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.”
I saw a 4K display while passing a showroom in a mall and had to stop. It was, indeed, stunning.
And I've seen these charts spread around the Internet showing optimal sitting distance for screens of various resolutions. That's probably where this '4K would look best on a TV screen at least 60 inches in diagonal' comes from. After looking at this screen I'm convinced that these charts are complete hogwash. I don't think the screen I saw was 60", and the clarity compared to the 1080p screen nearby was amazing even from pretty far away. My kids, with much better eyes than I have, noticed it without my prompting (and without me telling them what a 4k screen was).
Netflix has announced that they are planning on including 4K videos. And I don't know why our over-the-air broadcasters don't put out a 4k signal. Many people don't realize that in addition to the digital television standard, there's an MPEG4 standard for portable television that many are broadcasting, but I don't think anyone is receiving. They could repurpose these channels for an HEVC 4K signal and over-the-air broadcasting could be revitalized.
The 4K sets being sold today (except for the Seiki) cost an order of magnitude more than the 1080p sets. That alone could account for a lot of the difference. Couple that with content that's very lightly compressed to show off 4K in the best light...
A more realistic test would to be broadcast a good quality 1080p signal, from a Blu Ray let's say, into two identical 4K sets sitting side by side and letting it one upscale it and one run at 1080p (every 1080p pixel as a 2x2 block of 4K pixels)
That's how almost every 4K set will be used in the next few years, and even after that there probably won't be all that much 4K content. Maybe one HBO and Showtime channel, possibly ESPN for broadcast. If it doesn't noticeably improve the experience via upscaling, it isn't worth the money until the cost premium is almost nil.
Junko, I agree with you in regards to the win if the difference is noticeable. I smiled at the idea that kids were a part of the equation, as they are not the consumers doing the purchasing. If the parents can see the difference then we have a winner, otherwise it will take some time before we know what the true market share will be (or not).
Honestly speaking. I think it is most likely 4K feel better than 2K is due to 4K using other advanced technologies. You could easily see quality difference between 2K TV set as well at different price range. I am highly doubt that 4k itself make much difference at all unless you are close enough to the panel.
Just to add that the idea that apparent screen resolution goes down with distance isn't hogwash, just that I think the charts that get sent around the Internet suggesting sitting distances for various screen resolutions severely underestimate human perception.
Heck if you follow these charts then you shouldn't be able to read the text on a 1080 21" screen on your computer.
Junko, I think you're onto something with your "might win by coincidence" comment. As you said, many older HDTV sets in that 7-10 year age range will soon be replaced. It's not necessarily that they no longer work -- there is also the phenomenon of moving the older, less feature-rich but still working TV to a bedroom or a kid's room and buying a fancy new TV for the main viewing room. A lot of those older HDTV might not do 1080p or aren't "smart" or connected, but are still useful as secondary TV sets.
So when a consumer is thinking about upgrading the main TV set and shuffling the old one off to another room, he or she will soon be faced with the option to go with UHDTV instead of settling for "only 1080p." The difference in quality might be subtle to some viewers, but not so for many others. The sales & marketing machine will emphasize the picture improvement and use words like "future-proof", and if the price premium for UHDTV vs. 1080p is not too stratospheric, the sales volumes should ramp rather quickly -- assuming that UHDTV content availability also ramps quickly, as I believe it will.
There is a fairly short shelf-life to some of these. My first CRT-projection HDTV, a 65" monster, was not long for the world when I dumped it after 6-7 years. Earlier this month, my DLP went out... DLPs are not long-lasting, due to the electromechanical nature. Early plasmas fade substantially in a few years. LCDs from 5-19 years ago will keep working, but they look as bad as they did back then, particularly compared to today's LCD/LED hybrids.
So there's replacement, and the rate is certainly higher than it was in the old 27" tube days, based on both replacement and technology advancement.
The 3D thing was greed.. the industry had seen some good years. Early adopters' HDTVs, the mainsteam moving to HD, the early adopters buying their replacment, then the secondary televisons being replaced with cheap LCDs, etc. But once you've got a fairly modern LCD/CFL or particularly LCD/LED, the TV's going to last 25 years. Again. They had to think of something else to drive upgrade en masse. 3D wasn't it.
