MADISON, Wis. -- I wasn’t surprised by ESPN’s tweet earlier this month, in which they subtly mentioned their plan to drop their costly 3-D TV channel later this year. Hey, who could be surprised?
I was a little surprised, however, by the industry’s dogged insistence that the yet-to-be Ultra High Definition TV market won’t at all resemble the fate of 3DTV. “Chances are the lessons from 3-D’s broken promises will lead to a brighter future for 4K,” wrote Sweta Dash, senior director, Display Research & Strategy, IHS, in her commentary post at www.electronics360.net earlier this year.
Wait a minute. What lessons did the consumer electronics industry exactly learn from their fatal 3-D TV push?
Did they learn not to ignore the consumer’s natural reluctance to put on “equipment” (those uncomfortable 3-D glasses) just to watch TV?
Do they now know that it’s tough — regardless of the industry’s well-orchestrated marketing machine — to change consumers’ basic behavior?
Or do they understand now that new TV technology (be it 3-D or UHDTV) demands rich, abundant, varied, appropriate and affordable “content” (thus giving the consumer the impression that his purchase is worth the money) to be truly ubiquitous? Premium content that can be viewed on a few selective channels and Blu-ray disks won’t cut it, because as long as these devices are called “TV” sets, consumers expect 3-D or UHDTV programming to be freely available over the air.
But above all, I wonder if the industry really gets this: TV manufacturers’ desperation to grow their business (and not lose money on every set they sell) doesn’t justify their optimism that consumers, too, will buy into it.
Setting aside my own prejudices, I set out to ask market analysts what they thought the industry has learned from 3-D’s latest nosedive. Then, I asked them to make the case for why they believe UHDTV is a whole different story.
Why 3-D failed
IHS’s Dash summed it up by pointing out “a lack of content, high pricing and inconvenient technology” as the reasons why 3-D never emerged from a niche status.
Ben Arnold, NPD Group’s director of industry analysis, agreed.
Wearing 3-D glasses “was getting in the way of consumers’ content consumption,” he noted. Further, “it was confusing to consumers where they can get 3-D content. The availability of content was very fragmented.” Consumer education and marketing was another issue, he said. “Many consumers did not understand that you can use 3-D TV for everyday TV viewing without using 3-D glasses.”
No, actually bandwidth/bit rates are not such a big problem. Both cable and terrestrial broadcast of TV are still using MPEG-2 compression (H.262). The reports back from H.265 (HEVC) compression, as well as other current competing codecs, claim that there is at least a four-fold increase in efficiency, and some claim more than that, comparing these new codecs with H.262.
Assuming this is mostly true, then the UHD content will fit in the same discs or RF channels as HDTV does today.
Updated interconnect protocols, like an update to HDMI, and an update to the cable and OTA compression standards will be needed, of course. But it's not as disruptive a change as DTV was.
Content delivery is what makes 4k currently impractical. Blue Ray might work but I doubt there are plans for over air broadcast 4k or wide spread 4k on cable. In Silicon Valley I know most people don' have a high enough speed internet connection to stream a 4k signal.
Live programming might be impractical also, the Red camera needed dual striped (raid0) hard drives to record 4k. Throw together several cameras and some production at it and you are going to need really serious hardware and a team of experts to keep it going.
I'm pleased with my 3d TV. I never believed that you had to wear glasses to watch 2d content and can only imagine that anyone believing that had never seen an actual set in person.
My set has a powerful backlight because of the brightness issue and it works fine in 2d and 3d.
3d content is a mixed bag, it's expensive on Blue Ray and often it doesn't add much to the viewing experience but when it does it is nice.
My tv is a 55" and I think I would need a larger room to comfortably hold a tv much larger. My eye sight is good, 20-15 last check and at reasonable viewing distances the difference in resolution is barely noticeable unless your idea of a good time is staring at test patterns. In a store with your head 3-4' from the display you can see it but on a couch 7-8' away 1080p is fine for me.
I'm amazed at the quality of an LCD hdtv that you can buy for $1,000 today but I'm reluctant to spend $4,000 more to get 4k, even if the screen is a bit bigger.
When SDTV was on the way out, resolution was an issue, everybody loved component out progressive scan DVD players because VHS and interlaced low resolution broadcast TV were pretty ugly. I just don't see a real push for high resolution from the consumer and the technical issues don't help.
I'll be waiting for the next replacement cycle before I buy 4k.
Perfect description of the difference as a "passive upgrade." Bigger numbers do indeed help the sales process, and content will be forthcoming since all new content is being captured or mastered in 4K already.
The biggest variable in the adoption curve will be how quickly the prices of UHDTV sets fall. I agree with you that it will be an adoption curve similar to HDTV but faster. I think of it more like the adoption curve for 1080p as opposed to early HDTV that was only 720p or 1080i.
Another problem with 3-D, with or without glasses, is even though there is a perception of depth, the actual focusing requirement for the eye/brain, is planer. In other words, the eye is forced to focus somewhere other than where the brain perceives it. This no doubt gives rise to some sort of fatiguing strain.
It's hardly surprising that Hollywood would oppose 4K in the ome, when they've just gotten 4K into theaters. This does not mean that increasing the color gamut is a bad idea, however. The two improvements are hardly mutually exclusive.
The eye/brain system has a funny way of fooling those who think the simplistic math models tell all there is to tell. Even users of smartphones and tablets have come to discover that they need something better than HD. "Retinal displays," and the like. For viewing angles that are in the same ballpark, or less than, those of a reasonably large TV in the family room.
Anyway, all of this doesn't even matter, once the industry starts producing these new displays in quantity. Once the price comes down to where people will buy them, just like HDTV did, these new displays will become the standard. Even for those who might not have UHD content to send to the display.
With enough processing power, and local storage, frame rates can be effectively increased.
Sophisticated tracking of multiple objects can mostly be done locally. Periodic cataloging and describing could be done on sending end and transmitted only when a new object appears or one is retired or suspended.
I would rather the bandwidth be expended on doubling the frame rate than doubling the number of pixels. Of course, doubling BOTH is even better (and better yet if the gamut is upped), but in some areas the feeling is that more pixels alone will not result in a significantly better moving picture. Consumer disappointment would result even more resistance to upgrading video equipment.
What is needed is a truly better viewing experience combined with effective, believable marketing.
That may be so, but the reality is that more and more kids are playing games on mobile devices rather than big screen + video consoles, I hear. If that's the case, I don't think video games will be a gating factor.
I hold the same opinion expressed in the linked article. Like many informed consumers, I operate on an "improvement per invested dollar" basis. If willing to pay a premium on my next TV, I'd have to say that widened color gamut and dynamic range plus higher real (source material) frame rate would readily trump 4K resolution and get my "ego bucks".
For the smart TV to remain relevant in the growing strength of second screen devices, it must engender an applications development community that will provide as rich a selection of apps as is available on smartphones and tablets.