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CES Takeaways: HDMI 2.1, OLED, Alexa, Dolby Vision, and More

To be honest, this year’s CES was stressful in a way that the other 10-plus shows that I’ve attended haven’t been. Perhaps there were just more exhibitors, or that it was more companies exhibiting in the same category, and though walking the halls of the Sands Expo and Eureka Park were exciting in the past, this year I found them to be a bit overwhelming.

As I write this, I’m sitting in the American Express Centurion Lounge in the McCarran Airport in Las Vegas ready to depart for home, the 2017 International Consumer Electronics Show fresh in my mind (and well remembered in my aching feet!). To be honest, this year’s CES was stressful in a way that the other 10-plus shows that I’ve attended haven’t been. Perhaps there were just more exhibitors, or that it was more companies exhibiting in the same category, and though walking the halls of the Sands Expo and Eureka Park were exciting in the past, this year I found them to be a bit overwhelming. In fact, at one point I texted Residential Systems editorial director, Jeremy Glowacki, saying, “If I had to spend an hour in here I think I’d have a nervous breakdown!”

Even so, there was plenty to see, and a lot of news to report. Undoubtedly, CES is a glimpse into all of our futures, whether we are buying or selling technology, as it points out the trends that will be driving tech in the months and years to come.

So, here’s some of the trends/items/products that really grabbed some of my eye-time.

HDMI 2.1 – Bigger, Stronger, Faster

The HDMI Forum announced the next evolution of the format’s specification, version 2.1. The 2.1 spec includes five major upgrades, including support for higher resolutions and faster refresh rates, 48Gbps bandwidth cable, Dynamic HDR, enhanced Audio Return Channel (eARC), and Game Mode Variable Refresh Rate (VRR).

Essentially the big news is that the 48Gbps transmission will pave the way for 8K/120 and beyond. The extra bandwidth will also handle dynamic HDR formats like Dolby Vision, which can be embedded with metadata to be optimized for each scene or even frame-by-frame. And gamers will appreciate the VRR mode, which is said to reduce game lag, frame stutter, and frame tearing by enabling a 3D graphics processor to display the image at the moment it is rendered without being constrained to a fixed output or frame rate.

No word on when we’ll see this actually coming to products, but probably by next CES.

OLED Continues to be Amazeballs

For years LG has been investing and committing to OLED, and year after year the technology just continues to impress. I talked to nearly all of the big name video reviewers you’d be familiar with, and nearly all of them professed a preference for OLED. The black levels are just stunning, the colors are vibrant, motion handling is terrific, and light output continues to improve. Furthermore, as prices continue to drop, OLED is slated to become the dominant video technology. Also…

Sony Enters OLED

I’m not sure that Sony ever actually used the phrase “OLED killer” when describing its high-end LED panels, but the company certainly played up the strengths of its proprietary technology versus OLED. However, Sony seemed to adopt the, “if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em” philosophy at CES by announcing a new line of OLED displays. It was unclear where exactly the OLED models will fit in to the model lineup, and no pricing was announced, but utilizing Sony’s terrific X1 Extreme video processing, the picture was stunning and definitely something to get excited about.

CLEDIS – Terrible Name, Amazing Display

If the name makes you think of a certain slack-jawed yokel from The Simpsons, then you’re not alone. In fact, trying to speculate on the plural of CLEDIS—CLEDI? CLEDISES?—was the fodder for much amusement at the show. But whatever you want to call it, it looked frickin’ spectacular with incredibly bright whites and pure, rich blacks, and motion handling that was beyond reproach on its 32-foot wide screen, showing 8Kx2K content.

According to Sony, CLEDIS is “a totally new tiling LED Display. Thanks to Sony’s unique visual technology called CLEDIS, we provide a compelling visual experience to all customers who desperately need ‘reality.’” Constructed of panels that are roughly 18×16 inches in size, CLEDIS is the ultimate scalable high-performance video wall and was one of the standouts at the show.

It’s an Alexa World

Amazon continued its voice integration dominance with “works with Alexa” being a common theme at the show. And whether it was a video intercom (Nucleus), a smoke/CO sensor (First Alert), an outdoor speaker (Soundcast), or a set-top box (DISH Hopper), Alexa integration was found in a huge variety of products and systems. The momentum is clearly behind Alexa as the race to add house-wide microphone support for full coverage and integration is coming. If you’ve been on the fence about adopting voice control, now is the time to get onboard the Alexa trolley.

HiSense Goes for Disruption

Year after year, Chinese company HiSense has slowly been increasing its presence and technology dominance at the show, and this year was no exception. While the company’s distribution and name recognition might be limited in the U.S. for now, it owns the distribution rights to Sharp and is continuing to support and update the brand. The exciting news from HiSense at the show was two products at truly disruptive price points. The first was a 65-inch 8K set that features 240 dimming zones and will sell in China for $3,000. The set only displayed static images at the show, but they were packed with tons of micro detail. The second was a 4K ultra-short-throw laser projector slated to come to market for less than $13,000. These items certainly aren’t new but

they are often priced in the $20-30,000 range.

Dolby Vision Gaining Support

While HDR is all the rage in Ultra HD, the most widely adopted—and mandated—format is HDR10. This has been the version of HDR that is supported on every Ultra HD Blu-ray disc to date and found on every HDR-capable TV. For years Dolby has been preaching about its solution, Dolby Vision, which supports up to 10,000 nits peak brightness, up to 12-bit color depth, and the full BT.2020 color space. The big news for Dolby at CES was the announcement of Dolby Vision inclusion on upcoming Ultra HD Blu-ray discs from Warner, Lionsgate, and Universal. Further, three Ultra HD Blu-players (from Oppo, LG, and Philips) will support Dolby Vision. And LG announced that Dolby Vision will be supported throughout its entire OLED lineup, Sony announced Dolby Vision support in several models, and TCL launched the least expensive Dolby Vision-capable display at $500.

Dolby No Vision

Unfortunately there are limits to implementing Dolby Vision. To receive Dolby Vision from an Ultra HD disc, ALL links in the chain must be Dolby Vision capable. This starts at the player and ends with the display. While the new Oppo 203 will be updated to support Dolby Vision via a firmware update, I asked if the Samsung player—the most widely available model that has been in the field for nearly a year—would be capable of being updated. The answer was a flat “no.”

Further, I asked if there would be problems passing the Dolby Vision signal through existing AVRs and pre-processors and the answer was “possibly.” Older models likely won’t be able to support the Dolby Vision stream, and there is no guarantee even with newer models. The Dolby rep said that if the AVR/pre-pro supported HDR10 pass-thru “that would be a good start.” So, it’s possible that Dolby Vision might be the next integration hurdle for us to work out…

On Wednesday, I will offer more of my observations from CES 2017.