I'm not sure 4K is, either. It's much like the upgrade from CD to ... what, exactly? DTS-CD, SACD, DVD-Audio, Blu-ray Audio... none of these caught on big. And mostly because CD was plenty enough for most listeners. I think HDTV may be plenty enough for most viewers.. even DVD-quality SD took away most of the complaints of analog NTSC/PAL.
And the real reason HDTV took off: football. That needs OTA HD, ATSC+ or whatever. H.265. Another ten+ years of tech development, because you see the networks buying in.
I would say that the biggest difference between 3D TV and UHDTV is that with UHDTV, the consumer doesn't have to do anything different or act any different. It's a passive upgrade.
I think it also falls into the bigger number syndrome. It's pretty easy to promote something based on having an easy to define "bigger number." It's easy for the TV marketers to suggest value and its easy for the purchase to feel value (whether it's real in practice or not)
Other than a cost curve, I can't really see any negatives with UHDTV either. 3D had headaches and limiting viewers to the number of available glasses as clear negatives. UHDTV doesn't have that. My assessment is that there will be an adoption curve similar to regular HDTV, but faster.
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.
The price of the set and the availability of content are critical to most consumers to consider upgrading their TV set.
To content providers - movie makers, the ease of deliver might become the top consideration. UHDTV is aimed at delivering in theaters. It means printing hardcopy (e.g. Bluray) will be as simple as writing the 4k content to the disc. Logistically speaking, a couple steps are eliminated. Time to market will be shorten.
On the other hands, streaming a 4k video might be a challenge and yet, ISP will enjoy the challenge and the thriving of the business.
I agree with Junko that not every family needs a 4K TV. Similarly, not everyone can "afford" to stream 4K. For 4K to thrive, I believe backward compatibility shall be available to viewers. For example, bluray disc player shall be able to downconvert the 4K video to 1080. Similarly, streaming video provider shall allow user to stream 1080 content.
There is hope for 4K TV (in contrast to 3D TV) if walking past a 4K TV can cause a consumer to be impressed by the quality. No special glasses, no special position, no special instructions, just an impressive image. The big issues then become the pricing and displaying legacy (standard format) programming whose blurry images just scream at the viewer.
Anyone thought about video game? That is another big factor pushing people to buy bigger TVs. But to support 4K native resolution by game console, it requires a lot more upgrade, both hardware and software wise. I am sure MS or Sony will be happy to see the adoption of 4K TV but the whole package of 4K experience may be very expensive in the next few years. It is a chicken and egg dilemma again. Until the package cost is on par with regular 1080P TV,4K TV will not thrive IMHO.
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.
4K television is beautiful. While shopping for my new 2K (HDTV) set, I happened upon a Sony setup. And this was in Best Buy, not even the kind of specialty store I had to visit for my first two HDTVs (the DLP that just died was a 71"er.. that was pretty exotic 7-8 years ago).
The problem is this... when I bought my first CRT-projection HDTV, it was essentially just an analog HD monitor. There was no content. The specs for over-the-air broadcast hadn't been settled quite. Neither had the video links. So by the time time HD caught on, that first 500lbs TV was already a dinosaur.
When I bought the second, I could compare Blu-ray output with the other types of the day (plasma, LCOS)... so while much has changed even since then, it was still commercially viable technology. Plus, before the second HDTV, I had to get video cameras, authoring hardware, disc formats, etc. in place.
Now it's 4K, and that beautiful display was being driven in-store from an in-store media server, presumably over HDMI 1.4, which only allows quadHD 3840x2160p30 or 4096x2160p24. The HDMI 2.0 spec, which is still a committee not an actual thing, will be needed for 4096x2160p60. So you're likely SOL with today's hardware, already.
And then there are formats. Even given Netflix's crappy HDTV quality, they're not going to have a viable 4K video product using H.264 and even typical networks five years from now. That's just going to get more ISPs adding data caps. 4K is going to push the need for H.265, and perhaps other standards. All the stuff that's coming out now can be expected to go pretty obsolete pretty fast -- that usual early adopter's dilemma. I decided this time to wait awhile... the new LCD-HD is going to be dandy for another 5-10 years....
And really, I need to save my coin for a 4K camcorder anyway... well, there is that $5K model from JVC that came out last year. Or maybe someone will just hack it into a Canon HDSLR...
Are those Companies getting crazy? I feel shamed about those technology Companies pushing 4K TV, 32M Pixel Consumer Camera, and Multi-Core 2+GHz Mobile phone. Although those number sounds bigger. It bring in little additional benefit. All they want is to steal money from Consumer's wallet. Does anyone know how much electronics garbage human creates now days?
