The Best TVs at CES 2020
With the doors now closed on the tech-fuelled madness of CES 2020, we’ve found a little time between jet lag and catching up on the day job to reflect on which of the vast parade of TVs on show impressed us most.
It has to be said that CES 2020 didn’t feel like a classic in terms of introducing radical new TVs and TV technologies. Even so, our initial ‘hit list’ for this article was pretty long. But after much debate, we’ve narrowed it down to seven models which either point to an exciting new direction for TV technology or look like potentially great purchase options as they come online in the coming months.
Samsung 75-inch The Wall
As it has for the previous two CES, Samsung went all out in 2020 to show off its micro LED technology.
Micro LED screens use tiny self-emissive LEDs to deliver a combination of the brightness of LED technology and the contrast and black level of OLED technology - and then some. What’s more, since micro LED screens are currently made by slotting together small micro LED blocks, you can even create micro LED screens to fit almost any space or shape.
While Samsung’s ‘statement’ Wall display this year was a colossal 292-inch, 8K model, the one that interested us most was actually the smallest ‘Wall’ we’ve seen to date. Clocking in at 75 inches with a 4K resolution, the exciting thing about this new, smaller micro LED is that it points to the technology finally being fit and ready for the living room rather than just the show floor.
The picture quality on this new 75-inch model looks stunning. The brightness micro LED can pump out continues to be mind-blowing. On this latest model, though, the fearsome brightness is partnered with colours that don’t just look incredibly bold and vibrant, but also immaculately subtle and realistic.
Detail levels are extreme, too. In fact, the 75-inch screen looked to be the most detailed micro LED yet thanks to the extra pixels per inch it delivers compared with bigger 4K models. And despite the intensity of the screen’s colour and brightness, it also delivers emphatically deep black levels.
It’s a pity, perhaps, that even this relatively small 75-inch screen has to be built using smaller Micro LED blocks rather than being made from a single Micro LED, as you can see faint seams with certain content. It’s also likely that even this 75-inch screen will cost comfortably into five figures, as mass-producing micro LED is still proving difficult. But it’s still a significant step forward for a technology that feels fairly convincingly like the future of TV.
LG’s OLED TVs are firm favourites with AV fans, so there’s always lots of interest in every new LG OLED range.
Nothing LG introduced in 2020 caused quite as much of a stir as 2019’s ‘rollable’ 65-inch OLED TV. Even though that ‘roll-up’ TV made a return in partnership at the front of LG’s CES stand with a new roll-down OLED prototype. It actually fell to a much smaller screen in LG’s CES announcements that really grabbed our attention. In fact, the 48-inch OLED48CX is the smallest OLED TV there’s ever been, undercutting the previous 55-inch starting point.
Normally we’re firm advocates of the ‘bigger is better’ school of TV. The OLED48CX, however, is exciting because it opens up the charms of OLED to smaller living rooms and, potentially, smaller budgets (though the way OLED screen production works probably means the 48CX will only be slightly rather than massively cheaper than the 55CX).
The 48CX’s smaller size also raises the prospect of using an OLED TV as a serious, sit-up-close gaming monitor. Especially as LG has got the CX input lag (the time the screen takes to render pictures) down to under 10ms, and continues to support game friendly features such as an automatic game mode, 120fps 4K support, NVidia G-Sync variable refresh rate support, and a new ‘HGiG’ mode that works with games and consoles to try and create the best HDR performance.
The OLED48CX also appears to retain all of OLED’s typical contrast and viewing angle benefits, as well as getting LG’s latest processing chip, which seems to deliver palpable brightness and colour enhancements. And because the 48CX still manages to fit a 4K resolution into its smaller screen, its pictures actually look sharper than those of any other OLED TV to date.
The biggest single TV story from CES in 2020 was 8K. While consumers still seem generally lukewarm on the idea of TVs with 7680x4320 pixels in their screens given the current lack of native 8K content, manufacturers clearly think they can win people round if they make 8K TVs cool enough.
