CES NEWS

Vi­brant for TV tech, quiet for hi-fi...

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OLED, Mi­croLED and new hi-fi hot from Las Ve­gas...

CES in Las Ve­gas re­mains a ma­jor launch­pad for the lat­est TVs and gen­eral tech­nol­ogy — floors abuzz with big screens and tech. But the hi-fi sec­tion of the event, held in the tow­ers of the Vene­tian Ho­tel, has con­tin­ued to de­cay into a con­di­tion that would seem to in­di­cate im­mi­nent demise. “I have walked once again through empty cor­ri­dors of the Vene­tian Ho­tel...” our EISA cor­re­spon­dent wrote to us.

We fea­ture high­lights from the Vene­tian hi-fi por­tion of CES in pages over­leaf. For the ma­jors, how­ever — LG, Sam­sung, Sony and oth­ers — CES re­tains its po­si­tion of hot com­pe­ti­tion, an­nounce­ments of the big­gest, bright­est and best prod­uct launches, new tech and new tricks. And this year the ex­cite­ment was pos­i­tively height­ened by the now­in­fa­mous Day 2 power black-out on the main floors of the Con­ven­tional Cen­ter, plung­ing CES into zom­bie-apoca­lypse-like dark­ness.

OLED GETS SMART

LG Elec­tron­ics got some of the 2018 show’s great­est vis­ual im­pact by up­grad­ing its OLED tun­nel of pre­vi­ous years to an ‘OLED Canyon’ (right, top), and by demo­ing a 65-inch OLED panel that rolls up into a table­top con­tainer (many ‘oohs’ and ‘ahhs’). Mean­while the com­pany con­tin­ues its main­stream OLED prow­ess with a new line in ‘ThinQ AI Smart TVs’ us­ing its ex­clu­sive 9 In­tel­li­gent Pro­ces­sor, aim­ing to make the TVs “the hub for all of your con­nected de­vices with in­tel­li­gent

voice con­trol, Google As­sis­tant built in, plus Ama­zon Echo com­pat­i­bil­ity.”

The ‘ThinQ’ plat­form is not just for TVs, but will be used across a range of LG prod­ucts from clothes wash­ers to cof­fee ma­chines, all con­nected by LG’s pro­pri­etary AI de­vel­op­ment plat­form ‘Deep ThinQ’ (ged­dit?), which is stated to be an “open plat­form” which can re­act to a wide va­ri­ety of voice com­mand and AI ser­vices, po­ten­tially even in­cor­po­rat­ing those from other man­u­fac­tur­ers.

LG’s flag­ship TVs for 2018 will be termed the OLED W8 se­ries, on trend as ‘a wall­pa­per de­sign’, to be made avail­able in 77-inch and 65-inch sizes (LG at­tends to the de­tails by not­ing these are ac­tu­ally 76.8-inch and 64.5inch di­ag­o­nals). Un­der those will be the ‘OLED-on-glass’ E8 range, a C8 range, and the en­try-level B8 range which is the only one not to use the new pro­ces­sor.

Also in­ter­est­ing from LG is a tower-de­sign UHD pro­jec­tor, the HU80KA (pic­tured right), which prom­ises a pro­jected 4K im­age of 2500 ANSI lu­mens to de­liver a screen up to 150inch di­ag­o­nal (or 149.5-inch, if you pre­fer). This is due in April (Aus­tralian mar­ket not con­firmed as we write), price TBA.

Hisense is the lat­est com­pany to add OLED mod­els to its TV ros­ter along with the cur­rent ULED-mar­keted mod­els; few spe­cific de­tails were an­nounced but there was a nice prom­ise that Aus­tralia will be one of the first mar­kets to launch the OLED TVs.

Sam­sung still hasn’t yet got its nascent front-emis­sive QLED to mar­ket yet (20192021 was al­ways the ar­rival date sug­gested by de­vel­oper Nanosys), but it did bring a whole new no­tion in mod­u­lar Mi­croLED. The screen (left, bot­tom) on show was 146-inch, but be­ing mod­u­lar it “can trans­form into any size, and de­liv­ers in­cred­i­ble bright­ness, colour gamut, colour vol­ume and black lev­els”. The mi­crom­e­ter-scale LEDs are smaller than con­ven­tional LEDs and are truly fron­te­mis­sive, pro­duc­ing the im­age them­selves — no colour fil­ters or back­light­ing.

