4K UHDTV Will be Adopted Faster Than Expected

| Editorial

Image Credit: Sony

It's the nature of technology and marketing. We move along at an ever increasing pace. While many will say 4K TV, that is, Ultra High Definition (UHD), 2160p, has no visible benefits from a distance, there's no content and the TVs are too expensive, it won't matter. Soon enough, we'll all be on the 4K bandwagon.

I have a hunch. Call it a premonition. 4K TV is coming whether some like it or not. Of course, it's easy to be a naysayer here at the end of 2013. Here are the objections.

  • 4K TV will require a lot of bandwidth to stream, perhaps 15 Mbps.
  • There's very little content right now.
  • Broadcast standards and carrier infrastructure just finished wrestling with 1080p. Carriers and TV stations aren't in the mood to start all over with expensive new equipment.
  • It's hard to see the difference between 1080p and 4K from a typical living room distance.
  • 4K UHDTVs are very expensive.

But we heard all that before in the transition to 1080p. The question is not whether there are short-term technical and commercial hurdles. There always are. The question is whether, based on historical trends and the pace of modern digital technology, whether these difficulties can be overcome.

Of course they can.

The Solutions

Currently, with the Sony UHD system selected movies are downloaded in the background. As bandwidths improve, we'll get to 4K streaming. However, UHD will be, for quite some time, an Internet, not a broadcast, experience.

More and more content is being shot in 4K.

While UHDTVs, at a distance, may not be stunningly better than 1080p, the fact is, they have more pixels. They will be marketed as better. All the tech talk and lab measurements will sink into the background because when did extreme technical details ever have a massive effect on American consumer buying habits? The messaging will be that 4K is better, ways will be found to leverage four times as many pixels, and enough people will want something new and better that, in typical fashion, the prices will come down.

I think we have a short technical memory. We're jaded by the fact that a 50-inch HDTV can be had today, roughly for about $600, give or take. Back in 2007 when 1080p was taking over from 720p/1080i HDTVs, a 50-inch plasma was close to $3,000.

Even now, UHDTV prices are falling fast. Here's a great summary in which David Katzmaier at CNET sizes up the situation.

So how soon before the difference between a flagship 1080p TV and its like-size 4K TV brother becomes 'affordable?' Already that difference is down to $500 for the 55-inch Samsung F8000 and F9000 models. I would be surprised if by the end of 2014 that difference weren't down to $200 or so, or about $2,000 for the least expensive 55-inch 4K TV from a major maker, and $3,000 for a 65-incher. Not exactly affordable, but getting there pretty fast.

Too often, we see things from a technical viewpoint and expect everyone else to see things the same way. But my gut instinct says that UHDTVs that can upconvert from all existing 1080p content and exploit 4K content as it arrives will be strongly marketed by the TV industry. Given the exponential pace of technology nowadays and the desire by the TV industry develop a new cash cow, I expect the conversion to happen more quickly than expected.

And Apple?

How will this effect Apple? Apple is on a cusp right now. Ithink it would be considered bad form for Apple to release a 1080p TV as part of its next generation TV project -- if a full display TV is what the company has in mind. And yet UHD TVs are still on the pricey side at Christmas of 2013.

One strategy might be to launch a full-featured next generation Apple TV set top box with all the next generation bells and whistles in 2014 and leave the UHD marketing and sales to the rest of the industry. Later, Apple could, if it choses, fold the guts of the electronics into an Apple branded UHDTV, if desired, if Apple's new technologies would benefit and when the price is right.

In any case, movie studios and video professionals will all have 4K monitors connected to their new Mac Pros, and the rest of us will be hungry for what 4K technology will have to offer in the living room. There are no real show stoppers for the wealthy, early adopters and, then later, the rest of us.

It's inevitable. These days, inevitable happens fast.

Comments

davebarnes

The cable companies are THE impediment.
Half the channels they provide are still not in HD.

Mike Weasner

As someone who now has to monitor satellite data usage to stay within limited monthly caps, I and people like me probably won’t see 4K video streaming for at least 10 years.

John Martellaro

davebarnes: That’s why I wrote

...UHD will be, for quite some time, an Internet, not a broadcast, experience.

geoduck

Amazing, This is a first. You’ve written a piece that I could not possibly disagree with more.