Cue Sony’s ZH8s. These 75- and 85-inch TVs may be designed to offer a much cheaper 8K option than Sony’s dazzling ZG9s in 2019, but they still pack plenty of tech punch. Starting with the fact that their pictures are made using direct LED lighting (where the LEDs sit directly behind the screen rather than around its edges) with local dimming on hand to feed different zones of LEDs different amounts of light, to suit the needs of the picture.
The ZH8s also get Sony’s top-tier X1 Ultimate video processor, which we know from experience can deliver all sorts of great picture quality enhancements. For instance, Sony’s X-Tended Dynamic Range technology uses clever power management to boost the brightness of dark areas of the picture, while Super Bit Mapping ensures that colours appear without any striping or roughness.
Sony’s class-leading upscaling is also on hand to handle the key job of upconverting 4K, HD and even SD content to the screen’s 8K resolution. And Sony’s also peerless motion processing ensures that you don’t lose the 8K sharpness even if there’s lots of motion in the image.
The most innovative thing about the ZH8s, though, actually comes from their sound rather than their 8K pictures. For as well as managing to tuck a pair of slim but surprisingly powerful forward-facing speakers under the TVs’ bottom edge, they also feature a pair of ‘frame tweeters’. These sit behind the screen frame on the ZH8s’ left and right sides and create sound by vibrating the frame.
You wouldn’t think this could produce any precision or clarity. Still, it does - as well as vertically ‘lifting’ the sound so that you get a more convincing Dolby Atmos sound effect and dialogue that sounds more accurately positioned on the screen.
Samsung Q950TS Infinity TV
No brand is pushing 8K harder than Samsung. But with so many other brands this year introducing their own ranges of 8K TV, just having the necessary number of pixels is no longer enough in itself to stand out from the crowd.
Samsung’s solution to this is its Q950TS range. This introduces a new so-called Infinity design, where the frame around the screen is so slim (less than 2mm wide) that you really can’t see it from regular TV viewing distances. This means the TV’s pictures just seem to be hanging there in space, emerging from nowhere. As well as being a cool design effect, it’s strange how much more immersive this lack of frame makes the viewing experience feel.
The Q950TS also uses Samsung’s latest 8K processing system, which introduces a number of significant improvements over the brand’s 2019 models. First, Samsung has added a deep learning element to its AI upscaling system that should deliver more detail in the most densely textured parts of upscaled images.
There’s also a new system for controlling the way the Q950TS’s full array with local dimming backlight system works. This essentially shifts power from dark parts of the picture that don’t need it to bright parts that do, to both improve black levels and make light parts of the picture brighter.
Samsung has managed to get its input lag down to under 10ms in Game mode this year too - a pretty incredible result for LCD technology.
Finally, the Q950TS continues to carry the wide viewing angle LCD technology Samsung introduced in 2019.
We’re in 8K territory again for our fifth CES TV highlight. This time, though, the technology is OLED. And our main hope for this 77-inch LG model is that it will be able to combine the joys of 8K resolution with the self-emissive pixels of OLED at a much lower price than LG’s 2019 8K debutante, the A$60,000 OLED88Z9.
While LG hasn’t yet revealed any prices on its 2020 OLED models, the 77ZX raises hopes of being more affordable by being more straightforwardly designed (though it’s still gorgeous and super-thin) and 11 inches smaller than the OLED88Z9. And when you’re talking about the drop from 88 to 77 inches, experience suggests that the price drop tends to be disproportionately high.
The OLED77ZX doesn’t compromise on picture quality, though. In fact, it benefits from a newer picture processing engine (Alpha 9 Generation 3) than LG’s first 8K TVs got, which promises among other things to make HDR look more contrasty, colour look more consistent and natural, and upscaled sub-8K content look more detailed and sharp.
