Sony is looking to launch TVs with itsBacklight Master Drive over the next few years. It's a new backlighting system for LCD TVs that tries to fix the color and brightness shortcomings of LCD when compared to OLED. Sony also wants to ensure its future LCD TVs are ready for the incoming wave of HDR content (video that has its dynamic range increased even further: blacker blacks, brighter whites).
The company's new LCD prototype can crank out 4,000 nits of brightness, while most high-end sets hover around 1,000. A layer of high density LED backlights is paired with software algorithms and intelligent local dimming to keep any contrasting dark areas looking how they should. It's the sheer brightness that caught my attention immediately. When Sony's spokesman and assembled engineers started running HDR content through last year's LG OLED TV, Sony's pro-level RGB OLED display and its new prototype: an 85-inch 4K LCD TV with the Backlight Master Drive, the glare coming off the river surfaces and neon lighting was occasionally borderline blinding.
And while I know this is Sony's prototype TV, the crazy part was that demo clips from Vegas, Annie andThe Amazing Spiderman all looked richer, better, on the BMD set. To these fatigued CES eyes, Sony's test LCD screen closer approximated its pro-level RGB OLED than the rival (model not mentioned) LG OLED TV. It's the severe increase in dimming zones that help to get the darker regions comparable to OLED tech. This prototype has "more than a thousand" dimming zones this time. Sony's engineers showed me its existing models' dark-zones -- a handful of huge rough squares on top of the screen -- and then they switched to the new zones. This time the highlights and lowlights formed a severely pixellated version (imagine YouTube on its lower setting) of the image itself.
The spokesman tells me that it gives the perceptual pixel-to-pixel contrast that wows people with OLED. LCD can't match OLED, where each individual pixel lights itself up. The younger tech doesn't reach the 4,000 nits of brightness of Sony's test set, however. Sony added that the halo effect for local area dimming on LCD TVs is no longer a problem, because it's increased the density of LED backlights, allowing greater precision when it comes to bright spots.
"We haven't reached the full potential of LCD."
The presentation involved waves of color gamut charts and science, but the most important part is how this turns into a for-real, on sale TV. "The work on this [Backlight Master Drive], is done by production engineers." We can almost achieve something that is close to OLED with LCD, so now we're looking at several different problems: power consumption, the cooling system, as well as cost and size. We're investigating these now." It's not the only one: LG, Samsung and Panasonic are all trying to bridge the gap and improve LCD TVs. LCDs are still far easier and cheaper to make.
Another Sony spokesman added: "We want to show [while we're still looking at and working on OLEDS] that we haven't reached the full potential of LCD."