Posted Wed Jan 28, 2015 at 10:15 AM PST by Steven Cohen
We're now about one month into a brand new year, and you know what that means, right? A whole slew of new resolutions for your life... and your TV! While you might be planning to lose some weight or finally finish that novel of yours, we all know that the only resolution in 2015 that really matters is Ultra HD. Earlier this month, the industry held its annual Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, Nevada. Packed with all of the latest gear and gadgets from Sony, Samsung, LG, Panasonic, and more, the show has effectively set the stage for all of the major home theater products and technology that we can expect to see throughout the next 12 months and beyond.
So, just what are the latest electronics advancements and industry trends for 2015? With quantum dots, high dynamic range, object-based mixing, and the continued expansion of 4K displays and content, this looks like a very promising year for home theater enthusiasts, even if there still are a few less than exciting gimmicks and quirks to overcome.
Below, we've broken down all of the major announcements, trends, and upcoming tech, highlighting what customers can expect to get from their HD gear in 2015. We might not have hover boards, flying cars, or holographic movie theaters yet, but a 77-inch flexible Ultra HD OLED TV is certainly a step in the right direction.
Since their mainstream debut in 2013, Ultra HD TVs have had a decidedly rocky start, but things have been steadily improving. Initial models were released before the industry even decided upon a finalized spec for the technology, leaving first generation sets without support for HDMI 2.0 and HEVC decoding. Likewise, early adopters were left without much in the way of actual 4K content, essentially wasting all of those extra pixels.
But the industry has come a long way in two years, and we've now finally reached the Ultra HD tipping point. At CES, new 4K displays fueled most of the major players' big announcements, and traditional HDTVs were practically put out to pasture. For those looking to purchase a high-end TV in 2015, Ultra HD is now poised to be the new TV standard. Thankfully, the models are only improving in picture quality and features, and a growing collection of 4K media is now joining the never-ending slew of upcoming Ultra HD TVs.
Proprietary 4K delivery products from Sony and Samsung are still being offered, and now there are Ultra HD options from Netflix, Amazon Instant Video, UltraFlix, M-Go, Comcast, DISH, DirecTV, and more. And while the spec is still being finalized, Ultra HD Blu-ray is on the way with a tentative launch slated for late 2015 or early 2016. Panasonic even showed off a prototype Ultra HD Blu-ray player at the show, although reports indicate that the device was really little more than a non-functioning box... for now.
With the death of plasma and the relatively slow emergence of OLED, LCDs remain the reigning champs of TV panel technology. But there's always room for improvement, right? Over the years, we've seen big advancements in detail thanks to 4K panels, but resolution is only part of the equation for a great TV, and now manufacturers are taking LCDs even further with significant improvements in contrast, brightness, and color. To achieve these upgrades, companies are relying on several new methods.
First up, are quantum dots. Quantum dots work by using nano-crystals that emit different colors when exposed to light depending on their size. When the dots are placed on a film over an LCD backlight, they allow the panel to produce higher brightness and more realistic colors. This lets TVs with quantum dots support expanded color gamuts beyond the traditional Rec. 709 color space. As an alternative to quantum dots, manufacturers have also revealed another technique to achieve expanded colors. This method is called Wide Color LED and it works by using different phosphor-based LEDs to create a similar improvement in color depth and realism.
In addition to expanded colors, 2015 will also see the emergence of LCD panels that can support high dynamic range images. This technology allows TVs to display greatly enhanced brightness levels resulting in improved contrast between dark and light aspects of an image, bringing out realistic details and highlights -- like the sun reflecting off of an ocean -- like never before.
Unfortunately, while many companies like Samsung, Sony, and LG all showed off their own uniquely branded implementations of expanded colors and HDR at CES, there is no clear universal standard for these features. With that in mind, it remains unclear if all of these competing methods and proprietary technologies will be compatible or interchangeable with one another. Thankfully, many of the industry's heavyweights -- including Dolby, LG, Netflix, Panasonic, Samsung, Sharp, Sony, Technicolor, Disney, Twentieth Century Fox and Warner Brothers -- have all teamed up to form the UHD Alliance to help maintain evolving standards related to 4K, HDR, and expanded colors. Hopefully this collaboration will ensure some level of compatibility between the various brands.
