2021: A year for miniLED and the gamers: If you held last year’s yearbook in your hands and read my piece about the trends in AV, then you probably remember that I was really looking forward to 2021. That year finally had to become ‘normal’ again, with beautiful fairs, fun events and again a wide variety of products. However, nothing turned out to be less true, unfortunately. Although a manufacturer organized a small event here and there, it mainly remained with virtual, meaningless presentations from which both we and the end user can get little benefit. Anyway, we keep hope for 2022 and luckily there is something to tell about last year. No major revolutions, but more the expected evolution.
If there is one technology that has definitely made its appearance in the field of av, it is miniLED, or Neo QLED or QNED MiniLED. It just depends on what name each manufacturer gives it. However, the principle remains the same everywhere: tiny LEDs are placed behind the LCD panel for more control over the backlight, which in turn allows for better contrast, deeper blacks and even higher brightness. Of course it all depends on how many LEDs, how many zones and how all this is controlled, but an improvement is an improvement.
However, we have to be honest because miniLED is actually a slightly improved version of LCD technology. It is not a completely new TV technology like OLED or the future microLED. And although it can really give a better image quality, miniled is of course also a good reason for manufacturers to come up with new, exciting names, raise (or justify) the prices and convince the consumer to buy a new television. After all, LCD technology is a bit developed, and those small improvements that are still being achieved are simply there to squeeze the last bit of money out of the technology.
After all, OLED does not stand still and almost all manufacturers have OLED television in their range. Samsung is still the big absentee, but according to the latest rumors, it would be working on a QD-oled television. In addition, Samsung is focusing on microLED technology. We still see OLED televisions at the top of manufacturers’ line-ups, but since this year we have been seeing them slowly appear in the middle segment. For example, LG has introduced the A and B series that can be purchased for very reasonable prices.
Of course is 8K still an important driver of the AV industry, but things are not going very smoothly. The lack of content is, just like in the beginning with 4K, one of the main arguments why the higher resolution is not really getting a foothold. For this reason, manufacturers of 8K televisions are throwing it over the ‘AI bow’. The TVs are so smart that they can upscale lower-resolution source material to that very high and beautiful 8K resolution. So good you almost think it’s really 8K. That is of course a nice proposition, but very dependent on the quality of the source material. It is and remains a compromise. In addition, the argument is now increasingly being made that 8K has hardly any added value for the average living room. You have to have such a large screen to be able to see the difference with 4K that it is not a feasible card for most people.
A hot topic of this year is gaming, and all those terms that come with it. Think ALLM, 4K/120, VRR, FreeSync, HDMI 2.1, etc. Much of the focus has been on the gamers among us, for the smoothest possible gaming experience on the latest generation of game consoles. Now those game consoles are hardly getting, with the chip shortages as the main cause. You have to be there like the chickens when there is a console in stock somewhere and so many people still miss out. Those who do manage to get hold of a console naturally want their television to be able to display all that beauty in the best quality. The source material (the game) is often not even looked at: the maximum specs simply have to be met. That means that many gamers search for televisions with all of the aforementioned terms. And manufacturers are doing everything they can to add just those parts, even with firmware updates still rolling out. But special modes should also convince gamers. This year we saw the Game Mode Extreme, Game Optimizer and many other modes from manufacturers. all with the aim of an even smoother, faster and more accurate gaming experience.
Finally, 2021 is also the year of the newcomers, or old-timers who make their return. JVC is a brand that is returning to European soil, with a whole line-up of (affordable) televisions. We also see Sharp back in Europe and the Chinese TCL even wants to conquer the Benelux with a complete line-up of televisions in which there is something for everyone. Now it must be said that Sharp and JVC will of course only return as a brand. The party that makes the televisions has virtually nothing to do with the original brands. It is good for the competition, although those margins are already so small that it goes in waves: brands disappear just as fast as they appear, with the exception of the big brands.
My conclusion from all this will be the same as that of 2020 on purpose, purely out of the hope that it will actually happen now: As a true fan of everything that has to do with home cinema, I am happy that we can look forward to 2022 again. 2020-2021 can be seen as an interim period and a period that we should forget quickly in almost all areas. Hopefully, 2022 will bring a number of great launches, fun events, well-attended trade fairs and various interesting reports for our media.