It would probably be fair to say that CES (Consumer Electronics Show) returned in 2022 with more of a sparkler sizzle than a firework bang. The theory was that the world’s biggest annual technology show would return to Las Vegas in January as an in-person event, following its digital-only affair in 2021, but due to a surge in Omicron cases late last year, several tech giants (Google, Intel, Microsoft and Amazon included) and media outlets (including What Hi-Fi?’s publisher, Future) backed out from physically attending.
This withdrawal by some of the industry’s biggest names made for an understandably quieter physical show than usual – something several photos of showfloors posted on social media painted a rueful picture of. The fact these snaps provided many regular attendees with their first glimpses of what the Las Vegas Convention Centre’s carpets actually looked like was a reminder of just how constantly (and charmingly) lively, chaotic and, ultimately, busy CES typically is. Still, despite the lack of the big crowds of old, CES very much happened.
CES organisers CTA (Consumer Technology Association) stuck to their guns and welcomed hundreds of exhibitors and media reporters to Sin City, while the rest of us tuned into the show’s virtual edition online (which had always been planned to mirror the physical affair). And as many companies stuck to their scheduled announcements, plenty of new products thankfully came out of it…
QD-OLED TVs break cover
Much talk in TV town late last year surrounded rumours of Samsung controversially swapping its infamous criticism of OLED technology for its, er, adoption of it. ‘QD-OLED’ was the term coined for the new technology that would essentially combine the self-emissive properties of OLED TVs with the vibrancy and brightness of Quantum Dots, the latter something Samsung has long championed. (And if you want to know all the ins and outs of the hybrid technology, our QD-OLED explainer is here.) The result? Potentially, a best-of-both-worlds TV technology.
Indeed, while not officially announced by Samsung alongside new Micro LED, Neo QLED and lifestyle TVs at its CES press conference, a Samsung 'QD-Display' (Samsung’s choice of name, seemingly in an attempt to avoid having to explain why it's suddenly started using OLED technology) TV did win a 'CES Innovation Award'. While still largely a mystery, we do know that the TV has a refresh rate of 144Hz, boasts four HDMI 2.1 sockets and is powered by Samsung's 2022 Neo Quantum processor. It also uses the company's Object Tracking Sound technology, and has an 'Infinity One Design'... whatever that is.
But while QD-OLED has been pioneered by Samsung Display, the Korean giant isn’t the only early adopter of this panel tech. In fact, Sony actually pipped Samsung to the post to officially announce a QD-OLED, using the CES stage to reveal that its flagship 55-inch and 65-inch Master Series A95K TV (which replaces last year's awesome A90J model) would sport the new innovative panel (manufactured by Samsung Display). The A95K is expected to be brighter and have greater colour vibrancy (particularly in the brightest parts of the picture) than a standard OLED TV, and Sony says that it also boasts even better viewing angles.
So, that’s probably at least two QD-OLEDs we can look forward to seeing this year.
- Sony announces 2022 TV range, including Master Series A95K QD-OLED model
- Samsung's TVs support its new HDR10+ GAMING standard
Life in the OLED yet
LG is never far from the TV stage spotlight at CES, and this year was no different as it doubled down on its ‘Evo’ OLED panels, making them more accessible in its 2022 range. The premium OLED panel – which uses an organic material called deuterium that boasts a longer lifespan, is easier to cool (reducing panel thickness), can withstand a higher voltage and includes a green-emitting layer – debuted in the G series last year to high praise and is now trickling down to the C series. And a new, pricey TV as part of LG's Object Collection, but that’s unlikely to end up in your local Currys. The C series will be available in a range of sizes, including its smallest yet – 42 inches.
To further complicate OLED acronyms and make more of a mockery of TV terminology, LG Display – suppliers of panels to LG, Sony, Panasonic and others – has announced that some of the innovations of ‘Evo’ will be implemented more generally with the introduction of 'OLED.EX' (an acronym of ‘Evolution’ and ‘eXperience’) screens. These soon-to-be-widely-used displays will use deuterium and the proprietary algorithm-based ‘EX Technology’ to help increase brightness by a claimed 30 per cent compared to conventional OLED displays. In other words, despite the growing anticipation of next-gen panel technology such as Mini LED, LG says there’s plenty of life left in OLED yet. And considering it still features heavily in the 2022 TV line ups of Sony and Panasonic as well as LG, we believe it.
