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.
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.
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.