Show Review

Ten Intriguing Display Discoveries from CES 2016

Ten Intriguing Display Discoveries from CES 2016

As expected, big beautiful screens were on hand at this year’s show, but other less obvious examples of display technology helped complete the picture.

by Ken Werner

THE 2016 International Consumer Electronics Show – held at the Las Vegas Convention Center (LVCC) and other venues around Las Vegas on January 6–9 – reached a record size of 170,000 attendees, 3800 exhibitors, and 2.5 million square feet of exhibit space, according to the Consumer Technology Association (CTA), the show’s producer.  (CTA is the new name for the former Consumer Electronics Association or CEA).

Although a lot of consumer electronics can still be found at CES, the show has a steadily increasing proportion of industrial and business-to-business content.  CTA promotes this, and many participants (Panasonic is a notable example) trumpet the increasing B2B component in their business mix.  “Participants” is a more accurate term here than “exhibitors” because many companies do business from suites in the Westgate and Venetian Hotels, with their suites lining the corridors and stacked above each other floor over floor.

Many companies are soliciting sales or support for products that do not incorporate displays in a central or innovative way (for a look at a few examples, see the sidebar, “More Exciting Things at CES”), but even a small minority out of 3800 exhibitors provides a number of exciting, or at least interesting, display developments.  Here are 10 of them:

1.  LG Display’s 18-in. Rollable OLED Display

In its large private suite in the convention center’s North Hall, LG Display showed visitors the holy grail of display fabrication:  a reasonably large-sized rollable display (Fig. 1).  It was not in a vacuum chamber or inside a Lucite box, but in the open air for VIPs, customers, analysts, and even journalists to see.  The 18-in.-diagonal panel has 1200 × 810 pixels and can be rolled up to a radius of 3 cm without affecting image quality, LG Display said.  The company suggested that rollable TVs of 50-in. on the diagonal or more could come to market in the foreseeable future.

It is worth noting that LG Display does not generally exhibit blue-sky demonstrations at its CES suite.  In general, these are displays that are in volume manufacturing or reasonably close to it, assuming customers come forward.

Fig. 1:  LG Display’s rollable 18-in. OLED display was shown and touched in an open-air demonstration – not in a case or other enclosure.  Photo courtesy Ken Werner.

2.  The Best-Looking TVs in the World

The LG UHD Premium OLED TV has a high dynamic range that is superb, with blacks that are not there because they are really black (at least when the LVCC’s ceiling lights were not shining on them).  The Dolby Vision HDR makes the pictures snap, with an increased beauty and drama from the image itself, quite apart from any dramatic context.  LG is apparently trying to capture this idea with its tag line, “The art of essence.”

The top-of-the-line “ultra-premium” OLED Signature G6 TV is built on an all-glass structure 2.57-mm thick, which LG calls “picture on glass” (Fig. 2).  The image is visible on the backside of the TV, although with less image quality than the front.  The G6 has a gamut of 99% of the DCI color space (used in digital movie theaters), but will accept a Rec. 2020 signal.

Fig. 2:  The OLED Signature G6 TV is built on an all-glass structure 2.57-mm thick. Photo courtesy Ken Werner.

On the show floor, Ted Maass, representing LG, said that in 2015 LG started making OLED TVs in a range of products instead of one super-premium model.  In 2016, there will be four OLED-TV series with eight models.  One, the Signature G6, will be 77 in.; all others will be 55 or 65 in.  The G6 is also available in 65 in.  Since the G6 has a glass chassis, all of the electronics are built into the base.  All OLED sets will meet the UHD Premium spec for HDR, and all 2016 OLED sets will be 4K.

The sets all include both Dolby Vision and HDR 10.  All the OLED sets have 10-bit panels, but only the UH9500 series uses 10-bit processing throughout the signal chain.  The lesser series models utilize 8-bit processing.  Similarly, except for the G6, only the UH9500 series has a gamut of 90% DCI.  The UH8500 and UH7700 have 84%.

Once you have a 2.57-mm-thick OLED panel, you can do things other than making a gorgeous TV set.  In its suite, LG showed two such panels bonded back to back to make a two-sided display that showed different programming on each side and was still very thin at about 5 mm.  The next step was to tile a bunch of these OLEDs and bend them to make an S-curved two-sided display, which should appeal to high-end retailers (Fig. 3) .

Other OLED TVs on the floor were from Panasonic, Changhong (available only from Newegg in the U.S., said a rep), and Konka, with each using an LG panel (to the best of my knowledge).  The great curved “small” – that is, 65 in. and less – TV fad seems to have peaked in 2015, as predicted.  LG has no curved LCD TVs in its 2016 line-up and only two curved OLED TVs.

