As usual, CES 2018 provided a bonanza of big screens, loaded up with every piece of tech you can create a buzzword for. But figuring out which TVs will matter to you next year is about a little more than just pixels and apps. While there could be only one "best" winner, the decision of what to buy is about more than just picture quality, which is why these screens are the ones that stuck out.
LG 65E8 OLED
Richard Lawler / Engadget
It's obvious why LG's OLED tech stretched its run as Best of CES TV champ into a fourth straight year -- despite all challengers, we think this one was the most outstanding. Up and down its line of televisions, the picture quality is undeniable, thanks to its self-illuminating pixels, which provide a true black. This year, LG's upgrades focused on enhanced processing, added voice controls and, in some models, support for 120-frames-per-second video. We're still waiting to find out if these will be more affordable in 2018, but so far the premium price has been worth it.
Samsung chose to go in a few different directions this year, and it's less clear how well they'll turn out. Its immense MicroLED wall and consumer 8K TV looked amazing, but it's hard to imagine when we'll see them for sale, and at what price. When it comes to the TVs most of us might actually afford, the emphasis is on the newly added Bixby AI, as well as its SmartThings app, which is supposed to streamline the setup process and makes the TV a hub for any home automation hardware you have.
The company isn't giving up on the picture-quality war, though, and in no-pictures-allowed demos, Samsung tried to prove that its quantum-dot LCD tech could match and even outpace OLED for high-quality 4K. It's also dug in its heels against Dolby Vision, opting instead to push HDR10+ as a competing standard, adding Warner Bros. as an ally. There's a lot going on here, but it could give Samsung a chance to push its TVs as smarter, cheaper options -- if people appreciate the experience.
If you absolutely must have the highest resolution available, there is one company ready to sell one. While Sharp's 8K panel isn't brand-new, this was the first time I saw the production version in action, and it was as stunning as ever. Sure, there isn't any 8K content to watch; if you have some, it requires plugging in four synchronized HDMI cables; and it's available only in Japan so far -- but why worry about small details? Real early adopters are preparing for the Tokyo Olympic Games in 2020.
Can a projector count as a TV? Hisense hasn't stopped to worry about the nomenclature, and is determined to press forward with its "Laser TV." The 100-inch model that launched last year is already eating up a significant part of the market for screens 75 inches and larger, and it's easy to see why. In a demonstration, the just-announced 150-inch version used its laser light engine and dual color wheels to throw a bright, beautiful image without taking up too much space or requiring additional hardware. With speakers, apps and tethered subwoofer included, just plug in two cables and find a screen -- your home theater is set. That's a tough claim to match for any other "TV."
Pushing a wave of affordable 4K TVs, TCL's P-Series put the company on the map last year, and in 2018 it's again choosing a direction apart from the TV competition. While Alexa and Assistant are inside nearly every device on the CES show floor, the 5 and 6 Series are sticking with Roku's burgeoning voice control platform. We're still waiting to see if it competes with the rest, but if you're unwilling to give Amazon and Assistant a peek into your living room, then maybe it can emerge as a viable alternative.
This is hardly a comprehensive list of the TVs that popped up at CES (NVIDIA's giant gaming displays are an interesting new wrinkle), but it should provide a good start if you're thinking about upgrading this year. Last year's show ushered in the age of cheap-and-good 4K TV. This year, we're seeing the evolution of HDR and the emergence of voice-controlled AI assistants as the top stories, but that could all change by the time any of these TVs go on sale.
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