Fall is when TV makers augment their existing TV lineups with higher-end or more experimental models. This year we'll see the first 4K screens from some major (and minor) brands, at least one TV with a curve, and a bonus dollop of new projectors.
Of course, everything is relative. The X850A series still costs significantly more than the W900A for example, a non-4K 55-inch Sony TV with otherwise similar specs. Then there's the raft of issues surrounding 4K itself, headlined by a lack of content and the fact that at 55- and 65-inch screen sizes, the improvement over 1080p will likely be tough to discern.
But if you still have your heart set on a 4K TV -- and I'm not talking about a Seiki or a TCL -- the X850A would probably earn our strongest recommendation so far. We say "probably" because we haven't reviewed any major-name 4K sets yet. But based on what we know, including Sony's promise of upgradability to HDMI 2.0, the existence of a Sony-only 4K video player, and the excellent picture quality of sets like the W900A, the X850A seems like a compelling choice.
The outlook: So is that "cheap" 4K Sony still too expensive for ya? China's No. 1 domestic TV brand has the answer. The TCL LE50UHDE56921 (say that five times fast) is the first 50-inch 4K TV to break the $1,000 barrier.*
The bad news is that its picture quality, despite all those pixels, might not be worthy of the price. We haven't reviewed the TCL yet, but based on our experience with the similar-looking Seiki SE50UY04 -- a slightly more expensive 50-inch 4K TV from a Chinese brand--we're not expecting much. PastTCLTVs have earned good to great "value" scores in our reviews, but at the $1,000 price point this TCL faces much stiffer competition.
*You'll notice we didn't say it's the cheapest 4K TV, period. That honor still belongs, as far as we know, to the 39-inch Seiki SE39UY04 ($699).
The outlook: Remember that other Chinese TV brand we mentioned in the previous slide? It has announced the least expensive 4K TV yet at the 65-inch size, undercutting Sony and the rest by two grand. The bad news is that we expect this TV to perform much like its 50-inch counterpart.
Along with 4K, OLED is the other new buzzword in TV technology. Currently there are only two OLED TVs on sale in the US, the Samsung KN55S9C ($8,999) and the LG 55EA9800 ($14,999 $9,999), and both have 55-inch curved (concave) screens rather than the flat screens used on typical plasma and LED/LCD TVs.
LG's "Gallery" OLED TV, model 55EA8800, interests us not because the company's marketing likens it to a painting, but because unlike those two, its screen is actually flat.
The outlook: Sharp's first 4K TV is also the first TV with THX's new 4K display certification, and the first 4K TV in a 70-inch size. Since other TV makers' 4K sets max out at 65 inches -- excepting 84-inch-plus monsters that cost $17 grand and up--it has a better chance of making all those extra pixels appreciable compared with 1080p sets. Sharp touts the upconversion as superior to the competition, and from what we saw at a brief CES demo, it did look pretty good. Overall the LC-70UD1U is likely the best-performing Sharp TV since the Elite.
The outlook: Toshiba's first mainstream 4K TV -- in other words, its first that doesn't support glasses-free 3D -- comes in 58-, 65- and 84-inch sizes. Toshiba's pricing is in the ballpark of heavier hitters Sony, Samsung and LG, and its peripheral features are also similar, including fancy-sounding upconversion and an edge-lit LED backlight with local dimming.
That said, there's little about this series that seems to make it more immediately appealing than those others, unless Toshiba enacts its own aggressive price cut.
The outlook: So $3,500 is the new normal for the cheapest 4K TVs from LG, Sony and Samsung. To hit that normal, LG had to drop the full-array local dimming and wacky sliding speaker from its step-up LA9700 series. We're not sure what would compel anyone to choose this LG over its like-priced competitors, especially given the lackluster performance of the company's non-4K flagship TV, but at least it has a that great motion remote.
