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The Value Electronics TV Shoot-out Adds 8K Sets

After a Covid year off, the Value Electronics (VE) TV Shootout returned for its 17th outing on September 12th and 13th in New York City. Robert Zohn of VE initiated the shootout 18 years ago and in recent years the event has compared four different premium 4K TV sets.  This year, the program was expanded to also include three 8K TV sets and ultra-short-throw (UST) projectors. 

TV Shootout founder and organizer Robert Zohn at the 2021 shootout.  (Photo:  Value Electronics)

All of the units were taken from VE stock.  Although this limits the shootout to models that VE sells, it also avoids the possibility of manufacturers providing specially selected and/or tuned units that are not typical of what consumers actually buy.  It also avoids the problem of a manufacturer refusing to participate. 

This is not a purely theoretical issue.  Pre-Covid, Samsung decided it would no longer officially participate in the shoot-out, and that continues.  Since, as a Samsung representative explained it to me, Samsung’s sets repeatedly did not do well in the shoot-out and since Samsung (along with all other manufacturers) was not permitted to participate in the calibration process, Samsung concluded the shoot-out was “fixed” against it.  I believe that at least some Samsung executives believe this.  I also believe that the calibration is fair and that the reason Samsung has not done well is that even advanced LCD TV sets have not yet been able to match the overall front-of-screen quality as well OLED sets. The is true for all LCD sets in the shoot-out, not just Samsung.

In-person attendance was limited this year to allow for proper social distancing, but a moderated livestream was provided.

The Judges

The judges, all well-respected video experts, were:

  • Phil Holland, Director and Cinematographer
  • Charlie Anderson, Digital Imaging Technician and Director of Photography (TV only)
  • David Medina, Production Technical Operations Manager, HBO
  • Giles Sherwood, Director of Post Production, Criterion 
  • Jason Diamond, Director and Executive Producer (TV only)
  • Mark Henninger, Projector Reviewer and Photographer/Videographer (UST only)
  • Jason Dustal, ISF III Calibrator and Instructor & Application Engineer, Murideo
  • Jeff Hagerman, Digital Imaging Technician 
  • David Mackenzie, Compressionist, Fidelity in Motion
  • John Reformato, Engineer and ISF III Calibrator
  • Channa De Silva, Techno Dad YouTube Channel owner

John Reformato and Jason Dustal calibrated the sets , and signal distribution was professionally designed and installed.

The King of 8K TV

After the 4K shoot out, the 4K sets were removed and the 8K sets were set up. You can see a review of the 4K TV shoot out HERE (registration required). The three 8K sets were (Fig. 2):

  • LG OLED77ZXPUA (77-inch ZX Series OLED TV, $19,997)
  • Samsung QN75QN90A (75-inch QN900A HDR QLED TV, $5299)
  • Sony XR75Z9J (75-inch Master Series LCD, $6997)
The three 8K TV sets under test.  From left to right:  LG OLED, Sony BVM HX 3100, Sony LCD, and Samsung QLED LCD.  Luminance and color are angle-dependent so this photo should not be used to compare the sets.  (Photo:  Value Electronics)

The content shot by cinematographer Phil Holland some of which was captured using three RED 8K Monstro cameras. The content was stitched together into a 12K master file, cropped for 16:9, with 4K versions and 8K versions created for testing the TVs. There was narrative content, content to evaluate skin tones and aerial material (the 12K content). The cityscapes provided the best way to evaluate the 8K TVs as they contained sharp verticals and many windows at different distances as tests of resolution. All the content was graded in HDR.

These 8K sets were evaluated for a smaller set of characteristics than the 4K sets:  4K black level/shadow detail, 4K upscaling, 4K color, and 8K native quality (which was a composite evaluation).  There are not yet any 8K reference monitors available, but the Sony BVM HX 310 Professional Mastering Monitor with 4K resolution was part of lineup as well.

