Samsung and Sony face new competition in high-end displays from Planar

Planar has been a fixture at the CEDIA (Consumer Electronics Design and Installation Association) Expo for many years, even though its primary business has been supplying video-wall displays for commercial purposes, such as major news sets and corporate offices. The company had hoped to attend the in-person Expo this week, but with the Delta variant of COVID-19 raging across the world, many exhibitors, including Planar, have decided to forgo the trip and offer online virtual briefings instead.

That’s unfortunate, because Planar had some really big product news to share that would have been great to see in person. The company is taking aim at the consumer custom-installation market with its new series of Lifestyle Displays. Why add this element to its already extensive portfolio? Partly because of the pandemic, which has caused consumers to spend a lot more on home entertainment and streaming and a lot less on going out to the movies. Also, Planar has continued to refine its video-wall technology, making entry into the lower-margin consumer market more feasible.

The Lifestyle Displays include two product lines: Planar Luxe and Luxe MicroLED, both of which are LED-based, tiled, direct-view, video-wall displays. They are similar in principle to Samsung’s The Wall and Sony’s Crystal LED, in which red, green, and blue LEDs form each pixel by emitting light directly into the environment. The LEDs are mounted in modular tiles that are assembled into a large screen.

Planar will offer consumer micro LED displays for the first time, but they won’t be cheap.

The Luxe line uses fine-pitch LEDs with a pixel pitch—the distance between the centers of adjacent pixels—of 1.8, 1.5, 1.2, or 0.9 millimeters. It’s available in a variety of pre-configured sizes with a 16:9 aspect ratio, though 2.35:1 is possible with the addition of extra tiles. Those sizes include 109 and 137 inches (diagonal) with 1920 x 1080 resolution, 164 inches with 1920 x 1080 or 3840 x 2160 resolution (depending on the pixel pitch), 198 inches with ultra-wide 3840 x 1080 resolution (great for viewing multiple sources), and 219 inches with 3840 x 2160 resolution.

As you can undoubtedly surmise, the Planar Luxe MicroLED uses smaller LEDs, called micro LEDs, which allow higher resolutions at a given screen size. With a pixel pitch of 0.9, 0.7, or 0.6 mm, the Luxe MicroLED is available in 16:9 sizes of 108, 136, and 163 inches with 3840 x 2160 resolution and 217 inches at 7680 x 4320 resolution. You can also expand the screen to 2.35:1 with the addition of extra tiles.

Interestingly, the smaller the pixel pitch, the brighter the display can be. For example, a 137-inch HD Luxe with a pixel pitch of 1.5mm can achieve a sustained, full-screen brightness of 600 nits, while a 136-inch UHD Luxe MicroLED with a pixel pitch of 0.7mm doubles that to 1,200 nits! During the online demo, the Luxe MicroLED was limited to 20 percent of its maximum brightness to avoid blowing out the camera image. In addition, higher brightness means greater contrast, since all direct-view LED displays can achieve essentially perfect blacks.

Planar might be new to the consumer market, but the company has vast experience designing and manufacturing very large displays for corporations and other big clients.

Both lines can accept and render HDR10 content and 100 percent of the DCI/P3 color gamut. All processing, including displaying multiple sources in custom-sizeable windows, is performed in an outboard unit with four HDMI 2.1 4K/60 inputs. The LED tiles are mounted in 16:9, 27-inch “cabinets,” and they can be removed and serviced from the front. The installed depth of the display is less than four inches.

Also introduced during the presentation was Planar’s Ultra ResX LCD display, which is available in screen sizes of 75, 85, and 100 inches with 3840×2160 resolution, a peak brightness of 700 nits, and the ability to display HDR content. The power supply and processor are separate boxes, and the installed depth is under four inches. I asked if it incorporated things like mini LED and/or quantum-dot backlighting, and I was informed that these cutting-edge technologies have not yet been adopted in commercial displays, from which the Ultra ResX is derived, because they need to be more robust than consumer displays. It does, however, provide a FALD (full array local dimming) backlight.

Of course, these new displays don’t come cheap. The Planar Luxe HD LED displays start in the $80,000 region, while the 4K versions start around $260,000! But that includes white-glove installation and commissioning/calibration as well as a limited lifetime warranty. If you want to save some money, you could opt for the Ultra ResX 100-inch LCD display for only $16,500, and the smaller versions are even less.

Clearly, the new Planar Lifestyle Displays are intended for the 1 percent—or perhaps, like LG’s $100K rollable OLED—the 0.1 percent. But if you have that kind of dough, I can think of no better way to enjoy everything that home entertainment has to offer while you wait for the pandemic to finally end.

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