The outlook: What's that you say? You want ANOTHER choice among 4K TV brands? Enter Panasonic, whose 65-inch, LED LCD-based WT600U is the company's first TV with 4K resolution. And no, we don't expect Panasonic to announce a 4K plasma anytime soon.
The WT600's claim to fame is its out-of-the-box compliance with the new HDMI 2.0 standard. Yes, Sony and Samsung promise their current 4K sets will be upgradable to the new standard, but it's unclear when and/or how much the upgrade will cost. HDMI 2.0 ensures compatibility with faster-frame rate video, like computer games, in 4K. The WT600 also comes with a DisplayPort 1.2a connector, another computer-centric connection that supports 60-frame-per-second 4K.
Otherwise the 65WT600 looks a lot like the current WT60 series of 1080p TVs, down to the local-dimming-capable LED backlight, pop-up camera and sleek transparent stand.
The outlook: Neither OLED nor 4K, Sony's latest high-end TV is nonetheless a world's first: an LED-based LCD TV with a curved screen. Yes, the concavity is gentler than that of curved OLED TVs, and at 65 inches the justification of being similar to a movie screen holds a bit more water than with a small screen. Nonetheless, don't be surprised if this expensive curved TV's popularity remains flat.
The outlook: The country's first 4K projector with HDMI 2.0, the 600ES is the "affordable" version of Sony's flagship, $28,000 VPL-VW1000ES. The 600ES is specced for a lower light output than the 1100ES, but it otherwise looks very similar, and shares the same sweet, sweet 4K resolution.
Although 4K is largely superfluous in smaller screen sizes like 55-inch TVs (unless you sit very close), on a 100-inch projector image all those extra pixels should really have an impact. Sony's 4K upconversion process -- which will get plenty of use for the time being since 4K content is so rare--is solid based on what we saw on its 84-inch TV. Add to that the great contrast of Sony's LCoS-based, SXRD chips, as seen on models like the VPL-HW50ES we reviewed earlier, and the 500ES looks like a real stunner on paper.
The icing on the cake is HDMI 2.0. The new standard ensures compatibility with faster-frame-rate video, like computer games, in 4K.
The outlook: So you want a 4K projector, but you can't afford the $15K Sony 600ES? Your next closest choice is JVC's X500R, the company's cheapest yet to include its "e-shift" faux 4K imaging solution.
The system, which JVC admits isn't technically 4K, splits all incoming signals and spits them out to two 1080p panels. The image is then combined using "pixel shift" to emulate a 4K image. The technology isn't new for JVC, but this is the first time the company has offered it in a projector under $5,000.
The projector also features a 60,000:1 native contrast ratio thanks to a new Clear Black feature that provides local area contrast enhancement. Given the picture quality of the DLA-X35, its step-down non-eShift linemate, the X500R should deliver superb picture quality.
Of course if that's not good enough, JVC also offers the step-up DLA-X900R ($11,999) and DLA-X700R ($7,999), with their even higher contrast ratio specs.
The 5020 was an excellent projector and our main concern -- poorer black levels compared with what we got from similarly priced rivals -- has been addressed in 2013. The main improvement over the previous model is an almost doubling in contrast with the new Ultra Black image system. The contrast ratio has increased from 320,000:1 to 600,000:1, while the light output remains constant at 2,400 lumens.
As with the 5020, the 5030 projector also comes in an "e" version ($2,899), which adds a five-port wireless HDMI module.
Other features of the projector are THX certification for an easier setup process and 3D playback with two sets of RF glasses in the box.
The outlook: Priced just right for an entry-level 1080p projector with 3D capability, the 2030 sweetens the pot with an MHL port. Why do you need this? For smart TV in the form of the Roku Streaming Stick, of course.
If the 2030 is as respectable a performer as the 3020 it will be a great value, even if you have to buy your 3D glasses separately. And yes, as a universal 3D-compliant PJ, the 2030 will work with third-party specs like those $20 Samsungs.