The view from Digital Hollywood looks pretty grim to me. 3-D TV was a disappointment, 4K TV (aka Ultra HDTV) is pretty much a useless extravagance, quality video is a poor stepchild in today’s wireless world and nobody wants to buy movies anymore.
Two Digital Hollywood insiders I talked to in a recent trip there expressed optimism given the breadth and pace of activity these days. Still, I see a town in search of the next big thing.
After its big debut a couple years ago, 3-D TV was hardly mentioned at the recent Consumer Electronics Show and broadcasters have pulled the plug on some 3-D channels. The lack of content and the need for glasses are both taking the blame for 3-D’s fizzle in the home.
Some had high hopes for the autostereoscopic approach Philips pioneered. But few think Dolby, which now owns the technology, has the clout to drive it forward. After a big belly flop, climbing back on the diving board is harder.
Samsung is pushing 3-D TV forward with work on a Bluetooth standard for active shutter glasses with backing from Panasonic and Sony. It also set up a facility in South Korea to convert 2-D content to 3-D.
Live sports is a big missing piece. “If the Super Bowl was broadcast in 3-D, this would be a different discussion,” said Brad Hunt, principal of Digital Media Directions (Westlake Village, Calif.).
The Ultra HDTV (4K x 2K) displays at CES seem to have left everyone cold. To really see all those extra pixels you need the equivalent of a 96-inch home TV, but even the more standard size screens are way too expensive for the average Joe, I am told.
The trouble is without a next big thing like 3-D or 4K, TVs remain stuck with their role as a commodity product. “We are back to TV sets sold by the inch so it’s hard for anyone to make a profit--and 4K is potentially a race to the bottom,” said Andrew G. Setos, chief executive of Blackstar Engineering (Pacific Palisades, Calif.) and a veteran audio-visual engineer.
“I think the improvement could come in truly lower cost of manufacturing--not by lower labor costs but a new mechanism that may be protected by patents--then TV manufacturers could make profits, but until then they are in a world of hurt,” he said.
The problem with TV in my opinion is lack of decent things to watch and the content being dispersed across thousands of channels so it is taking lots of time to chase whatever is worthwhile to watch...more pixels is not going to fix that problem
And I also disagree on the 4K TV point. Of course, it would also be "potentially a race to the bottom." I'd go so far as to take "potentially" out of that sentence. This is consumer electronics we're talking about. It's always a race to the bottom. All a manufacturer can hope for is to buy a few years of high profits, then very low profits but lots of volume.
For the consumer, though, it means constant and affordable improvements. Or we would still be watching black and white TVs on 16" screens with rounded sides, right? Or better yet, most of us would still be listening to radio dramas rather than own an expensive, high-profit TV.
When HDTV was being considered, I heard some of these same arguments. A standard question was, "What's in it for broadcasters?" The answer is, "survival." You either upgrade, or you watch your competition take away your loyal viewers. HDTV was ALWAYS intended to be a mass-market medium. So is UHDTV. The alternative is failure of the medium.
Well, the movie theaters we frequent on most Saturday nights have recently converted to the Sony Cinema 4K standard. That's something. Must save the studios a ton of money, not to have to distribute those bulky movie platters (or whatever they're called), no?
I found the comment "TCP/IP is not well suited to truly popular audio-visual content, either" to be surprisingly wrong. It may not have been when few households had broadband access, and ISPs were still operating slow core networks. But those realities are quickly becoming yesterday's realities, certainly for the wired Internet. TCP/IP and UDP/IP also used to be poorly suited for voice telephony. But that too is ancient history. It's the same progression going on here.
Assuming we always need this "next big thing," it should be proper Internet distribution of TV and movies. With intelligently designed connected TVs out on store shelves. And by the way, we're essentially there already. Only no one seems to get this.
I was amazed, for example, to see someone on the cbs.com site ask whether CBS would re-air the episode of "Elementary" which followed the Superbowl yesterday, sometime during the week. Egad, people. CBS had that episode available online almost immediately, and I watched it comfortably on my TV set. So could even the tech-illiterates, if only the CE companies would sell intelligently designed connected TVs!
Make that this "next big thing," if you need one.
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