What you’ve postulated as hurdles are not minor issues to be easily overcome. Each and every one is in their own right an absolute deal breaker. Solve some, even solve most, and the remainder still will stop rapid adoption:
1) Faster internet is a luxury that won’t come about for a long time both because, as you pointed out, the carriers aren’t ready to retool yet again, especially until they know there will be demand, but also because it will be introduced as a premium service when there’s not a lot of extra liquid assets in most people’s budget.
2) Yes we heard this all before with 1080p but that just proves the point. I have a couple hundred channels on my Shaw subscription. Of those maybe 30 are “HD” that is 720. I have exactly one 1080p channel that I seldom look at. Sure I could subscribe to others, maybe six or seven total, but it’s not worth the money, (see the end of point 1). 1080p might be common in a few big metropolitan areas but for most it still isn’t a big deal. This has lead to a cynical view among the buying public. They will have to be convinced that UHD isn’t just marketing hype and that will take time, years in all likelihood. Fool me once shame on you, fool me twice…
3) Content is a far bigger issue than you seem to think. How many people really bought HD TVs just to watch movies? Not many. Most people watch what’s on cable and what’s on isn’t 1080p, let alone UHD. What’s the point of watching old shows in HD or UHD? They weren’t recorded in those formats. Already my TVs aren’t presenting most of what’s on in HD, let alone 1080p. A UHD television would be like me buying tire chains. The salesman can say whatever he can to make a sale but I will never use them so I don’t need them.
4) Yes the price of UHD TVs will fall, but most everyone has a perfectly good HD TV, often 1080p sitting at home right now not being fully utilized. I don’t think a lot of people will be throwing away a two to four year old LCD with plenty of life left in it for a more expensive UHD TV in the hope it might be ‘better’. This is especially true when by your own admission they will actually see little difference between UHD and what they have now. I think you’re putting far too much credit on advertizing. We live in a cynical age where most consumers take what the salesman says and run it through a Google search to see if they’re lying. I don’t believe marketing will be nearly as effective as you seem to think.

And last of all I keep asking myself, Why? What is to be gained by even higher resolution screens. I won’t see them any clearer from across the room. The limit is my eyes, not the content or the screen. I have watched HD content close up and it was nice but that’s all. It didn’t make the writing or acting any better. I watched some sports in 1080p and OK I could make out faces in the crowd if I sat close, but I don’t care who’s in the crowd. It did little if anything for the race or the football game. I happened to catch Face The Nation once in HD. Never again. The last thing I needed to see over my Sunday breakfast pancakes was Bob Schieffer’ cratered lunar landscape of a face in 1080p. Some things are BETTER in soft focus.

While UHD will be adopted someday, I really don’t see it being this year, or even next. Maybe five years in some markets, ten for a more widespread adoption and even then most content won’t be UHD.

 

 

John Martellaro

geoduck:  Those are all great technical points. However, my argument, and my hunch in this editorial, is that the technical currents in American life will overcome all the short-term hurdles faster than we might expect.

jimii

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jltnol

You’ve GOT to be kidding me, right?  With in home 3-D still just a blip, you think 4K is going to come in and overtake everything?

Nonesense!  Adoption will be coming, but it won’t be fast. Slower than 3-D.. much slower.  No content, too compressed for streaming internet delivery to really see the difference, and with people beginning to cut the cable cord because of rising costs, they are not going to want to pay extra for 4K.

John Martellaro

jltnol:  3D had serious problems.  Add-on glasses were expensive and easy to lose or break. Typically only one was supplied with the TV, and it was expensive to buy more. The glasses gave lots of people headaches.

UHD will be different.  It doesn’t depend on the cable companies. Compression, when streaming finally comes, is TBD. Of course, in time, the price premium will disappear, and it will no longer be cost effective for the manufacturers to make 1080p TVs.  The quote by CNET’s David Katzmaier tells all.

mrmwebmax

+

I’m afraid I must agree with the naysayers. Lack of UHD content, cable bottlenecks, Internet bottlenecks, and a typical consumer’s TV upgrade cycle will all be barriers to mass adoption, and without mass adoption:

—prices stay high, meaning
—the number of households with UHD TVs will be limited, meaning
—the audience for UHD content will be limited, meaning
—content creators won’t see the economic advantage of creating UHD content, meaning
—cable and Internet infrastructure supporting UHD won’t be built out for lack of demand, meaning
—UHD TVs will be the next 3D TVs.

Yes, by all means I see this working for computer monitors, especially as someone who does graphic design work, but I upgrade my computer equipment far more often than my TV. Truth be told, I still have a low-res tube TV that gets watched once a year (Super Bowl, for the commercials), while the rest of the time I’m watching iTunes content on my iMac.

Sooner or later resolution just reaches a point of no return. My iPhone has more pixels per inch on a display than the number of dots per inch typically used for print, which is 300 DPI. Does it have to go any higher than that? Same with TVs: If the eye can’t perceive the difference between 1080p and UHD, what’s the point? How is the user experience improved, when UHD means a four-figure TV, limited content, and—in the event content is purchased via the Internet—greatly increased download times.

