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Flat Panel Trends - Thin is In and Speed Kills

by September 05, 2008
THIN is IN

THIN is IN

Flat panel televisions are continuing to transform in the marketplace. This year we saw a great number of companies looking to go "thin". While flat panels are traditionally advertised as being hangable on the wall, consumers have been reluctant to do so. With this year's batch of new products it looks like the trends may shift and these LCD televisions might be finding their way onto the walls of many consumers' homes.

Besides moving towards thin, many displays seem to be in a race for the best technology. Some of this technology, like 120Hz refresh rates can be done in a myriad of ways - some effective, and some not. What was interesting to us was that manufacturers seem to be scrambling to offer new and innovative features to differentiate their products from the rest of the pack. The net effect is a marketplace teeming with new network and feature-rich technologies that will only make consumers smile. Some trends we observed overall:

  • LED-based LCD panels looked, to us, just as black as the best plasma displays we've seen
  • Many different manufacturers are producing truly thin (< 2-inches) LCD displays
  • 120Hz seems to be taking off, though not all manufacturers are implementing it in the best way
  • Extra features like USB, network connectivity and media management seem to be showing up everywhere
  • Calibration and Day/Night options seem to be taking a prominent role

Sony Electronics

sony-thin-40-inch.jpgSony demonstrated a really cool-looking 40-inch display that measured just under 10mm in thickness. The BRAVIA KLV-40ZX1M features 1 HDMI input and has no on-board tuners. It utilizes the new Bravia Engine 2 and Sony's Motionflow 120Hz technology. The display features 10-bit video processing and LED backlighting that originates at the edge of the screen - which is how Sony's model retains its rather thin form. The KLV-40ZX1M is making its debut in Japan now and should hit the US market by the end of the year. This ultra-thin wonder is expected to retail at around $4700. I'll take two... seriously.

Sony also demoed a new XBR 8-series LCD display (the 55-inch KDL-55XBR8) which was initially hiding behind the projection screen being used by their new its VPL-HW10 projector (another impressive product). Once the screen lifted I was treated to an incredibly rich, vivid picture that had black levels equivalent to some of the best plasmas I'd seen on the show floor. Let me make this implicitly clear: LCD displays running with Triluminos RGB LED backlights are just as good as any plasma display I've seen to-date. The XBR 8's are using this new LED backlight system and it allows the display to perform local dimming and produce incredible real-world contrast. On areas of the picture that are black, the display is virtually "off". The pictures we took probably won't do it justice, but the display was very impressive - especially in comparison to what I considered to be very average CCFL LCD displays dominating most of the booth. Two Sony Bravia XBR 8's will be initially available by the end of the year (46-inch and 55-inch) and both come with Motionflow 120Hz technology, Bravia PRO with 10-bit video processing, TV Guide program guide, DLNA Ethernet compliant input (for media streaming) and four HDMI 1.3 inputs. Pricing is TBD and no one would commit to a number "on the record".

Of course, not everything at Sony came off smelling like roses. Their 70-inch KDL-70KBR7 (XBR-7 series) LCD had one of the worst pictures we'd seen at CEDIA. Black levels were completely crushed and noise was prevalent nearly everywhere on the screen. This display uses a WCG-CCFL (wide color gamut florescent) backlight which simply didn't seem to cut it for this oversized display. If what we saw here was indicative of the potential of this display (as opposed to poor demo material and a bad calibration) I don't see too many people taking advantage of this set - especially given its hefty $16,000 (estimated) price tag.

LG Electronics

LG-menu-netflix.jpgLG was pushing its four Core Technologies which are present in all of its 1080p models. The four technologies are AV Mode, Invisible Speaker, Clear Voice and Expert Mode. To break it down easily, AV Mode is simply LGs designation for picture modes like Sports, Game, etc… Invisible Speaker is a new form factor that was conceived by Mark Levinson and which creates a nice polished look on the front of the display. Clear Voice is a mid-band enhancement technology that boosts frequencies in the vocal range to enhance clarity. Expert Mode is a designation for the displays' ability to have fine calibration points, including adjusting for various lighting conditions. While nothing mind-blowing, it's nice to see LG at least acknowledge some of these areas and market the importance of these issues and features to consumers. Plus their displays look really nice.

