Letter from America: “We’re halfway there”

65-inch UHD Rollable OLED Display unrolling at LG's stand at CES 2018
Depending on how far up it is extended, LG’s Rollable OLED can work at different aspect ratios without masking

In last month’s Letter the question was posed, “Are we there yet?” As this is being written, the answer is “No, we’re not there yet, but we’re more than halfway. CES is over and we’ve dried out, recovered from the obligatory “CES Cold,” and getting rested up for ISE to start in February.

Most of us have also had a chance to sit back and reflect on what was shown in Las Vegas as a guide as to what to look for in Amsterdam. Some of the anticipated things were shown. Sony, Samsung, LG, Sharp and others came to CES with 8K displays, and the video was certainly impressive. No, other than vague comments there still isn’t any hard data on exact, go-to-market availability and pricing. However, they are coming perhaps soon than might otherwise have been expected.

That said, a few observations form CES that will be worth checking on while roaming the aisles at ISE. First, other than the promise of continues tests and broadcasts in Japan during the 2020 Summer Olympics, there is unlikely to be any 8K content available via streaming, broadcast, satellite or physical media. Yes, there are 8K cameras and camcorders; I’ve seen the Red and a (broadcast) 8K camcorder from Sharp was shown at CES. However, the expense of the storage and workflow infrastructure needed is just a tad expensive for producers still trying to get 4K content in wide use.

8K shows promise

SHarp 8K model TV on show at CES 2018

Even then, how would one connect 8K content from source through receivers to the end sink display. Ah, you say, HDMI 2.1 will take care of that. Yes, it will – eventually. Despite all the noise and announcements at CES, the almost unanimous consensus from everyone I asked about this was “Sure, we’ll see it in 2019.” Use that as an answer to part of the “Are we there yet?” question. Yes, we’re going to get there eventually, but for now we’re only about halfway there.

One thing that did impress overseers about 8K at CES was the quality of the images. And, we’re not just talking about native 8K here, but upscaled 4K content to 8K display, as well. Samsung made a big point of that in their stand. Similarly, Sony showed the same 4K native content on a 4K and an 8K display, the latter using their latest X1 Extreme video processor. Yes, the fact that the content was being shown at an almost blindingly bright 10,000 (yes, you read that correctly, 10,000 nits!) output had something to do with it, but the power of the video processing was key.

“With 4K becoming a commodity item for virtually every set about 40-in, there is a valid question as to ‘how do we differentiate 4K for the high-end client?’”

That leads one to another trend from CES to look for at ISE 2018 and on into the year. With 4K becoming a commodity item for virtually every set about 40-in, there is a valid question as to “how do we differentiate 4K for the high-end client?” The video quality delivered by these new processors is one part of the answer. HDR is the other.

HDR options expand

HDR at CES? Yes, more choices that now become things to look for at ISE. HDR-10 is now just a common base line, with more sets adding Dolby Vision to take advantage of its Dynamic Metadata capability that adjust the image for every scene, or even every frame, rather than the static “once per programme” scheme of HDR-10.

What was on display at CES was an increased presence for the Samsung-developed, but now available as a royalty-free standard, HDR-10+ format. It also uses dynamic metadata, though with 10-bit, rather than 12-bit colour depth capability. Here in the US we’ll see HDR-10+ streaming content from Amazon, movies from 20th Century Fox and Warner Brothers, and a hardware commitment from Panasonic. However, at this point it appears that your choice for a step-up version of HDR remains one or the other, but not both.

One aspect of HDR that did see more multiple format adoption is in the formats designed for single-stream, live content distribution. HLG, jointly developed by the BBC and Japan’s NHK has the lead and some content such as Planet Earth II has already used it. Given that HDR-10, Dolby Vision and HDR-10+ do not compete from an application standpoint with HLG, there were more sets on display with HLG.