I just don’t see it happening.

davebarnes

at John M,
I don’t define cable as “broadcast”. To me, broadcast are the antennas on Lookout Mountain spewing radiation towards Denver.

downquark

I appreciate that this is a tech forum, but I just feel a great sense of sadness that there are millions around the world living in shacks without clean water and proper sanitation and the electronics industry feels that we need even higher definition, more expensive televisions.

BurmaYank

Don’t any of us TMO readers agree with any of JM’s 5 hunches?

I don’t, anyway, John - probably, I suspect because you don’t seem to me to have addressed geoduck’s telling critiques/rebuttals to them.

John Martellaro

BurmaYank:  I just saw this:

http://www.tvpredictions.com/tvoneone121613.htm

The funny thing is, no one is going to listen to the critics. No one voice or 10 can stop the technical momentum the industry will cast upon us.

Imagestealer

John, I suspect most folks will simply vote with their wallets, and this (pending) fad too will go the way of the Dodo.  I can certainly see the value proposition for a computer monitor at that resolution in a large screen size (32” or greater), but not as a television.

GraphicMac

3D TV. Nuff said.

CudaBoy

First of all, 3-D has nothing to do with 4k or 4p, nothing, zip, nada, zed. Why bring it up?? One is a gimmick-the other is a natural progression of better and better resolution. Almost every argument against progress is just stupid, like the guys at the video store swearing Laserdiscs will never be replaced by DVDs.
Greed, is the number one reason this country is always LAST in the technical world, vis a vis Internet speeds.  We already have the bandwidth, we already have the systems in place to deliver BEYOND 4k - but ONLY in America is the bandwidth parsed up into different speeds and price points for the glory of the almighty buckskin. Currently we are 11th in the world in broadband speed. Pathetic.  Bring it on. 8k is right around the corner. BTW, here in Hollywood my bud who mixes trailers for the biggies says it’s a done deal - the order has been placed, the industry started gearing up for 4p last year. Now that the Mac Pro hit the streets they are buying 4 of ‘em loaded for the new ProTools rig.

geoduck

The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our technology, but in ourselves

When HD televisions came out they had a huge advantage: they were obviously different. You could get much bigger screens that weighed far less, took up far less space, and were more reliable than the old CRTs. I replaced our 19” CRT televisions with 32” and 45” LCDs for these reasons alone. This was at least 5 years before any HD was even available where we lived. The improved form factor was in and of itself compelling enough to prompt most people to upgrade. Then when HD became available we had sets that could make use of it.

With UHD there will need to be a critical mass of sets out there to take advantage of UHD. Until then the providers won’t see a reason to offer UHD. That will take some time as there’s no compelling reason for most people to replace a good 45” HD LCD with a superficially identical 45” UHD set, even one that’s theoretically better until the old one dies. The upgrade will happen naturally as sets are replaced. This will take a number of years.

We do need to define terms. 1080p is the standard now in that I don’t think you can buy a TV that’s not 1080p compatible. By that definition 1080p has been “adopted” by the industry. However only a small portion of the content users are watching is 1080p. I suspect more people in North America watch old regular definition episodes of MASH every day than watch any 1080p content. Similarly within a few years all TVs will be UHD, however most people won’t have upgraded their sets, and those who have won’t be demanding content from their cable or satellite providers, or will even be using that which is available (at a premium). Those habits are far harder to change and it will take far longer.

I do agree with CudaBoy it is the natural progression and EVENTUALLY it will be everywhere. They are making content in 4k and even 8k right now. However most people will see it down sampled. I don’t see a huge pent up demand for UHD, or even most people having sets that can make use of UHD for years, five for big metropolitan areas like LA, New York, or Chicago, and as much as ten for everywhere else.

Lancashire-Witch

In some places in the world HDTV is still a distant dream.  A friend in southern New Zealand uses Freeview. It is broadcast from the Optus D1 satellite in Standard definition. There is no intention to move to HD - ever! I’m luckier - I can get terrestrial HD broadcasts; my Panasonic Plasma is great; but I’ve never watched anything in 3D or used any of the “smart” functions. My ISP badgers me to move to ultrafast broadband for only a few dollars more a month - but fibre optic cable has not (yet?) been installed in my locality.

The local dump is full of CRT TVs because “analogue was switched off” last month.  I’ve also seen HD (i.e. 768) Flat screen TVs in there.