LG-thin-LCD.jpgLG's LCD lineup can be summarized as LG30 - LG70 (in 10 increments), the LGX and LG90 series. Key features show up as the models progress. For example, the LG50 adds 1080p resolution and 24p support, ISF certification, USB 2.0, and multiple HDMI 1.3 inputs. It also adds an Intelligent Sensor which varies the picture settings when the ambient light goes up or down (similar to those found on some front projectors). The 42-inch LGX model is a super slim design, measuring just 1.8-inches thin (including the tuner section.) It's a stunning red and the display should be a very hot seller at $2699 (it's available now). The LG90 is an LED-based product and LG showed the dramatic black level difference between it and the CCFL-based products.

LG-LED-vs-florescent.jpg
The differences between LED backlit and florescent backlit displays is amazing.

LG-power-comparison.jpgSome manufacturers placed some effort to advance power conservation, and LG even had two line monitors showing the difference between a properly calibrated display (which pulled 150 watts) and one in the default "torch mode" (which pulled down over 270 watts). Saving over 120 watts just for calibrating your display properly is actually a pretty compelling reason to turn down those backlights and fix your white levels.

LG is also simultaneously working with plasma technology. Plasma models range from the PG20 to the PG60 in various increments. The PG20 and PG25 are 720p. The PG30 introduces full 1080p as well as ISF certification (also available on the PG25). The PG60 is the flagship plasma display, offering USB 2.0 connectivity and THX certification. It looked very nice and the solid glass face that goes edge to edge gives the display a very refined, clean look.

JVC

JVC-LCD.jpgJVC had some displays, however they all looked awful, with massive amounts of noise and banding that was evident from many yards away. This is what happens when you let marketing people set up your booth and not engineers. We couldn't be absolutely certain it wasn't the program material, but it didn't make us want to spend too much time inquiring about their products. Their 42-inch "slim" display (which really wasn't all that slim) has 3 HDMI inputs and 2 component outputs. It also features USB connectivity and an ATSC/QAM tuner.

Hitachi

hitachi-thin-LCD.jpgHitachi showed off its full line-up of ultra-thin LCD displays, including sizes ranging from 32- to 47-inches. These displays are literally 1.5-inches in depth and utilize custom ventilation systems and backlights to achieve their shallow depth. Hitachi has two lines, its Ultra Vision V Series and premier Director's Series models. The 32-inch models are 768p (720p) displays while the rest of the sizes are available as 1080p. All models have 120 Hz (dubbed "Real120" by Hitachi). Pricing ranges from $1,499 to $3,499 in the UltraVision line and from $1,499 to $3,699 in the Director's Series line. All displays are shipping now and all support 24p and xvColor.

Panasonic

panasonic-line-up.jpgThe entire Panasonic plasma and LCD lines were updated for CEDIA. Updates varied per model but included THX display certification (PZ800/850 Series), "Super Contrast" (PZ85/800/850 Series), VIERA Cast over IP (PZ850 Series), and 24p playback (PZ800/850 Series). xvColor is now standard in all models and Deep Color is supported as well (all panels support full HDMI 1.3).

True2way (2-way CableCARD technology) seemed to be something Panasonic was pushing, and they had a demo showing off how this worked and what consumers could expect from the new technology.

panasonic-true2way.jpg

Panasonic was also pushing its new LCD displays, though it had nothing that exceeded 37-inches in size. While they don't use LED backlighting, Panasonic's claim to fame is its continued use of in-plane switching. The idea behind this is that they emit more light (and more accurate color) off-axis in comparison to other panels since the LCD crystals don't block light when viewed from the side. Panasonic is working with their Motion Focus technology, which is available in their LZ800 series models. This take on eliminating motion blur flashes the backlight at enhanced speeds instead of adding frame interpolation. This results in a dimmer picture level (which shouldn't matter for home theater use) but it eliminates artifacts commonly seen with frame interpolation schemes.

Pioneer Electronics

pioneer-elite-kuro.jpgWe were impressed with Pioneer's plasma display which they showed off in a custom Press-only demonstration. Pioneer is now shipping its highly-anticipated line of Elite KURO Signature Series monitors. These monitors are truly "elite" since they come signed by Pioneer KURO Chief Technology Officer, Mr. Yoichi Sato and are packaged with an elegantly-boxed certificate of authenticity unique to each panel. Pioneer claims that many of the precision parts used in the monitor line are carefully selected by factory engineers and undergo further hand and machine inspection, including measuring for the deepest black levels, peak brightness, white balance and heightened color accuracy. This seems to be pretty much "marketing-speak" to us, but the panel did look fantastic and had excellent depth and contrast.

