LAS VEGAS – Are you hearing drumbeat of Ultra HDTV yet? I am. The question is whether this is “The Music Man” overture or a solo bongo player on a street corner in the East Village.
Seriously, this long developing "trend" has yet to reach full force. Nonetheless, the emerging technology designed to bring video in super high resolution with four times the pixels of current 1080p HDTV is the topic destined to be hyped, dissected and hotly debated at the Consumer Electronics Show this week in Las Vegas.
Sure, video on Ultra HDTV is nothing short of breathtaking. CES 2012 offered a taste of it at several booths, including Sharp and Sony.
Ultra HDTV, sometimes known as 4K x 2K, offers video in 3,840 × 2,160 pixels of resolution. The standard’s spec first released by the Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineers (SMPTE) in 2007 also has been approved by ITU, with its UHDTV standard allowing 24, 25, 60 and 120 frames per second. The UHDTV video production systems -- including cameras and encoder systems – have been designed and developed. Some venues at the London Olympics last year were shot in UHDTV.
LG launched 84-inch UHDTV display last October in the U.S. market
LG Electronics launched U.S. sales late last year of the first LED-backlit LCD flat panel display – 84 whopping inches – at a resolution of 3,840 x 2,160 for the also whopping price of $19,999. This ain’t Archie Bunker’s Philco!
Samsung also promised to roll out an 85-inch UHDTV at CES this week. LG already has a model on the market.
Expect to hear more from digital video chip companies like Broadcom and Ambarella, who will be showing off Ultra HDTV encode/decode ICs at CES this week.
Clearly, the chip industry’s pace in building an ecosystem around UHDTV has been picking up.
UHDTV is nevertheless still a non-starter for the following three reasons.Form factor, political will and economics
If the history of the revolutionary shift from analog to digital TV is our guide, UHDTV lacks momentum in three areas: form-factor; political will; and pure economics.
First, the belated success of HDTV (or digital TV) owes a great deal to the eventual emergence of flat-panel TV. The industry’s push to HDTV piggybacked on the new sleek, flat form factor of LCDs and/or plasma displays, which consumers enthusiastically embraced.
To build excitement around a mammoth 84-inch UHDTV, the industry needs a true “video wall” – the kind portrayed in futuristic movies like “Fahrenheit 451” and “Back to the Future: 2.” Only a universal form factor change can justify this sort of rumpus-room upheaval.
Second, HDTV in the 1980’s got a huge boost when the U.S. TV broadcast industry – wanting to secure extra bandwidth within the limited wireless airwaves – lobbied Congress and the Federal Communications Commission to define "digital" TV (invented by a U.S. company, General Instruments) as a key U.S.-vs.-Japan competitiveness issue. The original analog HDTV system called Hi-Vision was invented by NHK, Japan’s public broadcaster.
Several U.S. companies – initially competing among themselves to be a winner of the U.S. HDTV system – joined forces to forge a consortium called the “Grand Alliance,” which eventually developed the U.S. HDTV standard. Both the broadcast industry and Grand Alliance became the indispensable forces behind the U.S. transition to digital TV.
UHDTV, developed again by NHK, is almost certainly being promoted as the enhanced standard within Japan. But in the U.S., UHDTV has no Grand Alliance, nor any other major interest group to exert the political pressure needed for broad adoption.