Quick history lesson. From the birth of TV through the invention of cable TV and the VCR, picture quality was effectively the same. Along came DVD, which doubled the screen resolution to 480p, ooh ahh. Then along came HDTV with 720p. Then 1080i, and now we’ve “settled” on 1080p. Only we haven’t – the next two resolutions are already picked, they’ve been called 4K and 8K by the industry for a while, and just got fancy labels with “Ultra High Definition Television.” And much as I’ve always considered Blu-Ray a loser format, I believe the same fate is in store for UHDTV.
First, the picture quality is virtually imperceptible. I’m pausing for a second as rabid video engineers attempt to tar and feather me, but on a 50″ screen from about 10′ away, 4K looks roughly the same as 1080p – which, while I’m at it, looks roughly the same as 720p. Unless you really really really know what you are doing, and really set up your room properly, and really have the right size TV for the distance from your couch, and really watch the right source material, and really really really – you get it. But for most regular humans watching most regular TV (which, I might add, isn’t even being broadcast in 1080p – what? yes, it’s true – if you are watching TV, you are not watching 1080p. deal with it), your existing HDTV setup probably looks beautiful enough as it is.
Second, even if you can tell the difference, it’s not impressive enough. I distinctly recall watching my first DVD, and I distinctly recall my upgrade to HDTV. Each were monumental shifts in resolution and display quality. It’s reminiscent of upgrading to a retina display iPhone/iPad. But then what? If the next shift upwards doesn’t bring the same “ooh, ahh” moment, it’s a resounding “meh” – and “meh” doesn’t sell new TVs.
Third, it’ll be perfectly timed for “higher quality format fatigue” to set in. As I’ve described above, consumers already finished going to stores to upgrade to get to the promise of “FullHD” – which, again, generally isn’t even being broadcast in FullHD. Going from FullHD to UltraHD is just going to make folks wary, if not pissed. Nobody likes to think their recent investment as worthless, regardless of the plummeting prices of flatscreens. It’s too little, too soon.
Fourth, there won’t be enough content. Whenever 4K sets are available, and I predict it’s coming within 18 months, odds are really low that a corresponding broadcast source or streaming medium will offer 4K videos. Unless a huge back catalog of content is released at the same time, most of which doesn’t even exist at 4K resolution I might add, consumers won’t see a compelling reason to upgrade.
Fifth, streaming won’t support 4K into homes anytime soon, and physical media is dead, which means there’s not going to be 4K content anytime soon. Per above, no content equals dead format, and since we don’t really have the infrastructure in North America to support a wealth of content…
Sixth, and it’s a minor point, but how can you have two different standards with the same name?!?!? Consumers hate that stuff. Quit it!
Much as the MP3 killed high definition audio long before its time, I believe streaming video and a lack of perceptible difference will kill ultra high definition video long before its time. My advice to the industry: slow down, you move too fast. I know you are losing money on just about every TV you sell, and I know that’s not changing anytime soon, but 4K in 2012/2013 is not your answer.
My advice to the industry at large:
- Don’t launch without a huge content library.
- Don’t launch without multi-brand support.
- Don’t launch without an all-streaming solution.
- Don’t launch too expensively.
- Don’t launch with a negative campaign against existing HDTV installations.
- Don’t launch til you have it all perfect. You aren’t there yet. Stay quiet until you do.
ps – sorry for the gross picture. :)
pps – to videophiles who want to nitpick with some detail I’m sure I got wrong – please do so constructively!