Wall-size TVs from Sony and Samsung could make projectors obsolete
With projectors lagging behind the latest TV tech, Samsung's Cinema Screen and Sony's CLEDIS technologies promise massive, wall-size images that can do 4K, HDR and more.
Geoffrey Morrison is a writer/photographer about tech and travel for CNET, The New York Times, and other web and print publications. He's also the Editor-at-Large for The Wirecutter. He has written for Sound&Vision magazine, Home Theater magazine, and was the Editor-in-Chief of Home Entertainment magazine. He is NIST and ISF trained, and has a degree in Television/Radio from Ithaca College. His bestselling novel, Undersea, and its sequel, Undersea Atrophia, are available in paperback and digitally on Amazon. He spends most of the year as a digital nomad, living and working while traveling around the world. You can follow his travels at BaldNomad.com and on his YouTube channel.
I love projectors. Let me say that up front. I've used a projector as my only "TV" for over 15 years. In terms of picture size for the dollar, they can't be beat.
But even the best of these light cannons lags behind the latest display technologies commonplace in TVs. We're only just starting to see reasonably affordable 4K projectors, for example, which is doubly frustrating since projectors are the one place where you could really see that extra resolution. A couple of projectors are capable of wide color gamut (WCG), but even those don't get as wide as many TVs. And with current technology, high dynamic range (I mean real HDR) is basically impossible.
Meanwhile, TV technology keeps advancing. Both OLED and LCD TVs offer all of those technologies at increasingly affordable prices, and LCDs in particular are getting even bigger for less money -- impinging on projector territory. Unfortunately the image quality drawbacks of LED-backlit LCD TVs aren't going away any time soon (or probably ever), and OLED TVs larger than 65 inches remain incredibly expensive.
New technology to the rescue. Display heavyweights
are both working on tech that uses the light-emitting diodes directly, without having to shine them through a layer of liquid crystals. The best part is that both are designed for truly massive, wall-size pictures. Neither will be available in the home anytime soon, but the potential is substantial.
Let's take a look.
Introducing Samsung Cinema Screen and Sony CLEDIS
Samsung recently announced the Cinema Screen, quite simply an array of millions of individual LEDs spread across something the size of a movie theater screen. Individual modules allow for different screen sizes. It's an interesting idea. Samsung claims potential peak brightness of 147 footlamberts (approx 503 nits). That's low for a modern HDR-capable TV, but 10 times the normal movie screen brightness of 14ftL.
Because it can turn each LED off individually, a Cinema Screen can produce absolute black and an infinite contrast ratio (just like OLED). Film can't even really do that, and digital projectors definitely can't. Not within a single scene, anyway.
Sony showed something similar at InfoCom in 2016 called CLEDIS, or Crystal LED Integrated Structure. It's a larger version of its Crystal LED prototype from 2012. Sony says it's intended for digital signage, not specifically a movie theater, but that might just be because the company already makes cinema projectors. The technology is similar to the Cinema Screen, with individual modules working together to form a single seamless screen. Sony claims 1,000 nits of brightness, similar to many HDR
. There's also wide color gamut and a 120 Hz refresh rate.
With the current design, you need at least a 110-inch diagonal screen for 1080p, and a 220-inch screen for 4K. Meanwhile the one Sony brought to CES 2017 (below) measured 32 feet wide by 9 feet high.
Watch this: Sony's CLEDIS. The video wall you want, but can't afford
Coming soon to a theater near you?
Two aspects of these new wall-size display technologies point toward eventual adoption in the cinema. One is the butts-in-seats aspect. The goal of any theater is to make money, and the main way they do that is by selling tickets. Every advancement in the theater -- sound, color, Dolby Surround, 3D, everything -- has been to coax people watching movies at home to visit the theater. If you can get those experiences from your TV, you're less likely to go to the local multiplex.
Right now many TVs have superior picture quality to most cinema projectors. Direct-view LED screens like Cinema Screen and CLEDIS offer brighter images, better color, better contrast and HDR, bringing huge-screen cinema image quality to a similar level as the smaller TV in your home.
The other aspect is money. Making a profit often also means reducing cost. If Samsung can convince movie theaters that the long-term ownership costs of an LED display costs less than a projector and screen, it's an easy(ish) sell. For one thing, you'd need even fewer employees, the maintenance costs are likely lower, and it's possible these screens could require less energy to run.
So, potentially, this is win-win. We get even better visuals in the theater, the theater owners lower their costs.
In the home?
Right now both these technologies are experimental, and aimed for cinema or industrial use. Adapting them for the home wouldn't be a stretch. Sony already showed a demo of such a technology with the aforementioned Crystal TV prototype.
There are two major hurdles for creating a, say, 100-inch version of CLEDIS/CrystalTV/Cinema Screen. The first is heat. This isn't an aspect most people usually think about, but LEDs create heat, and a lot of LEDs create a lot of heat. I mean just look at the fans on the back of the CLEDIS module (right).
To create a Home Cinema Screen, you'd need over 8 million LEDs (technically 25 million in an RGB arrangement). That's a lot, and they'd need to be pretty close together. The 110-inch mentioned before is only HD. The LEDs would have to be four times denser for 4K. That's even harder to keep cool.
The bigger issue is cost. That's a lot of LEDs. In a cinema, where the cost of any display will be amortized over many years, and via a steady flow of tickets, spending tens of thousands isn't unreasonable. If the numbers make sense, regarding energy use and lack of lamp replacements and so on, it could save them money.
Not so much at home. Even if a home version cost, say, $10,000, the number sold would be so low that it's unlikely either company would invest in the R&D to make it work. Note that after 5+ years Sony never did anything with its Crystal LED TV. Or more precisely, it became this huge and hugely expensive video wall. Maybe after a few generations of price dropping and the heat/power consumption numbers starting to make sense on a smaller scale. But that would be many, many years away.
Still, it would be pretty awesome, though. A wall-size TV with the picture quality of the best 4K TVs? Sign me up.