UHDTV, designed to deliver video with four times the resolution of current HDTV will be hyped, dissected and debated at the CES this week.
Third, UHDTV is the ultimate video toy for the “1 percent” of Americans. Call it Romneyvision, UHDTV will remain a plaything for the rich in the foreseeable future. Kumu Puri, senior executive with Accenture’s electronics and high-tech group, noted, “With an estimated $20,000 price tag, Ultra HDTV sets may be too expensive for mass-market consumption, especially when you consider that this ultra high-definition content is not yet commercially available.” Did she say “may be”?
She added that “market momentum will likely wait until consumers become more familiar with the technology, manufacturers reduce prices, and content providers embrace the format.”
But ultimately, here is one good reason why Ultra HDTV is a non-starter. UHDTV is an all-industry push. CE companies are looking for ways to secure margins for their flat-panel TVs. They desperately need so-called “value add” for their money-losing TV business.
They’ve tried Internet TV, 3-D and Google TV. The latest gimmick is UHDTV. Consumers don’t buy products out of compassion for overextended companies trying to save their businesses.
There is, however, one ray of hope. A great picture is hard to resist. Said Joseph Del Rio, associate product line director at Broadcom, “Ask any sales guy at Best Buy. When consumers come to a store and see the wall of pictures, the best picture always wins.” Resolution beats 3-D, and it beats smart TV.
Asked whether the U.S. cable industry is prepared for 4K x 2K content distribution, Del Rio responded: “Don’t underestimate the U.S. cable guys.” The cable industry is already getting ready for DOCSIS 3.0, IP packet protocol over cable, featuring channel bonding. The channel bonding, enabling multiple downstream and upstream channels to be used together at the same time by a single subscriber, can also dynamically change its rate, anywhere from 20 to 40 Megabits per second (Mbps). “This will allow cable guys to offer the high-bandwidth content on demand.”
But whether or not the cable industry is ready for UHDTV, Chris Day, vice president of marketing and business development, at Ambarella, Inc., predicted that 4K content materials may become first available on the Internet. Ambarella believes its upcoming chips are designed to “drive 4K into mainstream consumer market.”
The same arguments are made with every new technology before it becomes commonplace.
UHDTV will eventually come down in price, and bandwidth will increase to accommodate hundreds of channels.
And at some point we will look back on current technology, as we do now on the first generation of cathode ray TV's and Atari game consoles.
I wouldn't be quite so negative, and here's why.
HDTV is great. Pretty much everyone (finally) figured it out. And yet, even on small devices, look at the hype "retinal displays" have created. So forget about the narrative that the "average joe" can't tell the difference. Retinal displays are higher resolution than 1080p, and yet average people like this "retinal" stuff EVEN on tiny screens. What does that suggest about UHDTV on more sensibly sized screens, like 50" or less?
All the naysayers were telling us how expensive HD displays would be. Nonsense, I told them. HDTV is meant for the masses, and prices in fact came down to less than fuzzy analog sets were going for, toward the end of their tenure.
What really made HDTV practical, Junko, was not that the FCC mandated "digital." The point was, it was to be spectrum-compatible. Initially, HDTV was envisioned as some pathetic 6 channels exclusively over satellite. But when the FCC required it to fit in a 6 MHz channel, suddenly cable systems and over-the-air broadcasters could carry HD too.
Well, if we're to believe what we're being told, the new compression algorithm called H.265, which is an evolutionary upgrade to H.264, which in turn was an evolutionary upgrade of H.262 (MPEG-2 compression), is supposed to be four times as efficient as H.262. So, unless there is hyperbole there (I wouldn't be surprised), this UHDTV will also be spectrum compatible, potentially available over cable and terrestrial TV just like HDTV is today.
As to internet TVs, since those who knock them also ballyhoo the wonders of Roku or AppleTV, I can only conclude that logic isn't their strong suit.
In case that last point wasn't clear, I'm saying that in principle, "connected TVs" cold be great, and people would love them. The fact that the CE vendors seem to be in bed with the cable systems, making their "connected TVs" ridiculously crippled, is another matter.
Don't think that just because the ones on the market are dismal, this must always be the case.
I give it ten years. I'm not sure what the median purchased TV size is these days, but I'd venture that it's pretty close to 40". Back in the late '70s/ early '80s, I worked for a place that sold TVs and appliances. The standard big console TV of about 20" cost around $700.00. I delivered and installed those TVs in houses through a wide economic spectrum.
That amount of money today would get you a lot of TV, even if you didn't consider inflation. I don't think cost will be an issue in the long run.
It really depends on the availability of quality content. I've seen some 1080p images so mucked up by over compression that an old CRT could probably have bested it. If 4K comes off like that, then no. It won't take off. But my bet is that it will become the (or a) standard in the not too distant future.
Of course, TVs could take a left turn into a different technological factor and blow my prediction. OLEDs may turn out to have such rich colors and such a wide dynamic range, but be too expensive to produce in larger sizes or higher resolutions. TVs could evolve in that direction for a while.
I'm with Junko on this one. The form factor (and price) was the number one reason HDTV succeeded, not the content (unfortunately). The majority of HDTV viewers still watch mostly non-HD content on their flat panels, even though so much of it is available. Many can't even tell the difference. The only time they might make the effort to get HD is in live sports and movies. I think most people are satisfied with the picture quality already. In order to really tell the difference, screen sizes have to be 60 inches or larger. At 84-inches, you're talking about a redesign of the American living room (higher ceilings for one thing). I doubt that will happen anytime soon.
Hah! I remember when the first large flat screens came out for 10s of thousands, and I wondered who would ever buy such an expensive device.
Buyers of these devices won't necessarily want UHDTV over the air or over networks, at least for a while. What we need is an Blu-Ray alliance to come up with a device that can play UHDTV movies. I think there are some things out there but I don't know if anything is standardized yet (something to look for at CES). Certainly, multi-layer Blu-Ray disks can hold enormous amounts of data.
I also love the Romneyvision comment!
I strongly disagree with you on this one Junko. UHDTV isn't a question of if, it's a question of when -- and the "when" is likely to be a purely economic issue -- like when the price drops from $20,000 to $2,000.
I don't suppose there is a law for increasing video resolution over time -- analogous to Moore's Law for silicon -- but perhaps there should be.
The Broadcom guy was spot on -- "When consumers come to a store and see the wall of pictures, the best picture always wins."
And the best picture of tomorrow will easily beat the best picture of today.
The other consideration can be wrapped up in a phrase I like to use: "There are features you can use and features you can sell. They aren't necessarily the same."
Digital cameras, for example, have long past the resolution needed to be an equivalent to the typical snap-shot film camera. In fact, in most cases the lens of the inexpensive digital point and shoot isn't high enough quality to utilize all of that resolution. Smaller pixels also reduce low-light capability.
In essence, if it were really about quality and performance, most digital cameras would have stayed at, maybe 8 Mpixels and focused on other aspects of the technology.
I would say that when 3D first became available in consumer TVs, it fell into the "feature you can sell" category. Now it doesn't really fall into either. Resolution will definitely fall into the "features you can sell" category. Whether is also falls into the "can use" category is a different question.
Don't get me wrong. I hate being a naysayer myself and I would be the first to admit wanting UHDTV. And yet, I just wonder what else need to happen to get this thing off the ground---aside from giving it "10 years."
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