First off, the whole weekend was a gas. Hanging out with the Zohn family again was, as always, an absolute joy. It did make me feel like an "old guy" to see that Katie, their youngest daughter, is starting her final year of college. I remember her from when she was just fifteen, and that feels to me like only a short time ago. So yeah--I'm gettin' long in the tooth. The Zohn house was a madhouse of activity, as they had me crashing in the basement, David MacKenzie (sp?) sleeping in a guest room, furniture from the store stored in the house during the shootout, and people working at the shootout coming and going all the time. It was wonderful. Saturday
The Saturday event was a real eye-opener for me with Joe Kane's presentation; I learned an enormous amount from him (as always), and I also learned a great deal from sitting down and talking with one of the Sony tech guys, an altogether charming gentleman named Pablo, who is extremely sharp, informed, and fully committed to the videophiles' collective dream of the perfect flat panel TV. The manufacturers' presentations were 90% marketing ("sales-speak," if I may adapt a term from 1984), but that was expected. The calibrators' presentations were much more informative, but boy, did they struggle to get those TVs to behave. The panels on the wall were switching on and off like strobe lights at a discotheque the whole night, and that, I'm told, had everything to do with the move to 2160p/4k resolution on some but not all panels. Saturday saw the whole wall of panels continuously struggling to re-synch; that's what you were seeing with the TVs turning on and off. They fixed that for Sunday by just reverting to 1080p for all the presentations.
From Joe Kane I learned especially that the bit-depth problem has finally become so pressing that the industry cannot continue to deliver real PQ improvements until they honestly address it. Even more urgently, the data pipeline will have to be increased much more dramatically than anyone in the industry has publicly acknowledged.
From Pablo I learned that there might (might, mind you) be a way for an upgraded HDMI system to accommodate those greater data demands. In principle, he hypothesized, it should be possible to make HDMI 2.x connections modular in largely the same way that DisplayPort is, thereby enabling full 4k video throughput at a much larger bitrate and without all the curses and burdens of 4:2:0. If that could be made to work, it would have some serious practical advantages:People are already familiar and comfortable with HDMI; they know how to use it. By its design HDMI is largely idiot-proof (but I don't know if it would stay that way if it went modular). All our other home theater equipment already has HDMI compatibility; it shouldn't be necessary to buy a brand new AVR to go with the new UHD TV and media player (but that is pure conjecture on my part). The industry already has the manufacturing facilities to crank out copious quantities of HDMI cables.
I also learned from him that Sony absolutely, positively has not written off OLED. They're not selling such panels yet, but that's because they're persuaded--and I agree with them--that the technology isn't ready yet. It has too many remaining kinks in it, it is still too expensive (assuming one intends to implement it correctly), and the simple truth is, no one in the industry really knows where the market is headed right now. In the coming years I am going to keep a very close eye on Sony, as they have committed themselves to working in the high-end market and delivering what the really fussy people in both audio and video want. The color reproduction on their XBR950 was flatly superior to anything else up on that wall. Samsung and LG need to take a hard lesson from what Sony has done there, or they'll get left behind.
Just from the contents of the wall at Value Electronics I learned that Samsung truly has taken over the flat panel TV market. They own the joint now (though both Vizio and China pose a big, big market threat in the coming years). On Robert and Wendy's wall there was one LG product, two Sonys, and five Samsungs (including last year's plasma way up at the top). Regardless of anything Sony and LG do now, they face a basic problem of numbers.
I also learned this: for years now, plasma technology has been the unmatched PQ king--we all know that. The king is dead, and we all know that, too. But no way can anyone yet add "long live the king." As things stand, neither locally dimmed LCD nor OLED are up to that task. OLED obviously has the potential to do it, but they just aren't there yet. Both the LG and the Samsung OLEDs had color tracking problems, viewing angle problems, white balance/gamma problems, lingering motion resolution issues, and price point struggles. I'll note that LG absolutely kicked the snot out of Samsung on the price point problem: $3500 vs. $9000, same size, same basic panel tech. I'll say much more on this in my Sunday write-up. $3500 is actually a sensible price for a 55" TV. $9k manifestly is not.
Oh, and one general, deeply felt criticism I have of the entire industry: the viewing angle problems have become just absurd now, and those ridiculous curved screens only ever make it worse. The manufacturers' companies are not mine to run, but I strongly encourage them please, please to stop shooting themselves in the foot with such stupid, stupid, breathtakingly stupid marketing ploys, presumably cooked up by overpaid and under-informed Armani-wearing know-it-alls in the marketing departments. Increasingly, I have no respect for what those marketing people do. None. They think we're stupid; they think they can metaphorically jingle their key chains in front of us, and we'll be amused and distracted by that and go buy their frantically hyped junk. They're wrong.
I did not vote on Saturday because the room was much too crowded for me to walk around and get an honest look at each TV from the proper viewing angle. (Seriously--viewing angles should not be presenting such problems on premium TVs!)
Another reason why I say the industry doesn't know what to do in the wake of plasma's death is revealed by the prices on all these TVs. The cheaper ones Samsung and Sony had to offer were, to my mind, prohibitively expensive. The top-of-the-line ones were waayyyyyy off in la-la-land. Samsung actually wanted ~$120,000 for a 105" curved-screen TV that honestly doesn't deliver that great of a picture. In which alternate universe does this make sense??? Sony's XBR950, which was impressive in many ways but also had real flaws in its implementation of local dimming, was ~$35,000 MSRP. Again, which brand of hashish should I smoke in order to start thinking that that's a cost the burden of which I could reasonably, rationally assume?? It'll have to be really good hash, man. Premo.
So how did they get into this pickle? On Sunday I learned from an anonymous source that China pressured all the companies into selling panels with the increased screen resolution because the higher-resolution panels are cheap and easy to manufacture, so in theory it ought to goose sales margins in the short term. So now that stuff is getting marketed as "UHD" or "4k" (but see Joe Kane's presentation on why quadrupling the resolution alone actually does little for the perceptible picture quality (unless you nose is against the screen)). But in order to justify that increased resolution, manufacturers had no choice but to move to much, much larger screen sizes, which gets very expensive very quickly. And so now here they are sending to market eighty-odd inch TVs priced well over what I paid for my car. Good luck, fellas--glad I'm not in your position this year...
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