The product announcements greeted with applause from the CES press corps are few and far between. But LG got two ovations at its CES press conference: one for its countertop beer brewery and one for its flexible OLED display that rolls down into a small cabinet when not in use.
CES—the giant tech exhibition formerly known as the International Consumer Electronics Show—officially started today, but the largest of the consumer electronics companies unveil their newest gadgets the day before the show.
The LG HomeBrew jumps onto the Keurig of Everything trend by putting just about everything needed to brew a batch of beer—malt, yeast, hop oil, and flavoring—in a pod that pops into a countertop gadget, where temperature and pressure are adjusted by algorithms to precisely control the brewing process. The pod is where the similarities to coffeemakers ends, however, because the beer brewing process doesn’t translate to instant gratification; the best LG’s “instant” system can do is two weeks. To help the wait, the company promises status updates via smartphone. Initially, LG will be selling pods for five types of beer: American IPA, American Pale Ale, English Stout, Belgian-style Witbier and Czech Pilsner. Each batch yields about five liters of beer. If the HomeBrew catches on, I’m guessing pods that produce other beer varieties will emerge from LG and others. LG has not announced the price of the system.
LG had another attention-getter to unveil, the LG Signature OLED TV. LG teased this gadget as a concept item in 2018; ho-hum, the rollable TV has been a “concept” for years. But now the company says it’s ready to manufacture the 65-inch disappearing display; no news on the price yet—if you have to ask, you probably won’t be able to afford it anytime soon.
Other innovations announced at CES yesterday were under the hood rather than in your face. In the continuing race to improve TV quality this year, manufacturers are focusing on improving contrast. That’s not a problem with OLED TVs, when a pixel is “off” it’s truly off, displaying a true black. But the more affordable and popular LED-backlit LCD TVs don’t individually light each pixel, rather, they use filters at each pixel to adjust the amount of light that gets through. These filters aren’t able to block all the light, so displaying a true black is a challenge.
At its CES press conference yesterday, Hisense announced a new way of trying to solve this problem. The company is adding a second LCD panel to some of its ULED XD televisions—a high-definition greyscale LCD. The company says using a 1080p greyscale panel along with the standard existing color LCD allows its televisions to rival the blackest blacks of OLED TV at a far lower cost. (It didn’t, however, announce pricing.)
For its 8K ULED TVs, Hisense is taking another approach to achieving the same goal: amping up its capabilities for local dimming. TV manufacturers have been employing local dimming for several years, turning down the brightness of specific sections of the LED backlight on the fly, according to the system’s analysis of the on-screen content. That approach works well if the regions of dark and light on the screen are large (a bright sky and dark building, for example), not so well for smaller points of light and dark. Hisense indicated that it is turning to smaller LEDs—so-called miniLEDs—for the backlight on its 8K ULED TVs, going from several hundred dimmable zones to more than 5000.
TCL likewise announced a move to miniLED backlights and more dimmable zones, though the company seems to be talking more about hundreds than thousands. Samsung, meanwhile, continues to develop its microLED technology; this is a direct-view approach that eliminates the filters and therefore doesn’t have the light leakage problem; it’s still a concept more than a product at this point, however.
The TV manufacturers are also turning to AI to improve picture quality, several indicating that they have developed algorithms using deep learning to analyze content on the fly and optimize the display and sound settings appropriately. (Honestly, I’m more interested in how that works for sound, I find when watching television that I’m constantly fiddling with volume adjustments to find the sweet spot, particularly for streaming content.)