Mi­croLED was shown as a ‘con­cept’, whereas Sam­sung’s ac­tual on-sale TVs will con­tinue with back-lit QLED, while in­tro­duc­ing an in­tel­li­gent as­sis­tant plat­form to be called Bixby, in ad­di­tion to Sam­sung’s IoT plat­form hub, ‘SmartThings’. Gamers may be de­lighted to find a new Steam app de­signed to link the PC-based Steam gam­ing plat­form to the big screen.

Given the com­pany’s re­cent achieve­ments in sound­bars, we were in­ter­ested also to note a new slim­line model (pic­tured top left) specif­i­cally de­signed to de­liver its best when wall mounted.

PANA­SONIC’S HAPPY 100TH

Pana­sonic’s OLED of­fer­ing moves to FZ-se­ries mod­els as it en­ters its cen­te­nary year (see be­low), em­pha­sis­ing how the qual­ity of pro­cess­ing in the new FZ800 and FZ950 se­ries adds to the abil­i­ties of their LG.Dis­play-sourced OLED pan­els. There’s HCX2 (Hol­ly­wood Cinema Ex­pe­ri­ence 2) pro­cess­ing, which the com­pany de­scribes as be­ing “built on colour, black level and bright­ness know-how learned from our ref­er­ence-qual­ity plasma TVs and pro­fes­sional broad­cast equip­ment... also tuned by

a Hol­ly­wood colourist process”. Both se­ries sup­port ISF cal­i­bra­tion set­tings and new cal­i­bra­tion points at 5% and an in­dus­try-first 2.5% lu­mi­nance, and the FZ950 comes with a ‘Tuned by Tech­nics’ Dy­namic Blade Speaker (pic­tured left). The new mod­els are also the first to claim sup­port for HDR10+ (as well as broad­cast HLG), Pana­sonic be­ing part of the HDR10+ found­ing con­sor­tium be­hind this scene­spe­cific HDR us­ing Dolby Vi­sion-like dy­namic meta­data (see be­low). Mean­while Pana­sonic’s ‘Dy­namic Scene Op­ti­miser’, at­tempts to do the same thing with un­en­coded video, along with ‘Dy­namic LUT’ to re­cal­i­brate colour look-up ta­bles on the fly, rather than us­ing a sin­gle static def­i­ni­tion.

HDR10+ FU­TURE BRIGHT­ENS

We were a lit­tle cyn­i­cal of HDR10+ at first: it seems an at­tempt to nudge out Dolby Vi­sion’s dy­namic meta­data ver­sion of High Dy­namic Range. Dolby Vi­sion al­lows sceneby-scene ad­just­ment of HDR op­ti­mi­sa­tion, and HDR10+ does the same, but with only 10-bit res­o­lu­tion, com­pared with Dolby Vi­sion’s 12 bits. HDR10+ prom­ises to be “roy­alty-free”, though there is an “ad­min­is­tra­tion fee” and the need to be cer­ti­fied “by a third-party au­tho­rized test­ing cen­ter”. Pana­sonic and Sam­sung have pledged to in­clude it in all 4K equip­ment, while on the con­tent side, 20th Cen­tury Fox and Warn­ers have com­mit­ted to HDR10+ re­leases.

Ac­cord­ing to Pana­sonic’s press re­lease, Ama­zon Prime has al­ready con­verted its HDR cat­a­logue to HDR10+, yet the tech­ni­cal spec­i­fi­ca­tions for the sys­tem have yet to be pub­lished (www.hdr10­plus.org is still show­ing ‘Com­ing Soon’ as we go to press).

MORE SONY OLED

Sony is pro­mot­ing Dolby Vi­sion on its lat­est OLEDs, in­clud­ing the new A8F se­ries (blue screens, cen­tre left), which con­tinue the use of Acous­tic Sur­face tech­nol­ogy in­tro­duced in the Sound+Im­age award-win­ning A1, where the whole screen is used as an au­dio sys­tem us­ing flat-sur­face ex­ci­ta­tion from be­hind (sup­ple­mented by a rear sub­woofer). No con­ven­tional speak­ers are re­quired, so a great

slab of pic­ture can be pre­sented to the viewer. The A8F se­ries also in­her­its Sony’s 4K HDR pic­ture pro­ces­sor, the X1 Ex­treme, which in­cor­po­rates ob­ject-based HDR re­mas­ter­ing, Su­per Bit Map­ping 4K HDR, and dual data­base pro­cess­ing. Sony seems to have­re­alised that the lean an­gle of the A1’s kick­back stand was a bit odd; the new TVs are back up­right.

