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Published on May 7th, 2020 | by The GC Team

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TV and Sound Projection

The consumer electronics industry continues to offer consumers the best possible sound and picture experience at home, and there have been some significant developments in this sector. George Cole talks to some of the leading players

It is an exciting time for the home entertainment industry with technological innovations taking place at a fast pace, according to LG Electronics UK product manager – home entertainment, James Thomas, who maintains that 3D sound has started to creep into the mainstream this year, as general consumers are beginning to become aware of the benefits of immersive sound on the overall viewing experience: “When playing content mastered with Dolby Atmos or DTS:X, this technology allows users to enjoy breathtakingly realistic surround sound with audio that appears to originate from multiple directions.”

Barney Sykes, Panasonic UK head of marketing for imaging, audio and telephone, adds: “Immersive Audio has become increasingly popular this year with more and more customers desiring the home cinema experience.  Thanks to sound technology such as Dolby Atmos and DTS:X, manufacturers have been able to create the most immersive listening experiences for customers. As 4K HDR TV and the immersive audio range keep developing, an increasing number of content providers, like Netflix, have started to support Dolby Vision and Dolby Atmos content.”

Experiencing quality

“According to market research firm IHS Markit,” says LG’s Thomas, “in Q4 2019 global OLED TV sales topped one million units (1.1m) in a quarter for the first time, underlining the surging demand for high quality TVs and viewing experiences. Another major trend has been voice controlled devices, with more and more consumers opting for speakers and TVs that have Google Assistant and Alexa built in.”

“Consumers are beginning to become aware of the benefits of immersive sound”

Mike Somerset, Sony UK/IE TV marketing manager, reports: “At CES 2020 Sony introduced new BRAVIA models, including LCD and OLED options that encapsulate the very best of Sony’s proprietary technologies.” Sony’s technologies include Picture Reality, which gives consumers the feeling that sound is coming directly from the screen. Netflix Calibrated mode offers studio-quality Netflix content, and IMAX® Enhanced is designed to offer the sight, sound and scale required for an IMAX-like experience in the living room. Ambient Optimization is a new technology that optimises picture and sound quality in any environment by automatically adjusting the picture brightness to the ambient light in the room. It can also detect objects in the room – such as curtains and furniture – that can absorb and reflect sound and then fine tune the acoustics so that sound isn’t compromised

8K prospects

LG SN11 RG Soundbar “to transform the home into a theatre

TV picture quality has continued to rise, from HD to 4K to 8K, but how well is the 8K market developing and what are the biggest challenges for retailers trying to upsell 8K to consumers? LG’s Thomas says “the demand for 8K TVs is steadily growing, which is reflected by the number of 8K TVs introduced at this year’s CES, including LG’s new range of 8K OLED and 8K NanoCell TVs.” But he concedes that “8K technology is an expensive and still relatively new concept to some consumers, meaning it can be perceived as either daunting, a novelty, or out of budget. Most people might not see the necessity or purpose of 8K following the popularity of 4K TV in the past few years. Therefore, the challenge for retailers is to clearly explain the merits of the technology in simple terms and to attest to the investment nature of 8K technology as more and more 8K content begins to become available.”

Dean Hayward, Samsung UK head of sound device product management, says: “According to IHS, the 8K market is forecast to grow from 127,000 units in 2019 to 1.197 million units in 2022 – so retailers can really maximise on this projected growth.” He adds that one of the biggest questions for 8K is the content and when it will be readily available. “We recently made TV history in partnership with BT Sport in delivering the first ever live 8K sports broadcast in the UK, with a screening of the UEFA Europa League match between Arsenal and Olympiacos – offering a glimpse into the future of entertainment technology and providing an unprecedented viewing experience.” 8K TVs are also using AI technology to boost picture and sound quality, states Hayward. “The latest QLED 8K TVs will upscale content, bringing out all the hidden details you wouldn’t normally see. It’s innovation like this that gives retailers exciting talking points when consumers are in-store”.  

Retail strategy

Sony Bravia X80H Series 4K, immersive multidimensional sound, ultra thin bezel

The best strategy for retailers is to showcase the benefits and also the difference between 4K and 8K side-by-side so that the consumer can physically see the difference for themselves, adds LG’s Thomas. “Allowing the customer to test out the product is essential to selling. LG highlights the importance of in-store demonstrations and displays in explaining today’s tech, which not only bring to life technological advancements and smart features, but also how the technologies can directly enhance customers’ day-to-day lives.”

Sony’s Somerset adds: “It is important for retail partners to fully demonstrate the key features of products that can enhance the consumer viewing experience for our TVs. We run comprehensive training programmes to ensure we train as many retailers as possible to offer a number of solutions, including a nationwide roadshow, visiting retailers and the more recently introduced YouTube tutorials that can be referred back to. Promotional activity is also important as it brings consumers into the store to try our products, which, in turn, drives sales.”

“Allowing the customer to test out the product is essential to selling”

Blu-ray players are also enabling consumers to experience the optimum sound and image experience in the living room, with products such as Panasonic’s DP-UB9000 Blu-ray player featuring HDR10+ and Dolby Vision.

Sound merits equal billing

Sound used to play second fiddle to picture, but not any more, says Samsung’s Hayward. “We are constantly striving to offer consumers a cohesive TV and sound bar experience, as we recognise that picture quality and content are only part of the full home entertainment offering.” He also notes that “recent trends that are shaping the AV industry include the rise of streaming platforms, with more and more people depending on the quality of personal sound systems to provide a near-cinematic experience to maximise their viewing experience. This is also reflected in the demand for bigger screens to replicate an at-home cinema experience, and so consumers are reliant on surround-sound to really bring the movie to life.” In 2020, Samsung introduced Q-Symphony, a sound collaboration between the Samsung Sound bar and Samsung TV, so as to “create a richer and fuller sound.”

Samsung: Well connected and self-adjusting for the optimum sound experience

LG’s Thomas says: “With the popularity of streaming services such as Netflix, installing surround-sound technology has never been more important for consumers – enhancing viewing and sound to offer the most immersive home cinema experience. We’ve also implemented Dolby Atmos sound technology into our OLED TVs to make sure that even without a separate sound system, consumers can enjoy an enhanced audio experience that pushes the boundaries of home TV viewing.”

Called to the bar

“A sound bar can cross the line from merely watching something to immersing yourself in the content”

 “One of the most essential things to make your AV viewing experience in the home compelling is a good quality sound bar,” notes Panasonic’s Sykes. “A sound bar can cross the line from merely watching something to immersing yourself in the content, from hearing just sounds to experiencing the depth and quality of the audio.  Dolby Atmos comes as a standard with the current Panasonic’s HTB900 and HTB700 Sound bars. They support 4K passthrough, allowing viewers to enjoy high-definition 4K content with no loss of image quality, as video source passes through the system from the receiver to a 4K TV.  This makes it easier for the viewer to get a seamless and compelling home cinema experience with fewer cables and wires.”

Panasonic latest sound bars include the HTB400 and HTB600, with the latter featuring Dolby Atmos and producing virtual surround-sound with forward-facing speakers. LG’s new sound bar products include the SN9YG and SN11RG, with the latter offering 7.1.4-channel sound with two wireless rear speakers that deliver forward- and up-firing sound for 360 degree sound.

Samsung’s S-Series sound bar features built-In voice assistants, including Alexa and Bixby. Spotify Connect enables users to connect and stream music directly. Music mode enables the sound bar to adjust the mode depending on the type of music being played for the optimum sound experience.

There is clearly plenty of technology available now for consumers wanting to immerse themselves in the ultimate sound and vision experience in a living room.

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