Fig. 3:  Curved OLED panels from LG Display were tiled and mounted back to back to create an impressive display in LG’s suite.  Photo courtesy Ken Werner.

Samsung LCD TVs

Samsung had lots of HDR sets on the show floor, all of them the same curved SUHD  65-in. 4K 1000-nit HDR LCD  model.  The set presented impressive images, and if LG’s OLED model hadn’t been on the floor, this one might well have been best in show.  Samsung’s Joe Stinziano said his company has 50% of the 4K TV market and that the Ultra HD Premium logo will soon be on every Samsung 4K set.

According to Samsung’s literature: “Peak Illuminator dazzles with a brilliance three times brighter than previous peak white,”  and there is “35% improved contrast over conventional TV displays with Ultra Black, Samsung’s proprietary reflection-suppressing technology.”  Samsung vigorously promoted its use of quantum dots.  The company has opted for indium-phosphide dots, which provide a gamut that is less impressive than that achieved with cadmium selenide, at least for now.

Qualcomm’s HDR Chip

HD affordability in the near term was a common theme among set and chip makers.  At Qualcomm’s press conference, Director of Product Marketing Chris Porter said, “We will make HDR affordable” and noted that Qualcomm’s chip for achieving this was in 22 new TV models.

3.  An Organic Quantum-Dot Substitute

At its suite at the Westgate Hotel, executives of StoreDot (Herzeliya, Israel) showed me their MolecuLED – an organic color-conversion layer that StoreDot says is an alternative to quantum dots.  Although VP of R&D Daniel Aronov and Director of Product Marketing and IP Guy Paradis would not talk about molecular or structural details, they were very happy to talk about MolecuLED’s performance, comparing it to the QD solutions in a prior model of the Kindle HD and an unidentified Samsung solution of (sources claim) 2 or 3 years ago.

StoreDot’s organic film has peaks at wavelengths close to that of the aforementioned Kindle and Samsung solutions, and with generally similar sharpness of the emission peaks.  Lifetime will be equivalent by the middle of this year, Aronov said.

Aronov said that MolecuLED can be made with a simple high-yield manufacturing process at a cost approximately 30% lower than QD films.  Predictably, he also pointed out that the product is free of heavy metals.

The company was using CES to initiate an aggressive partner engagement process.  It was meeting potential partners at CES, with plans to invite potential partners to test MolecuLED during Q1 and Q2, and to sign commercial agreements with from one to three partners in Q3–Q4.

4.  13 in. and All that Jazz

Panasonic, the world’s largest supplier of airline seatback infotainment systems, showed its new “Jazz” economy seatback system with a 13-in. FHD display, the largest it could fit onto the back of an economy airline seat (Fig. 4).  The Jazz Seat, which has integrated lighting and induction charging, is currently being deployed with a “middle eastern carrier.”  The seat is based on the Google development platform.  The user’s cell phone pairs with the seat via Bluetooth.  Special flyer data (meals and media preferences, for instance) are communicated to the seat, and this can be pre-set before the passenger reaches his or her seat.  Transmitters automatically turn off over restricted areas.

Fig. 4:  The Jazz Seat from Panasonic features a 13-in. FHD display for economy airline seats. Photo courtesy Ken Werner. 

5.  The Most Transparent Transparent Display

Samsung showed a prototype transparent 55-in. OLED FHD display with a remarkable 46% transmissivity (Fig. 5).  Information was in short supply, but the RGB pixels provided colors with good subjective saturation.  Despite the message that appears in the photo, the transparent panels were not curved.  Samsung was also using the transparent panels to post descriptions of the various products it was exhibiting.

Fig. 5:  Samsung’s transparent OLEDs were used at the show as signage for other products as well as a demonstration on their own.  Photo courtesy Ken Werner. 

6.  Displays for the Connected Cockpit

The automotive infotainment system as we have known it is now being absorbed into something much more interesting:  the connected car cockpit, which integrates data from the engine control unit, conventional cockpit instrumentation data, various vehicle-mounted sensors, conventional and non-conventional driver inputs, GPS data, and wireless network uploads and downloads, and vehicle-based and cell-phone-based infotainment.

All of this is being integrated in increasingly more sophisticated ways, culminating in semi-autonomous and fully autonomous vehicles that will regularly receive over-the-air (OTA) system updates, much as cell phones do now.  But these automotive OTA updates have the potential for changing essential characteristics, not to mention the vehicle’s insurance or regulatory status.  As an example, last summer, Tesla made available a voluntary extra-cost OTA update that made Type-S vehicles semi-autonomous.

