Look for 4K Ultra HDTVs to Get Brighter, Cheaper

NEW YORK—For 2016, the Consumer Technology Association (CTA) estimates sales of 4K Ultra HDTVs increased 40 percent to 10 million units sold.

Of that, about one in 10 4K UHD TVs can accept and read HDR metadata this year, per CTA data. For 2017, the association expects HDR will expand to represent about 1:5 4K UHD TV set sales, as the overall 4K market enjoys double-digit unit volume growth, said Steve Koenig, CTA market research senior director.

Meanwhile, in WCG and HDR TVs, colors are easier to discern than resolution alone and the expanded color range in many high-performance 4K displays surpasses 90 percent of the Digital Cinema Initiative (DCI) P3 color recommendations for professional theaters.

Paul Gagnon, IHS Technology Group senior manager of analysis, noted that as sets with WCG and HDR get better and more pervasive, average 4K Ultra HD TV prices are falling more than 20 percent year over year, driving new demand.

Widening Color Gamut:In addition, new Ultra HD Blu-ray players arrived last year supporting up to the full Rec. 2020 SMPTE color gamut standard. Unfortunately, the standard is so large no consumer displays available in 2016 could reproduce it.

One thing to watch for at CES 2017 is just how much closer new 4K Ultra HDTVs get to that Rec. 2020 color volume target. New quantum dot technologies used in some top-level 4K Ultra HD LED LCD TVs will include advances that approach that goal.

Similarly, the brighter highlights and wider contrast ratio presented in HDR content produces stunning realism, which could get more dynamic in 2017 as 4K Ultra HDTVs elevate peak luminance levels above the 540-nit (OLED) and 1,000-nit (LCD) thresholds of Ultra HD Premium performance determined by the Ultra HD Alliance.

HDR Performance Levels:New technologies often add confusion and in 2016 manufacturers introduced a wide range of 4K Ultra HDTVs advertised as “HDRready” or “HDR compatible” offered a varying range of performance levels. This means a TV can receive and recognize HDR metadata in a signal. However, the capability of the individual set determines how well HDR is displayed, and some cheaper models manage brightness levels only slightly better than standard dynamic range. Consumers are left confused in determining what HDR/WCG should look like.

Gagnon said IHS uses 500 nits as the division line between HDR and HDR-compatible TVs, the latter only needing to accept and read metadata.

Meanwhile, the industry awaits guidelines to clarify the situation with guidelines for good, better, best HDR performance criteria.

Dolby Vision Expands:More TVs in 2017 are also expected to include support for the Dolby Vision HDR format in addition to HDR 10, which has become the baseline industry standard. Dolby Vision brings dynamic metadata with parameters that shift from scene to scene instead of remaining constant throughout a production, potentially heightening the sense of realism.

Meanwhile, look for some televisions in 2017 to support the Hybrid Log-Gamma (HLG) HDR format, which has been proposed for use in the forthcoming ATSC 3.0 television broadcast system. However, as this was written, an HDR application for ATSC 3.0 had not been selected, and HLG support could be either valuable or useless in the U.S. depending on the verdict.

Like HDR, the performance criteria for WCG might become similarly muddled in 2017, as displays with wider color gamut performance emerge at CES 2017.

The three primary technologies driving WCG along with HDR in step-up and premium TVs are: organic light emitting diode (OLED) displays; quantum dot-based LED LCDs and phosphor coated LED LCDs. Each are expected to see performance advancements in new sets planned for 2017.

OLED Growth:Currently LG Electronics is the only manufacturer in the U.S. selling OLED 4K Ultra HD TVs. OLED technology excels at generating black levels to generate a wider contrast ratio starting at nearly total blackness and working up. In 2017, LG will widen that range further by achieving peak brightness levels nearing the 1,000-nit level of premium LCD TVs.

The CTA estimates volume shipments of OLED TVs reached 181,000 in 2016, rising to 500,000 in 2017.

Quantum Dots Take LCD Higher:Because OLED technology stands near the pinnacle of display tech, it continues to carry a high price tag relative to LCD. Competitors like Samsung, Hisense and others are adapting LCD with new approaches to support WCG and HDR with quantum dot technologies, local dimming and phosphor- coated LEDs, to drive performance and value.

Samsung has aggressively rights and patents on quantum dot applications. It previously acquired an equity stake in Nanosys, a leader in quantum dot technologies for the consumer display market, and recently acquired QD Vision that has developed a different quantum dot approach optimized for edge-lit LED applications.

Nanosys and Samsung are developing a hybrid technology called QLED, which will combine many of the benefits of quantum dot-based LCD TVs with self-emissive characteristics of OLED technology. This is expected to lead to brighter displays with deeper black levels and a wider color gamut. But market introduction isn’t expected before 2019.

QLED uses a blue OLED back light instead of white used today along with a layer of selectively patterned red and green quantum dots. This replaces brightness-restricting color filters with quantum dots producing red, green and blue light. Photons from the blue light source excite red quantum dots to produces a 2.8x improvement in system efficiency over color filters.

Similar technology is being developed by Nanoco Technologies in conjunction with licensees Dow, Merck and Wah Hong.

Aside from QLED, Nanosys is producing this year a quantum dot technology delivering a color gamut approaching the Rec. 2020 standard.

For Samsung, Nanosys has developed quantum dots free of toxic cadmium to comply with the European Union’s Restriction on Hazardous Substances (RoHS). But this approach makes it difficult to meet Rec. 2020, because the blue and the green primaries for Rec. 2020 are very close together. Nanosys has developed Hyperion quantum dots that mix cadmium-free red and cadmium-based green quantum dots into a single film that produces narrower green. The result produces cadmium levels below 100 ppm to meet the RoHS directive.

This story first appeared on TVT's sister publication TWICE