CES took place this week. This year most of the attention seemed to focus on 4K televisions. 4K televisions offer twice the resolution of what we consider HD sets today. They provide around 4,000 lines of resolution – compared to the 1080 high end televisions have today.
The question is will these 4K sets take off, or will they fizzle like fads of recent years such as 3D televisions.
I want to draw four similar tech innovations to discuss what will happen to 4K tech.
A few years back, HD TV was the big thing. Americans had used the normal analog regular TV resolution for decades. A doubling of resolution was a welcome change. People really took to these new screens.
However, it could be argued that many people took to HD TV because the physical size of the screens changed too. We went from huge, heavy tube TVs to flat thin light LCDs. The format of the screen changed too, so people didn’t have to suffer with ugly letter boxing for a real theater experience.
4k TVs will have the same thing LCD tech, and isn’t moving away from the 16:9 format. I don’t think 4K will benefit from the frenzy that HDTV saw.
But what about the resolution doubling! Just like HD! I have had a certain experience, and I bet you will have had the same realization. I’ve gone to a (typically older, non-techie) relatives house who has an HD TV. Only, despite getting HD service from their cable provider, they still tune it to the Analogy regular standard def channels. And when you show them they “can’t see” the difference.
Again, my thesis is that it was not simply the resolution that spurred widespread adoption, but the physical change to the sets. 4K won’t benefit from this.
Blu Ray was the Home Video equivalent of the SD to HD tv upgrade. DVDs are 480 lines (the same as SD TV, who knew!?). Blu-Ray is 1080- HD quality.
However, Blu-Ray sales have not met the crest of DVD sales during their high point. I could make the same argument I make above – same format (similar physical sized discs, only resolution changes).
You could point out that perhaps people have just moved to different Home Video formats. Downloads perhaps. But this further plays into my thesis – change the physical measurements (in this case remove it!) or people don’t care. Resolution alone doesn’t move people.
Yet another example of the physical size staying the same, and formats or features being added. And yet again, it failed to catch on.
3D TVs were the “next big thing” after HD TV. You could argue TV makers are tired of consumers only buying a new TV every 7 years, and look at the cell phone markets, so they want to add features that encourage you to buy more often. (see also: smart TVs)
However, people did not buy in. I’d argue it was largely because the glasses were clunky, sometimes need batteries, were expensive. And, if you had friends over, say for a Super Bowl party, they needed glasses too or the screen was unwatchably blurry. So, invest heavily or no one gets to enjoy it.
This will be the exception to the rule. High resolution screens in phones caught on recently. They largely stayed in the same format (typically similar sized screens, and same ratios). However, they caught on like crazy.
Why? Was the improvement really noticeable – even among the crowd who doesn’t see the HDTV upgrade?
I think the argument is that the price stayed the same – there wasn’t a premium in phones to get the better screen, they simply replaced the older models. Further, people upgrade phones far more often, so they just got these by default. Both of these benefit from the fact that the cell phone market enjoys high turnover of new product purchases. Typically people have 2 year contracts vs the 7 year typical tv life.
So, can 4K TV enjoy the same benefit? Could manufacturers simply replace all HD offerings with 4K? I think people simply don’t buy TVs that often. And frankly, they don’t WANT to upgrade their TVs like they do their cell phones. Not when TVs cost 1000s vs the 200 of a new phone.
Plus, just because you buy the set, doesn’t mean the content will meet it. Cable companies have enough trouble with bandwidth for internet. It will likely be a while before they figure out how to pump 500 channels of 4k content to everyone in your neighborhood. At least not without giving you a really fuzzy bit rate.
And Home Video is no different. Movies at 4K are too large for today’s Blu-Ray formats. Do you want to buy a new Disc player too? Sounds like the problems of 3D tv all over….
Add in that the sets aren’t lighter or a different format and I think this is just another fad. I think you will find a few early adopters and videophiles who will upgrade, but I think most people will wait for 8K. No one wants to upgrade to 4k if they hear another upgrade is just a couple more years down the road.