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Chinese TV set makers were at CES in force, determined to take more of the North American market – not only with sets sold under private labels but, increasingly, under their own. This trend has been visible for the last couple of years, but this year it was dramatic, with elaborate exhibits laid on by TCL, Haier, HiSense, Konka, and Changhong. We could add Westinghouse Digital, which, as usual, showed its line-up in a suite at the Las Vegas Hotel. (Although Westinghouse isn’t a Chinese company, it’s sets come from the same set of contract manufacturers.)

And the Chinese set-makers weren’t just showing generic me-too products. Among their offerings were 4Kx2K sets, very large screens, smart TVs, and 3D-TVs. Although LG got a lot of attention for its short-throw laser TV that could be positioned just 22 inches from the screen onto which it was projecting, Hisense showed one that worked with its front edge virtually in line with the plane of the screen!

Let’s look at what the vendors were showing in more detail.

TCL showed an extremely broad line-up, including a 110-inch 4Kx2K TV, a voice-control TV, and the TCL MOVO Google TV box. TCL’s Jianpeng “Conan” Jiao told Display Daily that the MOVO box will be the first TCL product to appear in the U.S. market under TCL’s own name rather than a private label. Incidentally, the MOVO box has a handsome and distinctive design. Among the TV sets TCL showed was a 55-inch 4K that is eventually headed for the U.S., but Conan had no information on when that might be. The 55-inch 4K and 110-inch 4K panels are made by China Star Optoelectronic Technology (CSOT), which is jointly owned by TCL and Samsung.

The 55-inch 4K looks very good. Just one thing: We will all have to get used to sitting closer to our TV sets than is typical today in order to fully appreciate the capabilities of such a small 4K screen. Another point. The increased impression of depth delivered by 4K really makes 4K 3D-TV’s worst enemy, as well as its enabler in that 4K makes several important implementations of 3D-TV look a lot better they do in FHD.

Also in TCL’s booth were demonstrations of TV voice control and a “Blade TV” that is strikingly thin even by today’s standards.

TCL’s very thin “Blade TV” (Photo: Ken Werner)

Conan said that TCL terminated its licensing deal to sell TVs under the RCA brand because TCL wants to push its own brand in the U.S. market. Technicolor, which owns and licenses the RCA brand, may have an alternative interpretation.

In addition to its almost-zero-throw laser projection TV, Hisense showed an 84-inch 4K, and 110-inch 4K, a Roku-ready TV, and a Google TV, among others.

The Hisense 110-inch 4Kx2K TV is the world’s largest in the sense that there is none larger, but several other makers showed equally large TVs, all using the LCD panel made by CSOT of Shenzhen, China. (Photo: Ken Werner)
Hisense’s almost-zero-throw (measuring from the front edge of the projector to the plane of the screen) laser projector was largely ignored, while LG’s 22-inch-throw model in the expensive part of the hall drew gawkers and praise. (Photo: Ken Werner)

Haier introduced 25 TV models. Among the demos was the “Gaze” eye-control TV and an autostereoscopic TV with an unacceptably pixelated image. Haier also joined the TV makers – which seemingly includes most of them – showing a variant of 3D technology that allows two viewers to each watch a different show on the same set. Yawn. Just because you can do something doesn’t mean you should. More interesting was the award-winning pizza maker who was flinging pizza crusts around Haier’s booth. (The company is a major manufacturer of kitchen appliances.)

Enhanced ways of controlling a TV in this emerging era of interactive TV and a plethora of program choices were all over the show floor. Here is Haier’s “3D Gesture Control.” (Photo: Ken Werner)
Haier hired a champion pizza-crust tosser to spin dough in its booth. The intent was draw attention to the company’s major kitchen appliances. (Photo: Ken Werner)

Konka was showing a touch TV, its own 84-inch 4K, and a transparent TV. Transparent LCDs have obvious application in retail signage and merchandizing, but if you can figure out why anyone would want their home TV set to be transparent, please let me know. Actually, old friend Bob Raikes of MEKO’s Display Monitor has suggested a reason. Raikes says that some high-end buyers have complained about the “black hole” on their wall when their TVs are turned off. A few of them have actually shown an image of their wallpaper on the TV to make the set blend into the wall, but this consumes power. So, suggested Raikes, a transparent TV could solve this problem for those who feel it’s a problem.