LIFE­STYLE AV PRO­JEC­TION

Sony’s main AV pro­jec­tion launches came at IFA 2017 in Ber­lin for con­sumer mod­els and at ISE 2018 in Am­s­ter­dam for pro­fes­sional mod­els, but it did re­serve one re­mark­able launch for CES — the LSPX-A1 (pic­tured above). This looks to be based on the Ul­tra Short Throw VPL-VZ1000ES that we re­viewed in our Aug-Sept 2017 is­sue, but in­stead of a large black box, it ups the dé­cor ante by us­ing an ar­ti­fi­cial mar­ble top on an alu­minum frame and wooden shelf. It in­cludes an au­dio sys­tem us­ing or­ganic glass tweet­ers, three midrange speak­ers and a sub­woofer all in­stalled within the frame, and shar­ing nearly 100W of in­ter­nal power. With 2500 lu­mens of true na­tive4K HDR pro­jec­tion up to a 120-inch di­ag­o­nal, and pric­ing likely north of $35k, this is some life­style so­lu­tion! For your bulk or­ders, con­tact Sony Aus­tralia Pro.

8K ON THE WAY

The next jump in TV res­o­lu­tion is now ex­pected to go prop­erly main­stream within two years, and the screen sizes will be large! Sam­sung, LG and Sony were all show­ing 7680 × 4320 (8K) TV pan­els at this year’s CES: LG had an 88-incher on show, Sony’s con­cept 8Ker was no­table in achiev­ing an as­ton­ish­ing 10,000 nits bright­ness, while Sam­sung’s 85-inch 8K Q9S model was not a pro­to­type, the com­pany promis­ing to put its first 8K mod­els on the mar­ket dur­ing the sec­ond half of 2018. Although there will be next-to-no 8K con­tent avail­able to watch yet, no mat­ter, says Sam­sung, claim­ing its “AI tech­nol­ogy has all but elim­i­nated this ob­sta­cle by en­abling the tele­vi­sion to trans­form all pic­tures into 8K”. (Even SD, it says. Brave talk...)

JBL’s L100 CLAS­SIC

The white-woofered JBL stand­mounts in the pic­ture above are a new up­dated ver­sion of JBL’s all-time best-sell­ing loud­speaker, the JBL L100, orig­i­nally re­leased in 1970 as a con­sumer ver­sion of JBL’s 4310 Pro Stu­dio Mon­i­tor. The new L100 Clas­sic loud­speaker has new driv­ers and a new cross­over, but it fea­tures the same at­trac­tive, 1970s-style retro ‘Quadrex’ foam grille in a choice of three colours — black, or­ange and blue. The new ver­sion was de­signed for JBL by Chris Ha­gen, and uses JBL’s newly-de­vel­oped 25mm ti­ta­nium-dome tweeter fit­ted with a wave­guide, a 125mm-di­am­e­ter midrange ‘pure pulp’ driver, and a 305mm wood-pulp bass driver. The cabi­net is fin­ished in a satin wal­nut-wood ve­neer and mea­sures 650 × 395 × 350mm, and it can be ori­en­tated ei­ther ver­ti­cally or hor­i­zon­tally. Op­tional black metal floor stands are avail­able. It re­tails for US$4000 per pair; avail­abil­ity and pric­ing lo­cally won’t be known un­til July.

SPIN­NING OUT

Turnta­bles are a guar­an­teed draw at shows, even quiet ar­eas like the Vene­tian por­tion of CES. Mu­sic Hall’s Roy Hall had the new mmf 1.5 on show (it has been on sale in the US since late in 2017, and is $599 in Aus­tralia, cur­rently un­der test for an Aus­tralian Hi-Fi re­view). It’s a deck de­signed to be used with ab­so­lute ease by those with no prior turntable ex­pe­ri­ence, be­ing set up and ready to play straight out of the box, with the in­cluded Mu­sic Hall Melody mov­ing-mag­net car­tridge al­ready mounted and aligned in the re­mov­able head­shell that’s fit­ted to the S-shaped ton­earm. The drive mo­tor has elec­tronic speed-con­trol, and the thick alu­minium plat­ter and vi­bra­tion-damp­ing feet are sim­i­lar to those found on high-end turnta­bles. “This is a se­ri­ous ’table, not a toy!” says Hall.

Au­dio-Tech­nica says the new belt-drive AT-LP7 turntable (pic­tured right) is the best turntable it has ever made. It’s belt-driven, fully man­ual and comes with a J-shaped ton­earm fit­ted with a re­mov­able AT-HS10 head­shell, in turn fit­ted with an Au­dioTech­nica VM520EB mov­ing-mag­net phono car­tridge. It has a 20mm thick anti-res­o­nance plat­ter made of poly­oxymethy­lene. As with lower A-T mod­els, the AT-LP7 in­cor­po­rates a switch­able mm/mc phono pream­pli­fier that can be se­lected in or out of cir­cuit, so you can use your own phono pream­pli­fier if you pre­fer. In Aus­tralia the AT-LP7 is $1300, listed as com­ing to stores in ‘Au­tumn 2018’.