Of course, having a TV that can support these improvements is meaningless if you don't have actual content created with expanded colors and HDR. On this front, Dolby is working hard to ensure seamless integration of both technologies for content creators and display manufacturers with the company's Dolby Vision process. Through a partnership with Warner Bros. the first Dolby Vision titles have already been announced. Likewise, Netflix has announced plans to offer 4K HDR content as well, Samsung is working with Fox to author titles that support its own high dynamic range process, and the upcoming Ultra HD Blu-ray spec is also expected to include HDR and expanded colors.
Love them or hate them, curved-screen TVs appear to be sticking around for the foreseeable future (though, not if VIZIO has anything to say about them). Samsung seems to be the most enthusiastic supporter of this contoured design choice and the company highlighted several new curved-screen models at CES. In addition, both Samsung and LG showed off sets that can actually transition from curved to flat with the press of a button.
But despite the trend, not everyone is so keen to flaunt their curves. In fact, Sony decided to lose the extra flash entirely in order to highlight a different design philosophy altogether: ultra-thin bezels. With the company's 4.9 mm thin floating style XBR displays, Sony is offering its thinnest TVs to date, giving the rest of the competition some severe body image issues.
Serving as the lone OLED wolf in the TV industry, LG has once again renewed its commitment to the incredibly impressive but expensive technology. The company announced a whole collection of new 4K models at CES in a variety of sizes including 55, 65, and 77-inch models as well as flat, curved, and even flexible options.
Likewise, LG even demoed a prototype OLED TV capable of high dynamic range images. With infinite black levels, and now comparable brightness levels to an LCD set, this prototype once again proves that OLED holds a lot of potential for the future of the industry. Now, if only those prices could go down...
With the arrival of Dolby Atmos back in September everyone knew that it was only a matter of time before rival audio giant DTS decided to step into the object-based mixing ring. The company has officially announced their own next generation audio codec, dubbed DTS:X. Like Atmos, DTS:X does away with traditional channel based mixing in favor of representing each sound as an individual audio object in a virtual environment, allowing for scalable audio set-ups and the addition of overhead speakers.
It remains to be seen just how much DTS:X will differ from Atmos (if at all), but DTS did show off a unique dialogue control feature at CES. Support from major manufacturers like Anthem, Denon, Integra, Krell, Marantz, McIntosh, Onkyo, Outlaw Audio, Pioneer, Steinway Lyngdorf, Theta Digital, Trinnov Audio, and Yamaha has been confirmed but no products or supported movies have been revealed yet. More details will be announced in March when the codec is expected to launch.
Beyond new codecs, the world of home audio is also primed to receive lots of new gadgets. Among the upcoming products, is the newest version of Sony's famous portable audio device, the Walkman. This premium model supports digital music and high resolution files. Of course, the 21st century upgrade comes with a hefty price tag, as Sony is expected to launch the Walkman NW-ZX2 for about $1,280.
In addition to the new Walkman, Sony placed an overarching emphasis on high resolution audio playback for all of its upcoming flagship audio gear, including new headphones, portable amplifiers, receivers, and soundbars. And Panasonic also joined the premium audio party with the return of its Technics hi-fi audio brand.
Last but certainly not least, 2015 will also see the continued growth of internet TV options for set-top boxes and streaming media players, providing customers with specialized content platforms. The big news out of CES was the arrival of DISH's Sling TV online service which is set to offer live channel playback and on-demand content from networks like ESPN, TNT, TBS, Cartoon Network, Disney Channel, ABC Family and CNN for just $20 per month.
Likewise, other networks like CBS have already launched their own streaming platforms, and HBO has announced plans to offer a stand-alone streaming option later this year. Thanks to more and more cord-cutting alternatives to cable and satellite, the industry is moving closer and closer to a true "a la carte" system that could allow customers to pay only for the channels and programming that they actually want to watch.
With Ultra HD, HDR, expanded color, object-based mixing, high-res audio, and streaming TV, 2015 is poised to be an exciting time for new gear technology. As long as electronics manufacturers can agree upon universal standards, these advancements will help create a new level of immersion in home theaters, and a new hole in home theater enthusiasts' pockets.
Time will tell what technologies end up leaving a lasting impression but, for now, what do you think about the year's upcoming gear products and industry trends? What advancements are you most excited about?
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