Samsung 146-inch micro-LED TV set triggers projector TV revolt at CES

Korean, Japanese and Chinese TV makers usually use CES as a launch pad for the coming year and 2018 seems to be no different. But the output is the most varied for years – with each player pushing completely different technologies and Samsung stealing most of the headlines with a 146-inch wall based TV.

We were told as the 2017 year ended, by none other than IHS Markit, that OELD TVs had shipped 133% ahead of last year’s figures – not much of a leap really, from an already low figure.

OLED reached 270,000 shipment units in November as falling prices pushed the sweet spot purchases around 55-inches and above, offering genuine UHD and 4K down into the budget range around $1,500. You will remember that Samsung and LG have totally split on technology with Samsung sticking with Quantum Dot and extending that to full Quantum Dot LEDs, while LG decided to stay with OLEDs. All that happened at last year’s CES.

Now other Chinese manufacturers have caught up LG and it has been reduced to 31% market share in OLED in a market growing in leaps and bounds, but minus Samsung, and really only relevant to less than 1% of TVs at present. Other OLED challengers during 2017 have included Sony and Toshiba at the 4K level.

This year at CES the diverging technologies were around really big screens, with Samsung using the same technology, modules of Quantum Dot LEDs which do not need backlights, to build a 146-inch display called The Wall. In fact, now Samsung is calling this technology a micro-LED display, and super-large screens have now been preserved as the territory of the super-rich. Samsung has not given out a price or a delivery date for its new screen, but it is pushing it as superior in contrast to even OLED.

For the past 5 years we have waited for a such a Wall product, expecting it to come from a Chinese player, and for it to crash the price of the entire TV market. The truth is that a wall of smaller screens, say 32-inch OLEDs, could easily be built up into a single image TV of this size. The trouble is that anything less than 4K and the individual pixels would probably be visible, perhaps until you get up to 8K. For whatever reason no-one has chosen to bring one to market. We were told in the past that a Wall Product needed OLED to get rid of the edge bevel, and that other technologies, such as the previous generation of Quantum dot devices, would not work because they relied on a side illumination.

Now that OLED is in volume, Samsung is perhaps anticipating just a few months head start on everyone with this monster and it says that its modular technology allows for TVs of any size to be built to order – that’s real rich man’s territory, likely to begin above $20,000. But it is still a 4K device, so it is there to be shot at.

The response from the other TV makers has been to try to confuse the market with short range projectors which can light up an area between 120 inches and 150 inches, from a projector just a few feet in front of a wall. There is some argument about just how black the blacks will be, compared to this Samsung Wall, and whether this is a viable home cinema approach.

One option at CES came from Hisense, again only in 4K, but capable of lighting up 150 inches of wall, another from LG that can also reach 150 inches and one from Sony that can cover 120 inches clearly and from just 9.6 inches in front of the wall – so less clutter to trip you up in your home theater. Again, all of these are 4K, and the only 8K device at the show was in fact an 88-inch LG OLED TV.

The pricing on these projectors is likely to fall dramatically with predecessor prices anywhere from $2,000 to $10,000, and it is likely during the course of 2018 that we will see at least one of these monster projectors retail at $2,500 as the aggressive price cuts continue to eat into TV margins.

The bulk market for 2018 is clearly expected to be around 65 inches with everyone that launched anything, sporting TVs from 65 to 77 inches as their headline devices.

The 8K LG box has 33 million pixels (7680×4320) and it says this is the future of the ‘high-end premium TV market’ again with a device which has no price as yet. We would not expect this to ship outside of Japan for some time.

But the thing to watch for in 2018 is when one of these OLED players breaks ranks and introduces an OLED Wall at a fantastically low price, around $3,500 or so, that is built out of smaller OLED units, that has the potential to crash the price of TVs everywhere. The need for size in TVs seems set to continue and putting a 3mm thin TV right across a wall seems to be the only thing that will satisfy this apparent (and appalling) hunger.

China’s TCL went an entirely different route for CES, talking more and more about its Roku TV, rather than featuring on winning the size battle and its new iPQ Engine for precise color reproduction and high dynamic range. It said it would launch Roku TVs in the US for the first time this year.

But US native Vizio, which is recovering from its failed takeover last year from China’s LeEco, had nothing new on display at the show, surely a sign that all things are still not quite well there.