The first test used the 4K versions with the 8K TVs upscaling to 8K. The narrative content (some of which was shot with the new RED V-RAPTOR camera) was effective for evaluating the black levels and shadow details, as well as specular highlights (although these were not rated). Listening to the narrative of the judges, it is clear that the experts rated the three TVs differently depending on the scene they were looking at with all three excelling in certain scenes. Overall, however, the judges rated the LG OLED as superior.

The aerial sequences were used to evaluate the upscaling of the 8K TVs. Holland reminded the judges that the content was shot in 8K or 12K and down-sampled to 4K for distribution to the TV. All seem to do well but there were subtle differences.

The 4K color test was mostly about judging skin tones using content graded by Holland. A variety of people with a wide range of skin tones were shown in the reel. Again, content was captured in 8K but down-sampled to 4K for this test.

The final test was to input native 8K content to the TVs. All the content in the shoot out was played back on the TVs via a USB port and playback of 8K content on the Sony set via this port did not work. That resulted in an N/A rating on the judge’s ballot. The aerial reel was used for this judgement. Judges looked at content up close and from further way with the improvement notable by many of the experts. However, this element was not considered in determining the King of 8K TVs.

The LG OLED was rated best on 4K black level and shadow detail, 4K color, and 8K native quality by a large margin; with the Sony LCD coming out ahead in 4K upscaling.

So, as Robert Zohn enthusiastically declared, the LG OLED was the “2021 king of 8K TV!”  The winners in both the 4K and 8K categories were OLED TVs. 

8K vs. 4K

At the end of the day, those two winners were compared side by side (LG’s 77” 8K TV vs. Sony’s 65” 4K TV). 

There is a perennial discussion in the display world concerning the relative importance of more pixels (higher resolution) and “better pixels” (high dynamic range, large color volume, accurate color and luminance, good shadow detail and bright levels that don’t blow out, etc.)  There is nothing in an 8K set that makes the pixels “better.”  The same painstaking engineering that gives you better pixels in a 4K set gives you better pixels in an 8K set, and that is what we saw in the 4K vs. 8K comparison.  Nevertheless, judges could see a difference even at more typical viewing distances.

8K LG TV on the left vs. the 4K Sony TV on the right (Photo: Value Electronics)

The attendees all but put their noses on the individual screens, and there is no question that you could see more detail on the 8K set from a nose length away.  By concentrating you could also see a difference in subjective “sharpness” from a distance of several feet.

It is likely that one contributor to the overall feeling of enhanced sharpness was the reduced sampling error in 8K.  A small bright area — such as a lit window in one of the skyscrapers — in the original analog image will only occasionally line up with the pixel structure of the TV screen.  (I am simplifying here.  The first sampling of the image is in the camera sensor.)  If only half the bright window lines up with a given pixel, that pixel will sample the image as neither bright nor black, but as a middle gray.  This can occur at any resolution, but the sampling will be more accurate more of the time with a higher resolution screen, and there will be an impression of greater sharpness and dynamic range.

What was also clear was that different TVs performed better or worse based on the content. As a result, the winner for an ordinary consumer will depend on what type of content they watch and the environment they watch it in.

Judges were impressed with the significant improvement in the Samsung QN900A compared to last year’s model.  In the 4K shoot out, I was expecting at least one of the new LCD technologies (miniLED backlight or dual-cell) to narrow the gap, but we didn’t see that.  Perhaps we will have to wait until true µLED TVs become available.  What we might see next year is Samsung’s QD-OLED next to LG’s and Sony’s WOLED sets.  Maybe that will make Samsung a bit happier.

I’m glad to have been present at the return of the Value Electronics TV shoot-outs.  These events are valuable for recalibrating both my eyeballs and my expectations.

Ken Werner is Principal of Nutmeg Consultants.  He consults for attorneys, investment analysts, and companies repositioning themselves within the display industry or using displays in their products.  He is the 2017 recipient of the Society for Information Display’s Lewis and Beatrice Winner Award.  You can reach him at kwerner@nutmegconsultants.com.