Vehicle-to-vehicle communication will be both point to point and network-mediated, and vehicle lighting will begin to serve communication, as well as visibility and decorative functions.  The sensorized, integrated, and connected cockpit must be supported by appropriate displays and human–machine interfaces that must handle increased data loads while not distracting the driver from essential tasks.  And displays will also serve decorative and brand-identity functions.

On the show floor, Panasonic showed a demonstration cockpit that included touchless HMI, multimedia input with eye tracking and gestures, large dual head-up displays, multiple high-resolution displays (flat, curved, and shaped), and an electronic rear mirror.

Figures 6, 7, and 8 show three of the many automotive-display examples that could be found on the show floor. 

Fig. 6:  The Hyundai Mobis demonstration cockpit incorporated augmented reality and a hologram-based I/O interface, anticipating multi-gigabit connectivity. 

Fig. 7:  This Panasonic demonstration cockpit showed displays using a lot of dashboard real estate. 

Fig. 8:  An extra-cost option in the new Chevrolet Bolt – the new relatively affordable all-battery electric vehicle that has a range of over 200 miles and was introduced at CES – is a “rear camera mirror” in which the mirror can act as a display that presents a wide-angle view of the area behind the car “without the obstruction of rear head restraints or rear-seat passengers.”  Photo courtesy General Motors.

7.  Most Concave Large Display

The claims of viewer immersion and constant viewing angle for curved 55–77-in. TVs are mostly fantasy because the curvature is so small and the viewer sits so far inside the center of curvature.  But what if you curved the screen enough to make those claims meaningful?  LG Display showed such a screen – an OLED technology demonstration – in its suite at the LVCC (Fig. 9).  The effect was immersive, disorienting, and distinctly unpleasant, and the LG personnel seemed to enjoy watching viewer reactions.  It is only fair to note that the content was not created with the extreme curvature in mind.

Fig. 9:  LG Display showed a very curved OLED in its suite – to mixed reactions.  Photo courtesy Ken Werner.

8.  Sharp the Invisible

When Hisense purchased Sharp’s North American TV business in 2015, it was widely assumed that Hisense was as much interested in Sharp’s still-respected name (despite the company’s financial crisis) as in its technology and sales infrastructure.  So, analysts and media were surprised to see absolutely no evidence of Sharp TVs on the show floor, either in its own booth or in Hisense’s.  Apparently, there was a conference room buried deep in the structure of the Hisense booth where Sharp products were discussed with buyers.  I was politely but firmly told by a booth rep that entrance to this room was by appointment only and that I wasn’t going to get one.  None of the other analysts and media I spoke with were admitted either.

9. The Last of the CRTs

An affordable karaoke machine stood out in the GPX booth in Central Hall because of its 5-in. monochrome CRT (Fig. 10).  The CRT will soon be replaced with an LCD because GPX can no longer find a source for the CRTs.

Fig. 10:  A 5-in. monochrome CRT in a karaoke machine from GPX could well be the last CRT seen at CES.  Photo courtesy Ken Werner.

10. Pioneer Transparent OLED CHMSL

Pioneer showed an OLED Center High Mounted
Stop Lamp (CHMSL) that is transparent and can thus be mounted in the rear window within the driver’s line of sight (Fig. 11).  When viewed from the vehicle’s interior, it is more-or-less transparent when lit (not shown), as well as highly transparent when not lit.

Fig. 11:  Pioneer’s transparent OLED lamp is transparent when not lit (see top), somewhat transparent when lit (not shown), and looks like a stop lamp from the outside (bottom).  Photo courtesy Ken Werner.

So there you have it: 10 intriguing display discoveries from CES 2016, including the new, the strange, and the missing.  The growing emphasis on industrial and B2B products at CES makes the event more, not less, interesting from both the industry and technical perspectives.

Can I make any predictions based on what I saw at CES?  Of course, and so can you, but I won’t shy away from stating the obvious.  You will be able to buy OLED and LCD TVs this year that are the best consumer sets you have ever seen.  OLED sets will get less expensive this year and almost affordable next year.  UHD and wide color gamut will be commonplace, and HDR will work its way from high-end through mid-range sets.  Flexible OLEDs will appear in a broader range of products, and increasing resources and creativity will be devoted to automotive displays to support advanced infotainment systems and the connected cockpit.

Amidst the several hundred varieties of cell-phone cases, there are always lots of intriguing discoveries to be made at CES.  The hunt is very much worthwhile.  •

More Exciting Things at CES

It is widely understood that cars rather than TVs take the limelight at CES these days.  A few of these vehicles, as well as some other products and technologies not containing displays, are still worth noting, starting with the all-battery-powered Chevrolet Bolt.

