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Winners and Losers: The highlights and lowlights of TVs in 2020

It’s been a tricky year for the TV world. While the pandemic meant more people stayed at home and watched content on their TVs, manufacturers still needed to get their models through the production line and hope demand for new sets hadn’t abated.

The TV market did dip, but showed signs of recovery – and there were some great TVs and services to enjoy. There were also a few losers to consider – although in a year like the one we’ve seen, it seems a little churlish to point and laugh. It’s more a “could do better” grade.

So, what did we find entertaining and what didn’t live up to expectations? Let’s have a look at the winners and losers of 2020.

Winner: 48-inch OLED

It’s been a bugbear for OLED TVs that they’ve never managed to break the sub 50-inch barrier. Well, no longer.

LG announced its 48-inch CX model at CES 2020, swiftly followed by Sony, with Philips launching its own version later in the year. The breakthrough in smaller sizes has made the display technology more accommodating for smaller spaces, growing the potential audience as a result. It hasn’t meant cheaper prices – in fact, 55-inch OLEDs are more affordable – but that could change in 2021.

Winner: Panasonic

Panasonic keeps plugging away at the TV market, and despite not having the market share of Samsung, it has maintained its high-quality offerings, scooping Trusted Reviews’ best TV of 2020 award.

We awarded the HZ2000, HZ1500 and HZ1000 five stars, which shows how strong and consistent the Japanese brand has been – and this follows its performance in 2019, where we also gave its top-tier TVs five stars. While Panasonic’s TVs are typically more expensive, the quality you get is arguably worth the premium.

Winner: Samsung’s budget TVs

Lots of attention is paid to Samsung’s QLEDs, but there’s something to say about Samsung’s budget range of TVs, too.

In terms of design, features and performance, the South Korean brand’s more affordable sets have delivered. From the huge number of apps, to features such eARC and class-leading gaming performance, as well as its impressive picture performance, Samsung’s cheaper models are excellent value. If you’re on a budget, no brand has been more consistent as Samsung.

Winner: Sky Q

Sky solidified its position as the top dog in the live TV/on-demand market with various improvements. No premium TV package delivers the breadth and depth of content Sky Q does.

Those improvements include the introduction of HDR, with more content arriving each month. Voice discovery has been revamped – as has the UI – to make it easier and quicker to find content. And it’s evolved into more of a platform aggregator than before, adding Disney+ and Prime Video to its comprehensive list of entertainment options. It may be expensive, but it’s currently the biggest and best entertainment system around.

Winner: Disney+

While 2020 won’t be fondly remembered, it will be seen as the moment that may have firmly pushed the needle in the direction of streaming services. And Disney+ took full advantage.

Launching in the UK in March 2020, Disney predicted its OTT service would reach 60 to 90 million subscribers worldwide by 2024. It hit 86 million before the end of 2020.

While it’s not the best video streaming service available, it hasn’t done much wrong either. Easy to use, affordable and using Disney’s rich library to good effect, the service is in good shape ahead of the addition of the Star section in 2021. Incidentally, the price will go up, but at the moment it doesn’t look like anything can stop the Disney streaming juggernaut.

Losers: 8K TV

The year 2020 hasn’t seen 8K TV catch on as much as some had hoped. However, this isn’t necessarily down to the tech itself.

The pandemic tightened many wallets and 8K TVs remain expensive compared to their 4K compatriots – but Samsung has led the charge, aggressively reducing the price. There hasn’t been as big an advance in terms of 8K content – although, again, from what we saw when BT Sports trialled its service, the signs are promising.

Losers: HDMI 2.1

There’s something odd about the HDMI 2.1 standard. It’s become a touchy subject for TV/home cinema manufacturers who have either jumped in, dipped their toes, or are just looking on from the side of the pool.

That’s partly down to the HDMI 2.1 spec. In 2019, LG’s OLEDs supported the full bandwidth 2.1 had to offer, but 2020 saw a minor reduction in its capabilities. Add to that the much-anticipated next-gen consoles not featuring many games with 4K/120fps support, AV receivers encountering issues and manufacturers adopting parts of the standard, and it appears to have created more confusion than clarity.

Losers: Netflix

In the beginning, there was just Netflix. Then Prime Video joined, and now we have so many streaming services space that we’re spoilt for choice. And the biggest loser could be the one that kicked off the streaming race.

With more entrants in the streaming market, it’s bitten into Netflix’s lead/growth. We’re sure Netflix isn’t unduly worried; it probably even relishes the competition, but 2020 felt like Netflix stood still. Prices went up for its 4K HDR tier, several much-liked TV series were cancelled, and big movie releases (Extraction, The Old Guard, Project Power, Rebecca) received average notices. It will be interesting to see how the company responds in 2021.

quibi

Losers: Quibi

Probably the biggest loser of the year was Quibi, a short-form video streaming service that was short-lived. Aiming to deliver small chunks (or quick bites) of content on-the-go, it launched at an unfortunate time – just as people were staying at home – and failed to gain traction, despite the inducement of a 90-day free trial.

Some of its content was good, but this Instagram for the video streaming generation failed to take off, suggesting there are limits to the potential of digital media.

HDR10+

Losers: HDR10+

The past year hasn’t seen the dynamic metadata format advance as much as it needs to in the face of its fierce competitor, Dolby Vision.

While Google Play Movies offers content in the format, newer streaming services have plumped for Dolby Vision. And the pick-up of HDR10+ with 4K Blu-rays lags behind its rival.

Perhaps the biggest blow was Disney’s purchase of 20th Century Studios. 20th Century was a firm backer of the HDR10+ format, but Disney’s reluctance to print any physical 4K Blu-rays, as well as favouring Dolby Vision for Disney+, mean it’s likely that when 20th Century content does arrive, it’s less likely to be in HDR10+.

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