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