Chevrolet chose CES for the not-quite-official introduction of its Bolt all-battery-powered electric vehicle (Fig. a).  (The official reveal was at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit a few days later.)  The built-from-the-ground-up-to-be-electric Bolt will have a range in excess of 200 miles and cost about $30,000 after the federal tax credit.  This is the first long-range pure-battery-powered car at a reasonably affordable price; Chevrolet considers it a very big deal.  The Bolt will be available late this year as a 2017 model.

The Bolt incorporates some interesting display technology, including a 10.2-in. center-stack display that is the window to the soul of the Chevrolet MyLink system.  Optional Surround Vision uses four cameras to create a bird’s-eye view of the vehicle and its surroundings.  The four camera views are merged on the 10.2-in. screen to provide awareness of what’s going on behind and beside you in a single image.  Also, optional is the “rear camera mirror” described in the main article.  One sign in the Chevrolet booth identified the Bolt as “Chevrolet’s Commitment to Electrification.”

Fig. a:  The Bolt will be the first long-range all-battery-powered car available at an affordable price.  
A unique tail light design (inset) makes the vehicle’s identity clear to any drivers following it.

2017 Mercedes E-Class Plus Real “Transformer” Technology

Mercedes-Benz introduced its 2017 E-Class as the first standard-production vehicle to obtain an autonomous license plate from Nevada (this indicates vehicles approved for autonomous driving tests).  In addition, the company showed its Intelligent Aerodynamic Automobile (IAA) in the North Hall.  The IAA changes its aerodynamics at speeds over 50 mph by extending flaps in the front bumper and eight segments at the car’s rear to improve airflow.  The dished wheels can change their cupping from 50 mm to zero, which also improves the aerodynamics.  The system is powered by the NVIDIA DRIVE platform.

CES’s Largest Drone

The eHang 184 had all of the obvious characteristics of the dozens of other drones – large and small – shown in the LVCC’s South Hall, except that the 184 is large enough to carry a human passenger (Fig. b).  It’s still a drone because the passenger is not a pilot.  He or she is simply payload.  The drone flies autonomously to the destination entered on its control panel.  eHang did not fly the 184 indoors, but a video showed the drone flying with a passenger.

Fig. b:  The eHang 184 drone is designed to carry a passenger – not a pilot.

Route Planning Is So 2010

NVIDIA partner fka demonstrated its generic trajectory planner for highly automated vehicles (Fig. c).  Trajectory planning goes beyond route selection in that once the route is selected, the vehicle must decide how to behave in detail: yield right of way, follow specific lanes when turning, overtake slower vehicles, etc., all while respecting the specific vehicle’s maximum steering angle, maximum tire forces, and actuator limits.  fsk built its system on an NVIDIA’s Drive PX platform, which combines a CPU and GPU in one chip.  A Ford Fusion Hybrid vehicle was equipped with four Velodyne LiDAR sensors to provide 360° situational awareness – important for trajectory planning and accident avoidance.

Fig. c:  Four Velodyne LiDAR sensors on a Ford Fusion Hybrid provided this 360° situational
awareness map, important for trajectory planning and accident avoidance.

A Li-Ion Battery with Twice the Energy Density

During CES, Kopin announced it had entered into an agreement with Hitachi Maxell to produce and market a new kind of Li-ion battery that uses silicon oxide with carbon in the anode.  Kopin will market the batteries, which are intended for use in head-worn products, under the name SiMax.  Production will start in Q2 ’16, and the batteries will be used initially in Kopin’s Solos cycling eyewear.  Hitachi Maxell CTO Masao Okafuji suggested the new battery has twice the energy density of conventional Li-ion cells, which use graphite anodes.  The batteries were shown at Kopin’s suite at the Venetian hotel.

Victrola Returns

Vinyl has returned with a vengeance, with reports that vinyl records outsold CDs in 2015.  There also seems to be an appreciation of vintage-looking audio equipment (Fig. d).  Crosley has made a successful business of that over the last few years, and this year in Central Hall, the old Victrola brand reappeared.  I would have thought that this classic brand would have been controlled by Technicolor, which owns and licenses RCA and other brands once in the RCA/Thomson pantheon.  But Innovative Technologies found the Victrola brand in the hands of a private individual and bought it.  The Victrola line consists of many models with styles ranging from the early 20th Century to the 1960s.  The Innovative Technologies brand appears on turntables and other audio products with contemporary designs.

Fig. d:  Innovative Technologies has brought back some retro-style audio equipment under the Victrola brand name.

— Ken Werner

Ken Werner is Principal of Nutmeg Consultants, specializing in the display industry, manufacturing, technology, and applications, including mobile devices and television.  He consults for attorneys, investment analysts, and companies using displays in their products.  You can reach him at kwerner@nutmegconsultants.com.