- LG 2022 TV lineup: everything you need to know
- Panasonic’s flagship LZ2000 OLED TV brings brightness boost, array speakers and new gaming features
Heady wireless headphone heights
Three years after sending shockwaves through the show by reviving its legendary SL-1200 DJ turntable, Technics made another CES splash with two announcements in its core hi-fi and headphones categories. The SA-C600 is an all-new receiver that combines a top-loading CD player with a generous selection of streaming smarts, DAB radio, and connectivity that includes MM phono and optical inputs. Just-add-speaker boxes are currently enjoying their day as they pledge a balance of convenience and performance, so we’re looking forward to seeing how Technics makes its mark in the increasingly popular space. It’s also bravely vying for the crown in the monstrously popular wireless noise-cancelling headphones sector, with its nicely featured new EAH-A800 looking to continue the momentum of the brand’s true wireless earbuds efforts of late.
Shure is another household headphone brand knuckling down in the ever-competitive market, impressing most recently with its wired Aonic earbuds and truly wireless Aonic Free. At CES it debuted its next on-ear proposition – the Shure Aonic 40, more affordable versions of the wireless, noise-cancelling Aonic 50 we called “strong performers”. But arguably the most interesting pair of headphones announced at the show was from a rather unexpected brand. Mark Levinson decided that launching its first-ever pair of headphones (and a limited-edition monaural amplifier package) would make for worthy 50th-anniversary celebrations, and so the new No.5909 wireless noise-cancellers have the considerable task of justifying their £1000 ($999) asking price. Yes, that almost makes the Apple AirPods Max seem like a bargain. Still, if anyone can push wireless sound quality to higher heights, why couldn’t it be Mark Levinson?
- Cambridge Audio expands Alva TT turntable range with cheaper aptX HD Bluetooth deck
- Astell & Kern Acro CA1000 combines music player and headphone amp
The weird and wacky
But what if you could get a headphones experience without wearing anything at all? That’s the promise of the Noveto N1, which is ordinary only by appearance, and undoubtedly one of the most theoretically interesting AV products to come out of CES 2022. Like 'wearing invisible headphones' is the promise of this Kickstarter-funded smart device, which has been designed to simply sit in front of you and, not so simply, transmit ultrasound silently through the air, converging into audible 'pockets' just outside your ears. Apparently, others in the room should only hear a whisper of sound while you're immersed in 3D spatial audio, while facial recognition using motion sensors and AI-incorporated tech should ensure sound travels with you as you move your head. Neat.
And it wasn’t alone in its field of the weird and whacky. Outside the AV world, there was BMW’s colour-changing car using E Ink, John Deere’s self-driving, phone-controlled tractor, and finger-nibbling robotic animal soft toys (we’d urge you to raise an eyebrow to Amagami Ham Ham). But inside it, it was hard to ignore what was undoubtedly Samsung’s quirkiest product reveal, the Freestyle projector. The barrel-shaped portable projector sports a unique moving-light style design, weighing only 830g and sitting in a cradle that allows for 180 degrees of rotation with auto-levelling, auto-keystone and auto-focus capabilities. The projector can be battery-powered, but it can be connected to a plug socket or – get this – any E26 lightbulb socket with the aid of an additional base accessory. This means that you could easily suspend the Freestyle from the ceiling for all your dance floor needs.
Aside from showing off electronic ink technology as cool car paint, BMW also revealed plans to kit out its future luxury-class cars with an automated 31-inch 8K TV (pictured top) that, in its fully lowered position, reaches down from the headliner to the backrests of the front seats and stretches across the entire interior of the car. The BMW Theatre Screen, as it’s fittingly named, relies on a 5G connection to stream video content through Amazon Fire TV and accompanies its pixel-popping display with a top-spec’d Bowers & Wilkins audio system. And if that doesn’t sound snazzy enough already, when ‘My Mode Theatre’ is activated, the motion of the screen is accompanied by an exclusive 'sound experience' composed by none other than BMW enthusiast Hans Zimmer.
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