CES 2021 TVs wrap-up: Begun the brightness wars have – CNET

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New 2021 TVs like the Mini-LED-powered Samsung Neo QLED are brighter than ever.

Drew Evans/CNET

This story is part of CES, where our editors will bring you the latest news and the hottest gadgets of the entirely virtual CES 2021.

TVs are pretty awesome already. Models from 2020 like the LG CX OLED, which delivers the best image quality I’ve ever tested, and the TCL 6-Series, which has the best performance for the money, will keep even the pickiest picture snob happy for years. TVs from Sony and Samsung and Vizio all garnered stellar reviews too, and the TV industry as a whole racked up record sales while everyone hunkered down at home.

So what’s left for those manufacturers to improve and show off for CES 2021? In a word: brightness.

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At CES 2021 four major TV makers announced models claiming to put out more light than ever. Raw brightness, which I measure in nits and compare in every review, is one of the most important ingredients to a good picture. It’s what makes HDR video, from TV shows to movies to video games, outshine standard dynamic range video. It helps TVs looks good in bright rooms. And more than any single aspect of image quality, it’s what separates cheap TVs from high-end models.

That LG CX OLED was superb but I’m betting that the brighter LG G1, which uses a new Evo panel, looks appreciably better. Sony will also sell a brighter OLED TV in 2021 as part of its Master Series. Neither TV is likely to sacrifice the superb black levels, contrast, viewing angles and color that have allowed OLED TVs to trounce LCD-based models in my reviews for years.

New LCD TVs promise increased brightness too. In my measurements, current versions were two or three times as bright as OLED-based TVs, and new LCD-based sets like the Samsung Neo QLED, LG’s unfortunately named QNED and TCL’s best models use Mini-LED backlights. In my tests Mini-LEDs deliver improved brightness while still maintaining black levels and precision with full-array local dimming (sound familiar)?

We’ll have to wait until later in 2021, when we can actually review the new TVs, to see which one comes out on top. Until then, here are a few more trends that emerged from the first virtual CES.

85-inch is the new 75-inch

Sales of TVs 70 inches and larger skyrocketed 82% in 2020, and TV makers are responding with ever-larger sizes at affordable prices

LG and Sony will sell a new jumbo OLED TV at 83 inches — the biggest 4K OLED yet, albeit not quite as massive as the 88-inch 8K version currently selling for $30,000. TCL, the world’s No. 2 TV maker after Samsung, announced its first-ever TVs in the 85-inch class, which it’s calling the XL Collection, and what might be the cheapest set of that size yet in the 4-Series ($1,600). 

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TCL’s new XL Collection will feature 85-inch TVs, starting with this 4-Series for $1,600.

TCL

Not big enough for ya? Sony, no stranger to huge screens itself, will sell a 100-inch TV in its mainstream-level X90J series. And coming in WAAAAY outside the mainstream are Samsung’s latest MicroLED models, available up to 110 inches at a cool $156,000.

8K: Getting cheaper, but still unnecessary

Speaking of high-end TVs, Samsung and Sony both announced new models with 8K resolution. Pricing was not announced but Sony’s will be really expensive and I’ll be surprised if Samsung’s 8K TVs are significantly less expensive than current models — the cheapest of which costs $2,700 — at least until later this year.

But then there’s TCL. The company says it will introduce an 8K version of its mainstream-priced 6-Series this year. It didn’t specify a price but I’m willing to bet it will cost a lot less than $2,700. If I had to guess, I’d say $2,000 for the 65-inch model, falling to $1,500 for the 2021 holidays.

Does that mean I can finally start telling higher-end TV buyers to consider an 8K TV? It all depends on how cheap (and how good) those TVs get, but if I had to guess I’d say not this year. Their extra pixels don’t especially improve image quality in my experience, no TV shows or movies are available in 8K anyway and that’s not going to change much (if at all) in 2021.

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The new Game Bar on Samsung TVs shows which gaming features are active.

Drew Evans/CNET

Gamers’ choice: HDMI 2.1 becomes (more) standard

Looking for a new TV to go with your PS5 or Xbox Series X? This year you should have more choices than in 2020. HDMI 2.1-friendly extras like variable refresh rate and 4K/120 input will be more common, with Sony, Samsung and LG all confirming support in many of their new TVs. Meanwhile LG and Samsung both announced new gaming-specific features that gve gamers more tweaks and allow them to check which features are actually active.

Google TV makes inroads

Not much changed in terms of smart TV extras this year, but best-seller Roku could face increased competition in the form of Google TV. The search giant’s latest smart TV system is the replacement for Android TV, and Sony and TCL both announced support in 2021 models. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Hisense and maybe even Vizio announce support for Google TV as well. Neither brand announced any new TVs during this year’s stripped-down CES, but both will likely do so later in the year.

Cameras come back (don’t worry, they’re optional!)

A few years ago TV makers built cameras into TVs but eventually they stopped, in part citing privacy concerns. But at least one TV maker, Samsung, is trying again. Its 2021 TVs use optional webcams to enable two new features: video chat and guided workouts. Users can engage Google Duo on their big screens for multiperson chats and track their yoga, jumping jacks and squats with the help of AI and fitness gurus like Jillian Michaels. 

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Samsung’s smart trainer uses a webcam to guide your workout.

Drew Evans/CNET

No other major TV maker announced webcam compatibility on its TVs for 2021, so far, but Samsung is typically a trendsetter. And with people continuing to spend more time at home due to the pandemic, making a TV more versatile makes a lot of sense.

That’s a wrap for the biggest trends at this year’s CES. Stay tuned to CNET for more news as the TVs get closer to launch this spring.

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