CES 2020 is many things: Bright. Huge. Gaudy. Futuristic. Crammed to the brim with the latest tech advancements. The same descriptions apply to the TVs of CES. They’re everywhere, massive screens blaring brighter images than ever, backed with new tech such as MicroLED, Mini-LED, QLED, OLED, 8K, ATSC 3.0, HDMI 2.1 and so many more. You can’t walk 10 feet at CES without seeing pretty screens literally dripping with next-gen technology.
As a TV reviewer, I’ve been coming to the January CES for almost 20 years, looking to shape my buying advice for the remainder of the year. The biggest headlines in 2020 were made by TVs such as Samsung’s massive The Wall and rotating Sero, LG’s roll-up OLED and LG Display’s roll-down OLED, and 8K models everywhere. They’re all cool-looking and innovative, but nothing I’m telling readers to buy anytime soon.
As usual the sets that will likely top my list of best TVs didn’t garner much attention, overshadowed by their big, blaring roll-up brethren. They’ll get their chance later this year once I can start reviewing real TVs. Until then, here’s a few takeaways from the show.
Samsung The Wall 292-inch MicroLED TV: Huge
MicroLED is incredible but still future-tech
Samsung once again showed off its The Wall MicroLED-based TV, which has amazing image quality and as much size as you can afford, and said it was moving closer to the mainstream. “New advancements for 2020 have allowed for larger-scale production of fixed screen sizes,” the company said in a statement, “including new 88-, 93-, 110- and 150-inch sizes.”
Cool, but no pricing was given and Samsung spent most of the show telling me about advancements in 8K QLED and its quirky Sero model (below). All-new display technologies take years to reach recommendable prices, and MicroLED still has a long road.
Behind the scenes with Vizio’s new OLED TV and more
OLED gets cheaper, LG gets competition
On the other hand OLED TVs — which deliver the best picture quality available — are firmly on a trajectory toward mass adoption. NPD says OLED sales grew 20% in 2019, thanks in part to new pricing lows during Black Friday. And that was with just two companies, LG and Sony, selling OLED TVs in the US.
In 2020 they’ll be joined by Vizio’s new OLED TV. Vizio is the No. 3 TV maker in the US after Samsung and TCL, and its entry into the OLED race is great news for TV buyers hoping for more OLED TV price drops. Vizio’s best models, such as the P-Series Quantum X, deliver excellent picture quality for the money, and I’d be surprised if its OLED TV was significantly worse than LG’s. Meanwhile other brands, including Philips, Konka and Skyworth, are also bringing OLED TVs to the US this year, and they could be “good enough” too. And even cheaper. We’ll see.
Samsung Sero TV has a magical feature for millennials
Motorized TVs are pricey gimmicks
I’m lumping LG’s roll-down OLED TV, its roll-up concept counterpart and Samsung’s swing-into-portrait-mode Sero TV into the same “motorized TV” bucket: one that I don’t see myself telling people to fill with their hard-earned cash. The LG is around (cough) 60 grand. ‘Nuff said.
Samsung hasn’t confirmed a US price for the Sero but it currently sells for 1.95 million won in Korea (about $1,600). Samsung says it’s targeting the mobile generation with the 43-inch Sero, people who want to watch portrait-mode videos from places like YouTube and TikTok on the big screen, but at that price not many buyers in the mobile generation will be able to afford one.
You can get a standard 43-inch TV for less than $250 or a standard 75-inch TV for $1,400. If you mirror your phone to display a portrait mode image on that 75-inch TV, it will be 37 inches tall — just half an inch shorter than the Sero itself in portrait mode. The 75-inch TV doesn’t flip around, but which would you rather spend your money on?
Samsung’s bezelless 8K QLED TV is basically all screen
8K isn’t enough
Speaking of expensive Samsung TVs, the company will sell three series with 8K resolution this year, and LG, Sony, TCL and other makers will join them. I don’t expect any of them will change my general advice to ignore 8K TVs for now, however, because they’re sure to be expensive, tough to differentiate from their 4K brethren in quality, and suffer from a lack of 8K content. Those are some of the reasons experts expect 8K sales to remain tepid for the next few years.
Perhaps realizing that mere resolution isn’t enough to convince TV shoppers to pay extra, Samsung infused its 8K sets with an amazing superthin bezel on the flagship Q950TS and stepped-up image quality on all three of its 8K series. No word on how much they’ll cost in 2020, but here’s a guess.
Samsung says its entry-level 8K TV in 2020, the Q800TS, will be priced comparably to its premium 4Ks in 2019. Its best 65-inch 4K TV, the QN65Q90R, currently sells for $2,600 but got as low as $2,200 during the Black Friday season. If the new Q800TS 8K TV matches that price, it will represent a big drop but still be really expensive. LG’s cheapest OLED TV, the 4K B9, got down as low as $1,800 during Black Friday, and as I mentioned above, there’s no reason to expect that its 2020 successor won’t cost even less.
Burying the LED: Micro- and mini-trends
- LG and Sony will sell OLED TVs in a new screen size: 48 inches, the smallest yet. That’s great news for high-end TV shoppers without a lot of extra space and could even make a plus-size 4K PC monitor (as long as you’re careful about burn-in).
- TCL talked up Mini-LED (not to be confused with MicroLED) and says it will trickle down the technology to other (read: cheaper) models than the superb-yet-pricey 8-Series in 2020.
- LG and Vizio both showed Mini-LED concept demos but didn’t announce any shipping models in 2020. LG and TCL also showed MicroLED concepts, because why the hell not?
- Far-field mics — which allow you to speak a wake word into thin air to activate a voice assistant, like with an Amazon Echo or Google Home speaker — are creeping into more TVs, including LG and Hisense, which are new for this year, and Sony, which had them last year. Meanwhile just about every TV maker has a voice remote too, including (new for 2020) Vizio.
- LG, Samsung and Sony will sell TVs equipped with next-generation ATSC 3.0 over-the-air tuners. Remember that you’ll be able to add an external tuner box (none of which were announced at the show) if you want to make any TV compatible with the new broadcasts.
- Literally every TV maker I spoke to touted fancy-pants gaming features like variable refresh rate, 120Hz input capability, automatic game mode switching and ever-lower input lag. Vizio seems to have made the biggest strides in this department, and could pull to within striking distance of LG and Samsung. How these TVs handle HDR games will be something I pay more attention to in 2020.
- Dolby and the UHD Alliance introduced picture modes intended to preserve director’s intent and react to ambient lighting, respectively, and both aim to automatically engage, without users having to do anything. I’m curious to see how they’re implemented against the already confusing backdrop of picture modes and settings.
So that’s a wrap for the TVs of CES 2020. If there’s anything you’re curious about that wasn’t covered here, lemme know in comments or @dkatzmaier on Twitter. See ya back at the TV lab, where I’ll be taking the wraps off the new TVs later this year.
Correction, 7: 50 p.m. PT: Originally this article stated that Samsung wouldn’t release TVs with ATSC 3.0 tuners, but that’s incorrect. Its 2020 8K TVs will have ATSC 3.0 tuners.
Originally published Jan. 8.