The big fly in the ointment for 4K is viewing distance. People are in the habit of watching their TVs from a great distance, many screen diagonals away, from where high screen resolution simply cannot be perceived.
On the other hand where seeing detail is necessary, people routinely watch their 1080 16x9 PC monitors from a distance of less than 1 one screen diagonal. Following this logic, one should view a 4K screen from 1/2 the screen diagonal or 30" away for a 60" screen, to fully appreciate the detail. Logical as that may be, the public is simply not going to accept that close a viewing distance for their TVs. I can almost hear my mother saying, "Get back from the TV or you'll go blind."
In movie theaters, everyone crowds into the back rows as if they were in church. To counteract this viewer ignorance, France has a law mandating that the last row of a movie theater be closer than 3 screen diagonals, forcing the French to better appreciate movie resolution. IMAX theaters also force a close relative viewing distance. Unfortunately, there's no chance of changing the public's habitual TV viewing distances.
4K's original design specification in EE Times actually called for viewing close enough that the viewer's view of the screen subtends an angle of 120 degrees! That's how close you have to be to fully appreciate the 4K resolution, and get immersed in the scene as intended. I'm willing to bet that at this intended viewing distance most 4K TVs will appear quite dim at the edges.
While 4K certainly won't have the inconvenience of 3D glasses, it's resolution will be as unused as the 300hp or more of engines in our cars that their manufacturers brag about, or the 1200watts of our speaker amplifiers.
A few years ago, 3D was being pushed on us by the industry or trade press, both actually, and I never could figure out who had asked the question. Not only that, but there were absolutely no elegant solutions for transmitting 3D. So I was also not surprised to see it fail, although for different reasons than those cited in the article, perhaps. And too, it seemed a real leap to think that people would want a steady diet of wearing glasses, just because they occasionally might enjoy a 3D movie.
Analog TV was pretty dismal, so when an elegant solution finally emerged, i.e. digital RF channels and MPEG-2 compression, it seemed like a no-braner to me. And as we all know, the refrain about high prices, in consumer electronics, has a way of evaporating.
UHD also has elegant solutions for transmission and storage. Digital transmission channels already exist, and new compression algorithms such as H.265, and other potentially even better ones already available today, will allow UHD content to be transmitted or stored in no more space (or channel width) than HD. Good deal! And the screen looks gorgeously smooth, even compared with HD.
So yeah, HD and UHD made/make me look forward to fun new toys. The 3D hype instead made me grumpy.
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.
I can't wait to see a 4K screen since I want theater quality video.
If the problem is just selling 3D, however, why don't they just have a 4K TV everyone in the room can watch along with 3D glasses (with 3D circuitry and small, eye-ball size screens built in to the glasses) available so that if you like the show, you can sit on the couch, slip on the glasses, and watch using 3D glasses?
I know it doesn't do much for the TV maker's sales but it would be nice for the fancy headset makers and the consumers.
They could even put small cameras in the 3D glasses (headsets) which project a 'shadow image' of things moving in the room in front of and around the TV set.
I know that the data requirements are already big for 4K, and 4K + 3D makes it even bigger, but I think that existing Blue-ray can store the data.
From a consumer view point you buy the receiver and the 4K monitor...then buy the 3D headsets if you want to go that way. (Or I suppose that you can just buy the 3D headsets without the 60inch monitor...)
Just wondering if this is technically and financially feasible...seems OK to me at first sniff.
A top studio exec told me recently the studios oppose UDHTV, and they are lobbying for a more nuanced next-gen format:
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".
Viewing distance and TV size: OK, mainly in the US it is easier to have these 60 inch fancy TVd with the highest definitions. If the TV room is as big as I see from the US house plans - fine! But here in Europe apartments are smaller and so is the market for the big screens. For me as a house owner 42 inch is already my limit (windows, furniture, aesthetics, seating distance - do not permit more size.) And frankly the content delivered via a SatTV dish hardly does value the markup of a 4K TV set, which has only slight visible improvements in picture quality compared to HD TVs and this added quality is only visible with "fine tuned" demo material.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Skype's co-founder once predicted that telephones would eventually become just an app. He foresaw a doomsday scenario for phone companies. We're seeing the inkling of it in China Mobile's latest financial results.