The new displays have a slimmer profile that features a total depth of just 2.5-inches - 35 percent thinner than Pioneer’s KURO televisions. Adding to the thin profile, Pioneer introduced an optional wall mount that gets the unit as close to the wall as possible. Each unit comes with a "white balance certification" – a unique serial number that allows super anal-retentive Signature Series owners to access the white balance their monitors had when leaving the factory. The Elite KURO Signature Series 50-inch PRO-101FD and 60-inch PRO-141FD monitors are now shipping for the suggested price of $5,500 and $7,000, respectively. Perhaps a bit overkill, but if you want the best - this is probably it.

Samsung Electronics

samsung-LED.jpgSamsung is kicking butt and taking names - at least with respect to its flagship LCD display. The new LN64A950 (say that a few times fast) features LED backlighting and a host of excellent features tailored to getting the best possible picture. While RGB gain/cut calibration remains solely in the service menu realm, the system has a Day/Night mode that will recall the discrete settings. Unlike most displays which choose between blanking and frame interpolation to achieve a reduction in motion blur, the Samsung 950 series does both. We were blown away when they showed us that this model comes standard with 120Hz enabled and "LED Motion Plus" disabled. Once out of the competitive showroom floor however, where brightness seems to (erroneously) represent quality, the panel can be set to use the backlight blanking technology to increase the eye's perception of refresh rates. The display also includes Samsung's proprietary InfoLink which can take weather and stock info and display it on-screen along with news from USA Today's custom RSS feed. The 46-inch version retails for $3,199 and the 55-inch model is $4199.

Conclusion

Overall, the display companies really seemed to be headed in a direction I liked. Thinner flat panels and LED backlight technology seem to be where it's at. This also gives LCD display manufacturers a chance to produce products at premium prices that set products apart from the standard fare offered at lower price points. While I hope these technology trickle down quickly, it's ensuring a sound business model for companies to continue to innovate and bring new technologies to consumers in a way that benefits everyone.

 

About the author:
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Clint Deboer was terminated from Audioholics for misconduct on April 4th, 2014. He no longer represents Audioholics in any fashion.

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Recent Forum Posts:

Clint DeBoer posts on October 12, 2008 10:34
I think flat panels over 55-inches will never really be the dominant selling size just because of bulkiness and weight. Now perhaps when these displays go to a new format that is incredibly thin and light that will change… Right now I think even a $3000 70-inch LCD is a hard sell to someone trying to fit it into their home and situate it into an average sized living room.

The nice thing, though is that by the time TVs drop to those prices, the 42-inchers would run about $500 in comparison - so bring it on!
roshi posts on October 12, 2008 00:22
I too have a Sharp Aquos, but 37 and I think it has good build-in speakers. Generally I think they sound better than most Tv's I heard, even big old CRTs. Can't beat the external speakers though, that's for sure…
aberkowitz posts on October 02, 2008 09:03
Junkman, post: 460814
Does any have any recommendations for 26“ or 32” TVs that sound good?

Has anyone found a review site that actually evaluates the built-in speakers?

I have a 32" Sharp Aquos that's I moved to the bedroom and I use the built-in speakers. I would never describe them as great, but they're good enough for watching movies and TV in bed.
wunderkind posts on October 02, 2008 00:04
^ because Audioholics will likely have an AVR and fancy speakers.
Junkman posts on September 24, 2008 12:02
Thin is in & Sound Quality is Out!

Thin may be the latest and greatest trend in TVs, but the sound quality of the built-in speakers is getting hammered!

I've been trying to find a 26“ or 32” TV to squeeze into a space where it won't be hooked up to external speakers. I can't even get to hear the built-in speakers in some of the stores I have been to, but I'm pretty disappointed in what I have listened to so far. What kills me is that – like most other review sites – even the Audioholics LCD TV reviews don't evaluate sound quality. Hopefully this will change.

Does any have any recommendations for 26“ or 32” TVs that sound good?

Has anyone found a review site that actually evaluates the built-in speakers?
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