5 TV Tech Trends from CES 2021 | 8K, mini-LED, More


With CES 2021 beginning to wind down and all major TV announcements now in the rearview mirror, it makes sense to take a step back and look at where new TVs are now and where they will be headed in the future. Here are five trends that came out of this year’s virtual tech show.

TVs are getting bigger

NPD reports TV screens in American homes have been seeing steady increases over the past few years, with 15% of TV sales going to TVs 60-inches and larger. TV makers have noticed, and are introducing more large-screen TV options each year. This year, even I was surprised to see how many big-screen introductions were made.

Samsung introduced a micro-LED TV lineup with 88-, 99-, and 110-inch models, while LG’s Z1 OLED starts at 77 inches and also comes in an 88-inch variant. Sony’s enticing Bravia X90J line ranges from 55 inches to 100 inches, and lest you think the big stuff is reserved for the high-end, TCL introduced three 85-inch models coming this year, one of which sits in the company’s historically super-affordable 4-Series lineup.

Samsung Micro-LED

This trend makes sense. As folks were forced to stay home, resources that might have been allocated for vacations and other canceled events became available for TV upgrades. And with so much more time plopped in front of the television and so much less time spent in movie theaters, it makes sense that buyers would want to get a bigger screen for at-home entertainment.

8K all the way

History tends to repeat itself and we’re seeing that play out in TVs as well. Just over seven years ago, the first 4K televisions were announced. In the following two years, manufacturers steadily increased their 4K offerings while consumers complained the move made no sense since there was no 4K content. In 2019, just about every TV on sale was 4K, and today, and there’s now a generous amount of 4K content to watch on streaming platforms like Netflix, Amazon, and Disney+.

Here we are again, with 8K televisions now moving into their third generation, and manufacturers beginning to slide their premium features up in the 8K line, forcing those who prefer high-end TVs to buy 8K, even though there is precious little 8K content to enjoy and even fewer ways to enjoy it.

What really signaled a massive transition to 8K for me was TCL’s announcement that its vaunted 6-Series TVs would make the move to 8K in 2021. TCL has been ahead in the TV tech game for the last three years in many ways, but even I didn’t see this coming.

More competition for OLED, more affordable OLEDs

For the past eight years, LG has earned rave reviews for its OLED TVs. For several of those years, LG was the only OLED TV brand available. Only recently did Sony and now Vizio jump into the OLED TV game.

All the while we’ve seen other TV manufacturers do their best to improve LCD/LED-based television so that they might garner the same kind of accolades heaped onto OLED. Tactics included improving black levels, reducing halo effect around bright objects on black backgrounds, increasing screen uniformity, and improving motion resolution.

Then along came mini-LED backlighting technology. TCL was the first to introduce a mini-LED TV in 2019, the company followed up in 2020 by adding mini-LED to the popular aforementioned 6-Series lineup, and this year at CES 2021, both Samsung and LG announced mini-LED TVs.

LG

This backlighting technology, which uses tens of thousands of miniaturized LEDs (as opposed to, say, hundreds) affords a great deal of backlight control, which assists with those LCD TV improvement tactics I just mentioned, but remains a less expensive technology than OLED, overall.

But not by much. LG Display has had time to reduce its OLED panel production costs and increase production efficiency. What has resulted is more competition for OLED and lower OLED production costs, meaning we now are getting access to less expensive OLED TVs. LG’s recently announced A-Series will be its most attainable OLED line yet, which is one of the chief reasons we awarded the TV lineup our Top Tech of CES 2021 award.

Advanced technology coming to midrange models

This is a trend that caught traction in 2019 and has been growing since. I credit TCL for including quantum dots in midrange models for meaningful HDR picture experiences and for bringing mini-LED backlight tech to low-priced TVs, and the company is doing it again by bringing 8K to its 6-Series TVs.

But TCL isn’t the only company providing premium experiences at achievable price points. Vizio has long been a champion of high value and high performance, and more recently Hisense has as well. Meanwhile, Sony’s X900H proved to offer stellar performance and features at a surprisingly low price in 2020, and I expect the same will be true of the company’s X90J replacement model in 2021.

Gamers are winning with HDMI 2.1

While TV makers dabbled at making their TVs more gamer-friendly in 2020, it was a very clear focus for new TVs in 2021. You can thank the new HDMI 2.1 standard for this.

HDMI 2.1 enables variable refresh rate (VRR) up to 4K resolution at 120Hz or 8K resolution at 60Hz, Auto Low Latency Mode (ALLM) for automatic game mode with reduced input lag, enhanced color/HDR, and a host of other features, but it is these four that hold particular appeal to gamers. With next-gen gaming consoles also supporting these features, and a litany of PC graphics cards soon to support HDMI 2.1, gamers now have an option outside of high-priced gaming monitors for competitive gameplay and just flat-out satisfying visual gaming experiences — all at much larger screen sizes.

This year at CES 2021, Sony announced its five new series of TVs would all offer two HDMI 2.1 ports, Samsung increased its support for high-end gaming experiences, and LG continues to offer four HDMI 2.1 ports on its C-, G-, and Z-Series OLED TVs, as well as its top QNED mini-LED models. Only TCL has yet to disclose plans around HDMI 2.1, but given its track record, there’s a very real possibility TCL will have something to show with HDMI 2.1 as well.

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