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Ultra HD Stakeholders Defend Their Turf

NEW YORK – As the competition builds in the Ultra HD TV sweepstakes, the manufacturers that helped pave the road for consumer acceptance are preparing to offer their most ambitious TV product lines to date.

The following is a glance at the 2014 follow-up Ultra HD TV lines either just launching or coming to market from the UHD veteran brands in the year ahead:

LG Electronics is expanding it Ultra HD lineup from five models in 2013 to nine models, including a core line ranging in screen sizes from 49 inches to 98 inches. The technology will also be represented by two display technologies – LED LCD and OLED.

LG will be rolling out the Ultra HD lines shortly, at which time prices will be revealed.

LG is offering four Ultra HD LED LCD TV series, in the 49-, 55-, 65-, 79-, 84- and 98-inch screen sizes. The company also showed a UB9-series 105-inch 21:9 curved-screen Ultra HD TV with onboard 150- watt 7.2-channel surround system, and new WebOS smart-TV platform.

The flagship Ultra HD model will be the 77-inch 77EC9800 curved-screen Ultra HD TV, featuring a new “leaf” design and incorporating a 50-watt 2.2-channel onboard audio system with WebOS smart-TV platform.

A big differentiator in Ultra HD performance this year will continue to be in a set’s ability to up-scale lower-resolution content to Ultra HD quality, predicted Tim Alessi, LG new product development director. In 2014, LG’s step-up models feature a new processing chip that expands the number of processes used to improve image quality for detail and noise reduction, while adding original source comparison to ensure image accuracy.

Models all include the latest standards support for Ultra HD, including HEVC decoding, HDMI 2.2 content protection and HDMI 2.0.

Alessi said a big part of LG’s OLED message this year will relate to curved-screen products, which LG is accentuating in its 77-inch Ultra HD model, billed as “the Ultimate TV.”

He acknowledged that consumers this year will be facing a lot of new TV technology approaches, and the best way to qualify them for the best technology is “to get them into the store to see a demonstration and experience it for themselves. Once someone sees one of these TVs, they will be able to judge which one best suits their eye, viewing environment and placement. We’ve always found that giving consumers the most possible choices serves them the best.”

Panasonic is expanding its Ultra HD line this year with the inclusion of two new models in the AX800 model series. Screen sizes include 58 and 65 inches. The new 58-inch AX800-series set ($4,499 suggested retail) offers THX 4K certification, and both HDMI 2.0 and DisplayPort 1.2a inputs. Also added is support for H.265/HEVC decoding, and local dimming LED technology.

Samsung is also expanding its curved- and flatscreen Ultra HD LED LCD TV offerings to five model series. Flat-screen Ultra HD sets will be available in 50-, 55-, 60- (tentatively), 65- and 75-inch screen sizes, as well as a 110-inch Ultra HD screen size in the easelframe- style S9 series, joining last year’s 85-inch set.

A big emphasis will be put on selling curved-screen LED LCD TV models in 2014, which includes eight UHD models in the HU9000 and HU8700 model series including the 55-, 65-, and 78-inch screen sizes and 50-, 55-, 60-, 65- and 75-inch screen sizes, respectively. A new 105-inch curved 21:9 widescreen Ultra HD due in the second half as well.

This year the company is also adding its $299 suggested retail UHD Video Pack 1TB set-top server that will come preloaded with eight recent Hollywood feature films in Ultra HD resolution. That box will be updated later in the year to a version allowing Internet downloads that will refresh selections over time.

The company will be placing “a full-force merchandising effort” around the benefits and Ultra HD and specifically curved-screen TV models this year, said Dave Das, Samsung home entertainment VP.

“We are going to be in more than 2,500 retailers across the country with merchandising that is specifically geared to UHD TVs. We are also doing train-the-trainer type of events with a comprehensive schedule on the benefits of curved TV, we have online assets for all of our dealers to use in addition to point-of-purchase material,” said Das.

Seiki Digital has repositioned its Ultra HD TV under the new Seiki Pro brand, which this year is slated to include new models in the 58-, 65- and 85-inch screen sizes, due to ship in the second and third quarters.

This year’s Ultra HD models have upgraded panels and electronics, a new ultra-thin metallic-finish bezel design, and adoption of HDMI 2.0 “by Q3,” the company said.

Pricing on the new UHD line is currently pending, following fluctuations in panel and electronics prices since International CES, according to sales executives.

As an improvement this year, new Seiki Pro Ultra HD sets include either an adapter or HDMI up-scaling cable, both with a built-in U-Vision Technicolor-certified Ultra HD chip from Marseille that, among other things, presents processed FullHD 1080p images in near-Ultra HD quality resolution on the Ultra HD screens, the company said.

The technology benefits are said to be competitive to up-conversion system employed by tier one brands, and more affordable pricing.

The Seiki Pro sets include HDMI inputs capable of receiving up to 60Hz Ultra HD content.

“To support our retailers, we are working with two of our largest brick-and-mortar partners to have end-caps and displays that showcase Seiki 4K Ultra HD and supporting technologies such as the U-Vision 4K up-conversion cable and Blu-ray players that make 4K practical for today’s TV buyers,” said Frank Kendzora, Seiki Digital executive VP. “We’ve also participated in training videos for store employees so that they can convey information to consumers shopping for their next television.”

Sharp is complementing the recently launched Q+ FullHD Aquos LED LCD TV line that expands the subpixel field from 3 million to more than 6 million, with its second generation Aquos LED Ultra HD TVs, due to be expanded from one to three models later in year.

Sony is offering three 4K Ultra HD model lines this year, including the X950B series, which will be available in 85- (XBR-85X950B) and 65-inch (XBR-65X950B) sizes. Both include X-tended Dynamic Range Pro circuitry (Sony’s new spin on local dimming), which the company said is driven by direct LED arrays arranged in the backside of the panel. The technology is said to offer improved black level, brightness and detail performance. Also added is Motionflow XR 960 that expands the panel refresh rate, HDMI 2.0 inputs, and full smart TV package.

Prices on the new line, which is due this spring, are expected to be revealed shortly. The X900B UHD series will include the 79-, 65- and 55-inch screen sizes, with many of the features of the X950B models except for the X-tended Dynamic Range Pro full-array LED backlighting, opting instead for X-tended Dynamic Range backlighting for edge-lit LED.

The X850B entry Ultra HD series offers a Triluminos display panel without X-tended Dynamic Range circuitry, in the 70-, 65-, 55- and 49-inch screen sizes.

Sony will continue to expand its popular Video Unlimited 4K download service from the current 140 title library.

The company is also adding the industry’s first consumer 4K camcorder at a less-than-$2,000 suggested retail (or “4K for $2K,” as the company calls it).

Toshiba is upping its Ultra HD offerings in 2014 with five models in four screen sizes across three series.

The L8400 Ultra HD LCD TV series features the 50- and 58-inch screen sizes with LED edge lighting, a CQ4K (quad- plus dual-core) picture engine, new HDMI (a.k.a. 2.0) input, HDCP 2.2 content protection, HEVC H.265 compression decoding, Labyrinth speaker system with DTS Premium Surround Suite and a new Cloud Portal TV system that adds basic-level voice control commands.

Toshiba’s L9400 premium series includes the 58- and 65-inch screen sizes, both with a new Radiance 4K panel using Toshiba’s own Ultra HD full-array LED-backlit technology for double the brightness of conventional LED sets.