From the tone of these comments it seems some consumers aren’t in the mood to be persuaded to buy over spec’d TVs all over again.

It doesn’t happen fast. HDTVs were in the stores 10 years ago for the current price of UHDTVs.
Anyway -  Now we’ve got HDTVs and we’re still waiting for the infrastructure to fully catch up.

 

skipaq

We were late adopting LCD TV sets. Didn’t buy in until 1080P was well adopted. Will 4K be the next standard? Sure. It will probably be about five years; but much sooner for desktop computing and gamers. The technical difficulties will be overcome as each of them is already being addressed. So that puts me in the agreement. But we will likely be late to the party once more.

Steven Moore

There is a large difference between sd and hd that’s why hd tvs have sold. Not the same with 4k though so I don’t think it will happen

Paul Goodwin

I’m on Time Warner’s fastest home service which is up to 50 Mbps. Their worthless speed tests tell you you are getting 40+ Mbps. But in truth, your average is much lower. They throw out the lower 30% or so, and don’t give you any measure of sustained throughput. It’s an average of bursts of what’s left. The real measured speeds of larger 20-30 MB downloads is way below their advertised max. Depending on what path of the Internet you’re on, I’ve measured real speeds during the hours of 10AM to midnight as low as 3-5 Mbps consistently averaged over 7 seconds or so. From about midnight to 7AM you might get speeds 4-6 times that, even close to their advertised max at times, but never during the day or evening. And the servers that are handling the streaming video can’t even deliver 720p half the time. The US cable and Internet infrastructure isn’t ready for 4K video. If you really want to watch 4K video, you’ll have to do it with disks and players for the forseeable future.

Paul Goodwin

If you want to test your speeds and find out what you’re really getting, go to TestMy.net

mjtomlin

I’d have to agree with the author for one simple reason… screens are getting ridiculously large. The bigger they get the more people will notice the difference between UHD and HD.

My 42” HDTV doesn’t match the resolution of my 27” iMac screen and it is extremely noticeable (hell the 7.9” display on the iPad mini has a higher resolution than HDTV). And these days 42” is on low end when it comes to television screen sizes.

There are two reasons we haven’t seen a lot of 4k content, 1. What’s the point when there aren’t any screens that can display it at full resolution, and 2. The H.265 standard (HEVC) was only recently formally published by the ISO standards body.

And for the people trying to use 3dTV as an example of slow adoption… it was always a gimmick and always will be, just as “smart” TVs are. Increasing the resolution is a natural progression when you start increasing the screen sizes.

iJack

@ CudaBoy 4k or 4p? What? They have nothing to do with each other, and “4p” would mean four progressive ‘frames’ per second; only slightly faster than an animated GIF.

D R

4k could just as easily go down the path that 3d took.  hugely hyped, but very low adoption rate.

the cable industry is just getting towards completing updating to 1080i, and they are busy being squeezed by content providers.  they aren’t going to be very interested in a whole new upgrade cycle that just makes money for the content providers.

GraphicMac

@Cuda boy: 3D and 4k have everything to do with each other in the context of this discussion. Both are marketing gimmicks that are uber-cool, should be adopted quickly in theory, but likely will see little adoption at all until compelling reasons are provided to people other than tech geeks.

“Natural progression” of technology is not a good enough reason for the average consumer to go out and spend $1,000-$2,000+ on a new 50-80 inch TV (there’s little reason to have 4K video on anything smaller than 50-inch).

ctopher

I’m in the “I don’t think so” camp.

From SD to HD brought us an aspect ration that was closer to movie watching which is our highest quality moving image experience. It was also, higher resolution and just looked a lot better. 4K does look better than 1080p but not enough to get me to switch. The change over is not as compelling as:

Bulky CRT to Light LCD
4:3 aspect ration to 16:9
400 lines to 1080 lines

4K offers:
1080 lines to 4K lines
Larger color gamut
potentially higher frame rates.

That value proposition will be harder to see to the masses.

But, I never thought I’d need a smart phone either so….

ibuck

geoduck:  We live in a cynical age where most consumers take what the salesman says and run it through a Google search to see if they’re lying.

I see that as practical, not cynical, and I wish more folks checked to see if the sales pitch is fluff. But many, if not most, people don’t know and are not motivated to research on their own. And many seem to have pretty short attention spans.

I agree with geoduck’s and many others’ objections, but I agree that we all will buy 4k TVs when that’s all that’s available. I expect to get 10 years or more from a TV. Having just bought a LG Plasma last year (won’t buy anything Samsung if I can help it), I don’t plan to buy again till 2022, and 4k might be all that’s available. Or it might be the lowest TV tech one can get.

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