Saturday, April 4, 2015



   I’m not afraid to admit it when I make a booboo. And when it comes to quantum dot technology, I’ve made a pretty serious one and need to apologize. If you’ve been reading my coverage of quantum dot displays leading up to (and even since the start of) CES, you’ll know that I’ve described it as sort of a stop-gap until OLED TVs become more affordable to manufacturer. So despite the fact that I was excited about the enhanced color pallet of QD displays, not to mention their affordability compared with OLED, I can’t help but think that the impression I gave is that something better was just over the horizon.
   Even press day, in which I saw a number of quantum dot TVs, did little to change that opinion. But a private briefing with Samsung today, in which I saw every available TV technology in operation simultaneously, disabused me of that notion to a significant degree.
   Samsung had, in one spot, a plasma TV, an OLED display, a traditional LED/LCD TV, and its own SUHD TV (it’s name for quantum dot technology) set up side-by-side. The first thing I couldn’t help but notice is that the LED/LCD display couldn’t hold a candle to either plasma (RIP) or OLED, which I pretty much already knew. The second thing I noticed is just how vibrant and rich the colors were on the SUHD TV—colors absolutely popped off the screen, not only in terms of vibrancy, but also detail. Were the black levels as rock solid as the OLED? No, they weren’t. But that was offset by the fact that the overall image was simply richer, more immersive, and most importantly of all, much more dynamic.
Samsung SUHD (quantum dot), LED, OLED, and Plamsa TVs
   From top top to bottom, left to right, a quantum dot TV, standard LED/LCD, OLED, and plasma
   It was about the time I noticed this that a Samsung representative drew my attention to another SUHD display set up in another corner of the room—this one displaying some high-dynamic range clips of Life of Pi and Exodus: Gods and Kings prepared especially for this demonstration.
   And here it may be worth explaining what high-dynamic range means. You’ve probably noticed before that TVs and projection screens don’t display anywhere near the range of dark-to-light that your own eyes experience out in the real world. To see what I mean by that, put yourself in a dimly lit room with a bright light source somewhere, and take a picture with your smart phone. Then hold it up against reality. Details that you can see in the shadows in the real world are simply swallowed by darkness in the photo. Or depending on where the light is, they’re entirely washed out. Traditional screens simply can’t display the range of light-to-dark that your eyes can perceive all at once.
   But here’s the thing: Quantum Dot displays can get much, much closer to that reality. For example, the clip of Life of Pi included a scene in which the moon is reflected on the surface of the ocean, and the stars are shining overhead. Quite frankly, it looked so real that I got a little disoriented at first. There was a level of depth to the image that stereoscopic 3D simply can’t recreate. I felt like I could pass through the glass into a real world on the other side of the screen.
   “But wait,” I asked, “Couldn’t OLED do this, too, since its contrast ratio is theoretically infinite?”
   “Actually, no,” said Mike Wood, head of QA for Samsung. The thing is, he told me, even though OLED can display perfect blacks and the whitest whites, cranking out the sort of brightness that’s needed for this level of HDR would not only consume way too much energy in an OLED, but would also drastically reduce the panel’s lifespan.
   But Quantum Dot displays can handle this high dynamic range just fine. And thanks to the QD technology, Samsung’s SUHD TVs crank out better black levels than its LED/LCD TVs from past years.
   So yeah, needless to say, I’ve been a little unfair to Quantum Dots. I was impressed, sure, but unconvinced of the technology’s longevity. Now I’ve come away (rather sadly) thinking that OLED might actually be in trouble. Because once you see high dynamic range for yourself, you’re going to want it.
   And yes, I know there’s no source material available yet, but companies like Dolby are working hard to make it a reality.  In fact, Netflix has plans to start streaming high dynamic range content as early as later this year.
   What can I say? Seeing is believing. I wish I could show you pictures of what I saw,  but my camera simply wasn’t capable of capturing it. It’s like the Matrix: you simply have to experience it for yourself.


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