Talking of sharpness, the slightly smaller screen of the 77ZX should deliver even more dense 8K images than the 88-inch screen did. And if you fancy some big-screen gaming, LG’s 2020 TVs include support for the NVidia G-Sync variable refresh rate system; the ‘HGiG’ platform for more consistent and effective HDR gaming images; an automatic low latency mode when a game source is detected; and support for the 120fps 4K gaming that might turn up with the next generation of consoles.
It’s also good to find that all of the OLED77ZX’s processing decoders (including support for the key AV1 8K delivery system) are built into the TV; there’s no need for an external box like the one you needed with the OLED88Z9.
All this comes on top, of course, of OLED’s traditional contrast and viewing angle advantages.
There’s no doubt that the LG OLED77ZX will still command a significant price premium over most similarly sized 8K LCD TVs in 2020. But hopefully the gap will be at least a bit less difficult to bridge than it was last year.
Sony XH90 series
While most of the slots in this ‘best of CES’ round-up understandably feature pretty high-end TVs, one range caught my eye for the potential quality it offers for what will likely be a very aggressive price.
The big thing about the Sony XH90 series is that it moves from using an edge LED system, as its predecessors have, to a direct-lit system with local dimming. Side by side demonstrations at CES proved the worth of this immediately, with the new model delivering massively improved black levels and contrast - while also, impressively, seeming to suffer surprisingly little with backlight ‘blooming’ around stand out bright objects.
While the XH90s don’t get Sony’s top-tier ‘Ultimate’ X1 processor, the step-down X1 processor is still powerful enough to support the brand’s Object-based HDR remaster technology for very convincingly turning SDR content into HDR. Plus the shift to a direct lighting system with local dimming brings into play Sony’s X-Tended Dynamic Range system for taking power from dark image areas and pushing it into bright image areas, plus enhanced motion control.
The 65-inch and bigger XH90s also get a Multi-Audio system where a bi-amp system controls the main speaker and ‘invisible’ tweeters separately, while all XH90 sizes get a new X-Balanced Speaker system that increases sound clarity.
The XH90s also supports both Dolby Vision HDR and Dolby Atmos sound despite its likely very affordable price, while smart features come via a slightly customised version of Android TV v9.0.
Last but not least, on our round-up of CES 2020 TV highlights is the Panasonic HZ2000 OLED TV series. As with last year’s GZ2000 models, the HZ2000 is the only OLED TV range on the market that offers some genuine innovation at the hardware level to the core LG Display OLED panels that sit at the heart of pretty much every brand of OLED TV.
This innovation delivers improved heat and current control to enable the HZ2000 to run brighter than other OLED TVs - especially in terms of the ‘average’ levels of brightness it can hit - without suffering raised risks of the image retention problems that used to be a pretty significant problem for OLED technology.
Panasonic hasn’t improved or changed the hardware in the HZ2000 compared with the GZ2000, but it has introduced slightly improved processing and a couple of significant new features: an ambient version of the new Filmmaker Mode, and Dolby Vision IQ.
The Filmmaker Mode is backed by film industry creatives and essentially turns off most of the processing systems in a TV - especially all motion controls - in a bid to get a pure picture that supposedly resembles as closely as possible the way the content was designed to look. A few other brands are supporting the mode on their 2020 ranges too, but Panasonic has gone a useful step further than some by combining the Filmmaker Mode with an ambient light sensor, so that the picture can adjust its appearance to compensate for the amount of brightness in the room.
The new Dolby Vision IQ system does something broadly similar, adjusting the look of Dolby Vision content to compensate for the light levels in your room.
Supporting both of these new technologies is typical of Panasonic’s current approach of trying to support as many different, sometimes rival picture platforms as possible, backing up the support for both of the HDR10+ and Dolby Vision dynamic HDR systems that it first introduced in 2019.
I’ve spent the past 25 years writing about the world of home entertainment technology. In that time I’m fairly confident that I’ve reviewed more TVs and projectors than any other individual on the planet, as well as experiencing first-hand the rise and fall of all manner of great and not so great home entertainment technologies.