HD material. I couldn’t get a ship date on that one but it’s at least a year away.
Using a TV as art is still a neat idea and Hisense obviously thinks so too. Their prototype does a nice job of blending in with actual paintings in the demo I saw. Marry it with a nice frame and you might be able to fool your friends!
Philips is another brand that has been around forever but is less well-known in the US TV market. Nonetheless, they offer a full line of flat panel displays that feature Ultra HD, HDR, and extended color. There are two lines that come in sizes up to 75” with full-array backlights and Philips’ own NetTV streaming interface. It includes Netflix and other major carriers though Amazon is the one notable omission.
Last year, they were among the first to ship an Ultra HD Blu-ray player and they haven’t rested on their laurels. I saw two new players here that add streaming capabilities and a slim design.
A truly unique product is Philips’ Kitchen TV. Many of us remember that small screen on the counter, sometimes with an integrated VCR or DVD player. Philips brings that concept into the Internet age with its Google Assistant connection. Not only can you talk to the TV, it will display your search results right on the screen. Those cooking with Google’s help won’t have to listen to spoken recipes any longer. The speaker that forms the TV’s base has Bluetooth so you can stream content while you make dinner. It seems like something that every company would do but as far as I can see, Philips is the only one. And they have worked closely with Google to ensure a seamless experience.
If you thought HDR needed one more flavor, your prayers have been answered – by Technicolor. Their version of HDR has just been added to the approved format list by the Blu-ray Disc Association. Expect to see discs with the new encodes about a year from now. Philips is already supporting it in soon-to-ship displays, shown here in a side-by-side comparison. The big draw is that it’s suitable for broadcast so we’re likely to see sports and other premium content showing up in Technicolor HDR before too long. It’s completely adaptable so if you have an SDR display, the content will still appear, just without the added dynamic range.
Some of you will know Dirac Live from its inclusion in Emotiva surround processors. But they have added substantially to their list of OEMs since first appearing in 2011. Most notable, NAD provides it in their latest AVRs, the T 777 V3 and T 758 V3 which I just received for review.
I don’t have any pictures to show you but in a few weeks, you’ll see some cool charts from the Dirac software that ships with the NAD. I spent some quality time with a rep from Dirac and got an extremely technical explanation of how it works. In a nutshell, previous room correction systems like Audyssey worked by flattening frequency response to remove nulls and peaks caused by speakers’ interaction with the room. Dirac takes the next logical step and corrects phase issues. This is what determines the size and depth of the soundstage. Fixing the frequency response means you’ll hear all the detail in a balanced fashion. Correcting phase will take the room out of the equation and give you all the spaciousness present in the original recording.
I heard an excellent demo played from an NAD T 758 on mid-priced B&W speakers. The source was analog output from a smartphone playing Spotify. In other words, the material was about as bad as it could be. Without Dirac, it sounded like it came from a small tube in between the speakers. The detail was there but the soundstage was so tiny, it seemed like the phone was playing the music rather than the speakers. Switching Dirac on was transformative. It opened up like those giant doors leading into Jurassic Park. I was shocked at the difference. I asked for some orchestra material and was obliged by a decent performance of Carmina Burana. From the compressed stream, I would have expected mushy strings and distant winds & brass but Dirac truly improved the sound to where I would have believed I was hearing a Redbook CD at least. Needless, to say, I’m looking forward to starting my NAD review when I return home.
ELAC Argo-B51 powered bookshelf speakers
HifiMan Sundara headphones
Paradigm 3F speakers and STR power amplifier
HIFIMAN always has near gear to share with us at shows, and this year’s CES was no exception. Their featured new products come at both ends of the spectrum, with their new Sundara coming in at a $499 retail price point. These look great, are very comfortable, and yes…they sounded fantastic as well. These will be a real bargain at this price point, and we should be receiving review samples very soon that we will share with the readers of SECRETS. At the other end of the market, they were giving private demos of their upcoming Shangri-La Jr headphone / amp kit. While their current Shangri-La rig won our 2017 Audio Xtreme Product of the Year Award, it comes in at $50,000. But with the Jr. model, you get much of that trickle-down technology for $8,000. The setup we listened to was still pre-production, but according to HIFIMAN, it’s very close to being a finished product. When I sat down to listen to a handful of tracks on these headphones, I didn’t want to get up. Stellar sound quality to say the least.
In the Anthem / Paradigm rooms, they were showing off their new STR Power Amplifier and Preamplifier. The all new STR Power Amplifier provides 400 watts/channel into 8 Ohms with both channels driven, 600 watts/channel into 4 Ohms, and 800 watts/channel at 2 Ohms. In addition to the massive power output, the STR also boasts some extremely cool graphic front panel display with power meters. The STR Power Amplifier retails for $5,999. The matching STR Preamplifier retails for $3,999, and offers Anthem Room Correction, bass management for two subwoofers in mono or stereo, up-sampling of lower-resolution sources to 32-bit / 192kHz, an analog direct mode, and a great feature that more manufacturers should offer on their 2-channel preamps…a Home Theater Bypass Mode! When paired with their Persona 3F speakers ($10,000/pair), the sound was big, bold, and dynamic.
Despite the fact that there really wasn’t much “new” in the Mark Levinson / Revel room, it’s just not a complete show without taking some time to sit down and enjoy the music! The big announcement is actually with one of their older products…the Revel Salon 2 speakers. They have made a few slight tweaks to the aesthetics of the speaker, and they are also now offering them in a selection of custom colors. We got the opportunity to see more of them in a static display at a private showing yesterday, and we were quite impressed with the new finishes they are offering that will be available very soon. Why no changes to the working parts of the mighty Salons? Because even after 10 years, they are still truly reference speakers. I never get tired of listening to these, particularly when driven by a big rack of Mark Levinson electronics. For this display, they were using the 519 Audio Player, 515 Turntable, 526 preamplifier, and 536 mono block amplifiers. Once again, true reference class components and performance! Also of note is that they will be offering custom colors in the Studio and the new F228’s as well.