Pro-Ject had a box cov­er­ing its lus­cious Pro-Ject 175 turntable, re­leased to cel­e­brate the 175th an­niver­sary of the Vi­enna Phil­har­monic Orches­tra in a ‘strictly lim­ited edi­tion’ — so lim­ited it’s not even listed on the Aus­tralian site (its US price is US$8999). Based on the Clas­sic, the 175’s wooden chas­sis has the same type of lac­quer used on vi­o­lins (avail­able in ‘Dark Cello’ or ‘Bright Vi­o­lin’ vari­ants), the gilded metal chas­sis of ma­te­rial is sim­i­lar to that used in brass in­stru­ments, while the ton­earm fin­ger-lift echoes the de­sign of a clar­inet key, and the speed-change con­trol “comes from a flute but­ton”. Each Pro-Ject 175 is sup­plied with a mov­ing-coil car­tridge made for it by Orto­fon, based on its top-of-the-line Cadenza Se­ries.

Per­haps our favourite ‘look’ for a deck at CES was the one pic­tured right, bear­ing the

Mas­ter & Dy­namic badge and a kinda 1950s’ ra­dio stu­dio look, but sadly we learn only a very lim­ited run of these spe­cial edi­tion

mod­els will be avail­able, re­served ex­clu­sively for use by Mas­ter & Dy­namic dis­trib­u­tors and deal­ers. Pos­si­bly you could make your own, as it was clearly a re-badged VPI Player with a weird sur­face coat­ing — the VPI is $1500 from Krispy Au­dio with a 2M car­tridge.

GOLDENEAR GOES CHROME­CAST

We’re pleased to see WiSA ap­pear­ing in more gear; this high-qual­ity wire­less trans­mis­sion sys­tem seems un­der­utilised so far. The stand­mount pic­tured be­low is a wire­less ac­tive GoldenEar de­sign in its fi­nal de­vel­op­ment stage, due for re­lease “fourth quar­ter 2018”, ac­cord­ing to Sandy Gross. The Dig­i­talAk­tiv 3 uses the same 152mm driver used in many GoldenEar mod­els and the same ‘HFVR’ tweeter, along with two 203mm pas­sive ra­di­a­tors on ei­ther side of the cabi­net. They add 56-bit pro­cess­ing (in­clud­ing cross­over func­tions) to­gether with sep­a­rate 60W and 200W Class-AB power for tweeter and bass driver. They can re­ceive via Blue­tooth or via Wi-Fi us­ing Chrome­cast, and when used as a stereo pair they are linked by WiSA — but it’s also pos­si­ble to use a sin­gle DA 3, and to link mul­ti­ple in­de­pen­dent zones while main­tain­ing con­trol over vol­ume level as well as pro­gram ma­te­rial in each zone. Chrome­cast will en­able them to be ad­dressed by voice in con­junc­tion with a Google Home.

NAGRA AU­DIO

The Swiss gnomes at Nagra Au­dio have stepped up their shift from famed recorders into high-end hi-fi with the lat­est HD Preamp (pic­tured left, on top of its Su­perCa­pac­i­tor power sup­ply). It de­buted States-side at the Rocky Moun­tain Au­dio Fest in 2017, and picked up a CES In­no­va­tions Award in Las Ve­gas. The pream­pli­fier cir­cuitry fea­tures rather se­cret patent-pend­ing tech that Nagra says al­lows per­fect level match­ing yet a more trans­par­ent sound than if the com­pany had used a po­ten­tiome­ter or even switched re­sis­tor tech­nol­ogy.

STACK ’EM HIGH

The re­mark­able look­ing stack of driv­ers pic­tured left is ac­tu­ally not one speaker, but many! Place one Soundots XCEL Ai-1 next to an­other and they pair au­to­mat­i­cally, ap­par­ently with­out limit to quan­tity or con­fig­u­ra­tion! This sys­tem at CES used 126 of the Swedish-de­signed wire­less speak­ers, each with two 48mm alu­minium cones. To­tal value of the two stacks some­where north of $35,000, we cal­cu­late...

ABOVE LEFT: Pana­sonic’s FZ950 OLED; ABOVE: Cel­e­brat­ing its 100th an­niver­sary with a video pre­sented us­ing the words of founder Kono­suke Mat­sushita.

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