I can’t recall a year when I wasn’t impressed by the TVs I saw at CES. Maybe that’s just because I love TVs so much. There have been some … I’ll call them tepid years … but CES 2021? This year was red hot.
Given this has been a virtual event, it was a challenge to put eyes on these TVs, but we did manage to get in-person looks at many of the TVs on this list. For those that we didn’t? I relied on over a decade of experience to inform my decision. So, let’s run down all the best TVs from CES 2021, along with a couple of technologies that took us by surprise.
Samsung micro-LED comes home
Let’s begin with the Samsung micro-LED TV lineup. Take your pick, 88-, 99-, 110-inches, these displays are just flat-out impressive. Yes, I’m sure they are insanely expensive as well, but being expensive doesn’t mean this isn’t some of the best TV tech at the show.
Speaking of TV tech, technically, these aren’t TVs! I know, it sounds crazy, but Samsung’s micro-LED TVs don’t have a tuner, so technically they are displays, not TVs. Since 2006, U.S. Federal law states that a TV has to have a digital tuner or it isn’t a TV. Semantics aside, getting intense brightness and perfect black levels at these sizes is pretty exciting.
These are the first micro-LED TVs to ship as a single piece as opposed to the modular approach Samsung took with its “The Wall” TVs shown at CES’s past. This puts them firmly in the consumer space, while the prior showings were always meant for commercial applications.
A little over the top? Perhaps. But perhaps not if you are building a high-end home theater or even a boutique commercial theater.
Samsung Q900 8K Neo QLED
Samsung scores a second spot on our list thanks to its new top-tier 8K TV line for 2021. These NEO QLED TVs are remarkably thin, mini-LED driven TVs with some serious chops. We’ve seen them in action and they are getting dangerously close to OLED black level performance, but with far higher brightness and, as a result, HDR comes off seriously impressive.
As a bonus, Samsungs high-end TVs come with the company’s One-Connect box, which I have raved about for years, and Samsung is taking gaming very seriously this year, so I anticipate these TVs will be outstanding for high-end gaming. All told, I’m certain this will be one of the top TVs of the year once the reviews sample arrives.
Sony Bravia Master Series X9J
Now let’s visit Sony. Interestingly, Sony hasn’t chosen to embrace mini-LED backlight technology this year the way Samsung and LG did. At least not publicly. Sony doesn’t really like to reveal details about its backlighting tech, it just likes to point to how good it is. At any rate, one area where Sony has always excelled is processing, and it just unleashed its most advanced processor — by a mile — which it calls the Cognitive Processor XR. This is not the place to get into why it is so awesome — that’s another article — but I bring it up because I think it is going to drive two new Sony TVs in particular to the top in 2021.
We’ll start with the Master Series Z9J. It feels like the past few years have been leading up to this TV. We had the popular Z9D years back, the more recent Z9G, the Z8H last year, and now we arrive at the Z9J with which I think Sony has decided to rev up its engines and deliver the most cinematic, realistic 8K TV it can muster.
This TV is likely to offer incredible brightness, well-controlled black levels, and, of course, Sony’s treatment of color, which is second to none. This TV oozes premium and I think it’s going to look incredible when we get one in for review.
Sony Bravia Master Series A90J
As excited as I am about the Z9J, I think I’m a little more excited for the next entry on this list and that would be the Sony A90J Master Series OLED TV. Like LG, which we’ll discuss shortly, Sony has figured out how to brighten up its OLED TVs for even more intense HDR, and between that and Sony’s new Cognitive Processor XR, I think this might end up being the best-looking OLED TV we’ve ever seen.
Sony has also improved its Acoustic Surface Audio technology, which stands to make one of the best-sounding TVs I’ve ever heard sound even better. Toss in two HDMI 2.1 ports with full support of all the latest gaming features and I just don’t know if this TV can beat this year.
LG Gallery Series G1 OLED TV
If it can be beaten, however, it will be by the next pick: LG’s Gallery Series or G-Series OLED TVs.
LG has been busy developing its OLED technology and has also figured out how to brighten up its OLED images. Now, it’s hard to say whether LG figured this out and passed the tech along to Sony, or if Sony is doing some kind of its own version, but I will remind your that Sony uses LG OLED panels just like every other TV brand.
At any rate, the Gallery series has never looked more gorgeous; It is getting a brightness boost, it sports 4 HDMI 2.1 ports, and includes AMD Freesync and Nvidia G-sync support for gaming. It really has everything. I’m going to go ahead and predict that between the LG Gallery Series OLED and the Sony Master Series A90J, the call on which is best is going come down to processing vs. features. I can’t wait to wrestle with that decision.
Don’t forget the LG A-Series OLEDs
I also have to give an honorable mention to LG’s A-Series OLEDs, too. No, they won’t offer the best performance, features, or aesthetics, but what they will do is bring OLED picture quality to more people thanks to more affordable pricing, and I think that deserves special mention.
TCL, leading again
I believe TCL has been the leader of cutting-edge TV tech since 2018 and it has proved itself again in 2021.
First, TCL brought us the game-changingly good 6-Series in 2018. Then it was the first to bring micro-LED tech to TVs, two years before the competition, no less. Then TCL dropped it micro-LED tech into its 6-Series and now it is bringing 8K micro-LED to the 6-Series as well, which just blows my mind.
So is the new 6-Series my pick for TCL’s best TV of CES 2021? Perhaps? Or, it could be the 85-inch 8K micro-LED TV that doesn’t seem to have a model number yet.
Why am I hedging? Because TCL has a new micro-LED backlight technology called OD-Zero, but it isn’t saying which TVs that tech will be in. So it could be either the new 6-Series or it could be the new 85-inch 8K model which seems to be in its own series, or it could be both! One looks incredible and the other sounds incredible on paper, so we’ll have to wait and see.
I’ll be looking to review every single one of these TVs in 2021, pit them against each other in versus battles, and of course, we’ll be looking at other TVs from these big brands, but, on the whole, 2021 is looking big and bright with some amazing new TVs on the way.