Yes, to paraphrase the old cliché, you can never be too rich, too thin, or have too many HDR formats. To that end, CES gave me a chance to see the first real-world demonstration of Advanced HDR by Technicolor. Based on a combination of schemes originally developed by Philips and Technicolor, it showed its prowess with playback of a baseball game recorded last year. The results showed exactly what the benefit of HLG and the Technicolor format is: the ability to present one broadcast, have SDR sets receive it without problem, while the HDR-equipped sets showed the same stream but with significantly improved colour. Definitely, something to be on the lookout for.

Since ISE is very much a commercially-led show, there was one other thing related to HDR that we shown in some stands at CES that you should look for at ISE: DisplayHDR, a format for computer/data monitors being promulgated by VESA, the standards group behind DisplayPort. Even if you deal only with consumer-side clients, this is something you need to know about given the possible confusion from yet one more HDR standard.

It comes in three flavours, DisplayHDR 400, DisplayHDR 600 and DisplayHDR 1000, with numbers relate to the maximum peak luminance of the standard version. Designed for the specific requirements of PC and gaming video, this is an open standard specifying HDR quality luminance, colour gamut, bit depth and rise time. Given that, the most important take-away is that you shouldn’t let it confuse anyone with HDR-10, Dolby Vision and the others mentioned above. It does somewhat the same thing, but for a different market. You’ll see it, hear about it and be asked about it. However, don’t expect to see it in standard consumer video displays or projectors.

“…we saw the first front projectors with Alexa and Android TV capability.”

Speaking of projectors, a few interesting things to note from CES that bear watching at ISE. First, we saw the first front projectors with Alexa and Android TV capability. This is notable for while there have been “Smart TV” models for several years, this is the first time we’ve seen “Smart Projectors” or any with voice control. CES also showed projectors with HDR-10, though none yet with Dolby Vision or any of the other more advanced HDR formats.

Concurrently, there were new short-throw and ultra-short throw projectors at CES, including new models from Sony, LG and Hisense, among others. Continuing a trend from CEDIA 2017, this is a category to watch given the crossover application of “classroom/whiteboard projectors” that will be shown in abundance at ISE, and those configured more for the consumer market.

Standout products for 2018

Finally, every CES has a few products on display that garnered a great deal of news and discussion that are, at least for the moment, out of reach from an immediate commercial standpoint.

Samsung The Wall on display at CES 2018 in Las Vegas

The first of those was “The Wall.” Using microLED technology and a tile-based configuration, Samsung showed it at CES as a 146-in, 4K display. It is self-emissive along the lines of the direct-view LED panels familiar for scoreboard, retail, transportation and large venue applications, The Wall will be the first display to use the microLED technology, presuming that Sony doesn’t announce an in-market date for consumer versions of its Crystal LED (formerly called CLEDIS) that was on display at ISE last year.

This is an up and coming, albeit very expensive, display technology that is not really “there yet”, but we’re on the road and need to look for the signposts.

LG's 65-inch UHD rollable OLED display on show at CES 2018unfurled 65-inch LG UHD rollable OLED Display on show at CES 2018

Finally, showing what was admittedly a prototype, LG Display held off the floor, private, showings of a 65-in rollable OLED. Picture a standard projection screen in a “comes up out of the floor” mounting, but instead of having a screen that then requires a standard front projector, you have a 4K image right off the screen! Even better, depending on how much of the display rolls up you can have a short “banner-sized” display, a 21:9 aspect ratio image, or a full, standard, 16:9 picture.

Note that this is not a bendable display that actually functions when bent around a column; that is a very different type of display. Here, it is something to mostly show the flexibility (no pun intended) of OLED. This may reach the market this year, next year, or perhaps never. This one is barely “there” yet.

As we move into ISE and then through the rest of 2018, it is always worth gauging what you see at one trade show in relation to what you see at the next. Collect the data, see who does what, and when they propose to do it. Then you can see how far down the road a product or technology really is. We’ll do that here as we move past ISE. Let’s see together not if we are “there yet,” but where we are going and how we will get there!

Michael Heiss is a technology consultant and journalist, CEDIA Fellow, CEDIA ESC 2 Certified, and US correspondent for HiddenWires magazine. You can contact Michael via the HiddenWires LinkedIn Group, follow him on Twitter @captnvid, or comment on his article, below.