CES 2014 Display Wrap-Up

CES 2014 has come to a close and while many predicted a lackluster year, there were actually a number of interesting developments in displays. These are my top three CES 2014 display technology takeaways:

CES 2014 85" Hisense QDTV

4K is here now, content isn’t the issue anymore

Analysts are still having a tough time figuring out exactly how quickly 4K will be adopted. According to data presented by the LCD TV Association at the show, last year analysts thought we’d see about 2 million 4K sets in 2014. Actual numbers turned out to be about 13 million (with 10 million predicted in China alone). 4K is clearly happening faster than most predicted but, if anyone still doubted that 4K will be mainstream in the next couple of years, this year’s CES should have made it clear that its here today.

Just about every major set maker showed off 4K sets this year in every flavor imaginable from LCD to OLED. But, hardware has never been the real barrier to 4K adoption– it’s all about the content or lack thereof. At CES 2014, the content issue was resolved a couple of different ways: Netflix is making 4K delivery a priority and upscaling is starting to look really good. With great upscaling (in one demo I saw from Technicolor it was nearly impossible to pick native 4K from upscaled 1080P) and instantly available content from Netflix, I don’t think content availability will continue to be a barrier for 4K adoption.

Wide Color Gamut and High Dynamic Range

Both Dolby and Technicolor demonstrated some very impressive high dynamic range and wide color gamut technologies that make for much more immersive viewing experiences. With it’s new Dolby Vision technology, Dolby has created essentially a new standard that uses a layer of metadata on top of today’s broadcast standard to deliver wider gamut and dynamic range with the content creator’s intentions intact. This is significant because it won’t require a new broadcast standard. Much like their surround-sound offerings (which deliver stereo audio if you have two speakers and full surround if you have six), all you’ll need is a Dolby-capable set to see the advantages, it won’t be something the viewer has to worry about.

Similarly, Technicolor is doing some on-the-fly processing to incoming content in realtime to pull out extra dynamic range and color. Again, no change in broadcast standard required for this and that’s the key. While there’s some danger that artistic intent will be altered with this approach, the demos I saw looked great. Skin tones and memory colors were kept in check while still taking advantage of the extra saturation offered by a wide color gamut display.

Quantum Dots

One of the most impressive displays at CES 2014 was Hisense’s 85″ 4K wide color gamut Quantum Dot TV. This set promises to bring OLED-like color performance at 4K resolutions to the US market this September at LCD prices (we heard a 55″, 65″ and the 85″ will all be offered). A number of other manufacturers also demonstrated Quantum Dot displays off the main show floor. We saw displays ranging in size from 5″ smartphones, to notebooks to monitors as well as TV’s. 2014 looks to be the year that Quantum Dots gain serious traction in the display market after a strong debut in 2013.

Color at CES 2013

I’m just wrapping up my visit to CES and it’s been interesting year for display technologies. Amid all the noise about 4K, OLED and 4K-OLED, color performance seems to have quietly worked its way into the conversation. I can’t recall ever having so many relatively technical conversations about color with booth reps from major consumer electronics manufacturers at a CES. It nearly started feeling like a visit to DisplayWeek, that is until I ran into some of the weird, only-at-CES iPhone cases

Color Your World CES 2013

I bet we’ll see more color talk next year, especially as 4K content delivery mechanisms and standards begin to mature. In the meantime, these are some of the color-related display stories that caught my eye this week:

Wide gamut content delivery

Sony’s 4K content delivery plans have been one of the most talked about topics here at CES. Less mentioned was Sony’s inclusion of wider color gamut in their standard. Sony reps that I talked to said that both the 1080P Blu-ray disc-based “mastered in 4K” and pure 4K delivery methods would include a wider color gamut. They were not ready to release specifics on gamut size or whether it would meet existing standards like DCI-P3. Still, bringing “expanded color showcasing more of the wide range of rich color contained in the original source” is a move in the right direction for wide gamut.

Color accuracy

Technicolor showed off a color certification program that they hope will incentivize display makers to improve the color accuracy of their panels. Displays that meet or exceed Technicolor’s color specs will get a badge and a copy of partner Portrait Display’s Chroma Tune software, which dynamically controls color gamut to match the application you are using. This means if you open Photoshop on a device with an Adobe RGB 1998 capable display, you’ll get the full, wide gamut. But, if you switch over to watch a YouTube video in your browser, the software will limit the display to rec.709 for the most accurate experience. The advantage was well demonstrated by their e-commerce demo, where a pair of shoes were more accurately depicted on a certified display:

Technicolor's ecommerce Color Certification demo at CES 2013. The color certified laptop in the middle of the frame more accurately shows the color of the shoes.

Technicolor’s ecommerce Color Certification demo at CES 2013. The color certified laptop in the middle of the frame more accurately shows the color of the shoes.

Like Sony’s upscaling effort, this kind of technology could help drive wide color gamut adoption by making today’s content compatible with newer displays.

Huge tablets

Panasonic 4K Tablet with sRGB color gamut at CES 2013

Panasonic’s 20 inch 4K/sRGB tablet

Several companies at the show introduced devices in a new class- the 20-plus inch tablet. While there were a lot of hokey multi touch gaming demos (are you really going to play poker with 4 smartphones and a 27″ screen instead of a deck of cards?), the content creation stuff Panasonic showed actually made me think the new form factor shows real promise as a professional tool.

Their tablet, which measures 20 inches on the diagonal, features a 4K IPS panel that covers 100% of the sRGB color gamut standard. Having such a a large canvas with high resolution, accurate color and multi-touch could be great for creative pros like photographers and architects.