Konka’s transparent TV. (Photo: Ken Werner)

Alas! The LCD in a “transparent” LCD-TV is no more transparent than the LCD in any other TV, which is approximately 6%. Some of the transparent LCDs made for retail shop windows or display cases may have pushed that number up by a few percentage points by decreasing the density of the matrix color filter and thus sacrificing color gamut. That’s a reasonable compromise for retail applications but it would not be acceptable for consumer TV. Thus, at best, Raikes’ “black hole” on the wall would become a “very dark gray hole.” Even worse, transparent TVs and monitors work by using the bright light behind them to substitute for the backlight on normal LCD displays. Again, no problem in retail applications, where you can light a display case as brightly as you like, but brightly lighting the wall behind a transparent TV – like a Philips Ambilight on steroids – is not likely to appeal to viewers.

Changhong was featuring its “New B Series” of TVs with “motion interaction,” “recognition interaction,” and “UHD Interaction.”  No, I’m not quite sure what those terms mean, either, but they presumably enabled a demo in which the viewer was invited to play chess with an elegant Chinese woman, both the woman and the chess pieces existing only behind the TV screen.

Chanhong’s demonstration of a gesturally controlled interactive TV chess game. (Photo: Ken Werner)

In its suite in the Las Vegas Hotel, Westinghouse Digital (WD) showed the widest range of 4K sets at the show, from 110 inches at the top to 50 inches at the bottom. And Westinghouse was the only vendor to announce prices for its 4K sets. The 110-inch 4K at the t 110-inch 4K is available on special order at the end of Q1 for about $300K. The panel is from CSOT’s new Gen 8.5 fab in Shenzhen, where it is made “one-up”; that is, each substrate that goes through the fab produces only one 110-inch panel. This is a very expensive way to make TV displays and it invites low manufacturing yields. Westinghouse Digital’s Rey Roque, speculated that making 98-inch panels two-up on the Gen 8.5-fab might be a more viable combination. TCL and Samsung also use the CSOT 110-inch panel. Sharp’s Gen 10 fab should be able to produce very large 4K panels at lower cost.

Image on the Westinghouse Digital 4Kx8K 110-inch TV. Since this image has been down-converted to 600 pixels wide, you will have to take our word for the fact that this image conveyed a remarkable impression of three-dimensionality although it was a 2D image. (Photo: Ken Werner)

In the Westinghouse suite Roque said that the 65-inch 4K panel would be available at the end of Q1 for $3999; the 55-inch 4K, end Q2, $2999; and the 50-inch 4K, end Q2, $2499. Roque said he did not know from where the smaller panels were being sourced, but it was not CSOT.

Most of WD’s larger edge-lit TVs will Mobile High-Definition Link (MHL) compliant. MHL is the industry standard audio-visual interface for connecting mobile phones and other portable devices to TVs and other displays. MHL supports 1080p video and digital audio, and also provides for powering/charging the mobile device. Westinghouse does this through what looks like an HDMI connector, although it is now an HML connector. The sets are “Roku Ready” and directly provide signal and power to a Roku Stick through the single HML connector. The Roku Stick provides the same functionality as Roku streaming box, but in a much smaller and tidier package. WD may bundle a Roku Stick with some Roku ready models.

WD revealed that their Direct LED (DLED) sets use a backlight design borrowed from CCFL backlights, with, typically, three or four horizontal LED channels replacing the CCFLs. The design is slightly more costly than an equivalent CCFL backlight, but the power efficiency is better – and it is much cheaper than an Edge LED (ELED) with its expensive light guide plate, WD said.

Mark Twain once said of a dancing bear that the wonder is not that the bear dances poorly, but that it dances at all. That was not at all the case with the Chinese TV manufacturers at CES. The Chinese dragons were dancing with energy and grace.

Posted by Pete Putman, January 28, 2013 5:45 PM

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About Pete Putman

Peter Putman is the president of ROAM Consulting L.L.C. His company provides training, marketing communications, and product testing/development services to manufacturers, dealers, and end-users of displays, display interfaces, and related products.

Pete edits and publishes HDTVexpert.com, a Web blog focused on digital TV, HDTV, and display technologies. He is also a columnist for Pro AV magazine, the leading trade publication for commercial AV systems integrators.