Let’s Talk About 4K Televisions

Sections: CES, HDTV, Trade Shows, Video

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Every CES has an unofficial theme. These themes are born from companies that want to prove their cutting edge products are better than the competition. This year, 4K televisions were a central part of the show. Sony couldn’t stop gloating about its 4K TVs during its press conference, and Samsung took much pride in unveiling its 110-inch Ultra HD television. While seeing these televisions in person is a sight to behold, I can’t help but feel televisions like these are dead on arrival.

I’m looking at this from a consumer perspective. Last year, these companies tried to sell us on how great 3D televisions were. Now, no one is talking about 3D anymore. 3D was a novelty, and it flopped. It flopped because 3D didn’t really add anything to most content, finding the 3D sweet spot was more trouble than it was worth, 3D content wasn’t readily available on anything other than a disc and it was too expensive for the average person to try. People are still trying to bring 1080p HD content into their homes through large televisions. They’re still gradually replacing DVDs with Blu-rays and figuring out ways to experience full HD content through their television service providers. The average Joe does not and will not go out to buy a 4K television.

4K televisions are going to be expensive. I don’t care if one launches at $1,000 – that’s still too expensive for mass market penetration. Televisions aren’t like smartphones and tablets. You can’t just introduce a brand new format every 1-2 years and expect people to bite. Most TV owners buy a TV with the intention of keeping it for years. This trend isn’t going to stop just because Sony, Samsung and others keep saying how great the picture on a 4K television looks.

I’ll be blunt. It doesn’t matter how beautiful the picture of a 4K display is. 1080p HD still looks gorgeous. No one is complaining. Television makers have to stop trying to push bigger and better sets on people when the market clearly shows they aren’t interested or ready to make the change. 4K is shaping up to be another gimmick that’s way ahead of its time. Do I think 4K will disappear forever? No I don’t. I think we’re years away from it being to de-facto way of watching television. I think these companies shouldn’t put a lot of muscle behind pushing 4K TVs right now. Go ahead and sell them, but don’t expect to sell a bunch. The people aren’t ready yet. The economy isn’t ready yet.

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  • George

    I couldn’t agree more about TV manufacturers treating their product like a smartphone or smart device. Consumers are still confused about which technology to purchase, Plasma, LCD/LED??? Stop already and focus on something that is relevant or worth peoples hard earned money. In the end it always comes down to one thing….content. No content, no sales.

  • garyyac

    Wow, I am rarely tempted to comment but the idiocy and negativity of this article makes it hard to resist.

    The comparison with 3D is fatuous, since 3D was an enhancement of existing technology, plus it required special glasses no one wants to wear, plus manufacturers were confusing the market with different formats.

    4K/Ultra HD is a format change, a new format to eventually replace HD, which, amazingly is now 15 years old. These are technology and innovation companies and of course, they will challenge themselves to bring ever better experiences to the marketplace.

    Given the fact that television has a higher market penetration than indoor plumbing (yes it’s true), does the author really believe that there isn’t a business case for delivering a better experience? In fact, I would argue that the current malaise in the TV business as due to the fact that higher priced products don’t deliver an appreciably better experience. If the next gen does that, people will buy them. Lots of them.

  • Steven Lester

    Very well stated. If the technology does not enhance the experience in meaningful ways, it will only find limited penetration.

  • david

    It took 15-20 years for HD to gain market dominance over standard definition. And it got some big help in two important areas: (1) The U.S. Government mandated that all TV sets include digital tuners that were HD compatible and (2) a major change in form factor. Boxy old CRTs were OUT, and sleek flat panels are IN. HD sets even look better than SD sets with the power turned OFF. Despite that, HD has still not yet been fully exploited. Half of the programming networks (ABC, FOX, ESPN) are broadcasting in 720P and there are no broadcasters outputting 1080P. Is pixel count important. Sure, but not to the vast majority of home viewers, many of whom still watch stretched out SD on their new 1080p TV sets. Expecting them to discard those sets in favor of a new 4K set with almost no 4K content is slightly unrealistic.

  • Mark

    I purchased a Sony LCD rear projection TV just before they were discontinued. It has given me good perfomance with only the need to replace the bulb one in 7 years. At the time an equivelent LCD flat panel would have cast twice as much and I didn’t think the technology was mature in several respects.

    Now I have watched led lit LCD panelseveolve with varying approaches. I was most interested in the performance that could be had with properly implemented local dimming. Now most manfacuteres have focused as much on thinner panels using edge lighting and are moving away from local dimming on all but the most expensive sets. Year after year I read reviews that note only marginal improvements in perfomance as the focus has been on cutting costs.

    Network capabilities have been a major focus but I rarely read a review where it is really fully and excellently implemented at a reasonable price. I don’t care about 3D. What is missing in the marketplace that would get me to move to a flat panel is a truely excellent HD experience across the board in a trouble free set at a price of $1000 or less at 50 inches.

  • Bob Serio

    I think the place for 4K is the very large format 80 inches and up. It is customers who want a picture the size of a projector and screen but do not wish to have it in a basement or some other light controlled room. Even if a room has 4 windows and the customers want motorized shades, most do not want manual, they will be adding approximately $ 4,000.00 to the budget. Since I have been selling large format TV’s since the late 70’s from the Advent days, I think I will welcome 4K TV’s to my customers. I remember back in 1997, installing a Vidikron Vision 1 and Stewart Filmscreen with a Faroudja Quadrupler for $ 80,000.00. Granted it was for only a few, but today, I have the JVC DLAX75 for $ 7995.00 with 4K interpolation and the customers go wild for it and they buy it. Some customers want the picture size and have the budget, but since it would have to go in a lighted room and no sale. I say bring on the big 4K at a good price and they will sell !!!

  • Bill Matthies

    Just about every significant technology starts expensive and works it’s way down to mass market pricing and that’s what will happen with 4K as well. Nothing wrong with that.

    Some of Jeremy’s comments, although expressed a bit more eloquently, reminds me of my now passed 91year old father-in-law whenever I teased him about getting a cell phone or answering machine. His response: “I don’t need that %^&*#@ crap!”

    Chill Jeremy, he never did get those and no one will force you to get a %^&*#@ 4K TV either.

  • Gregg

    Factories are forced to create new technologies, once the existing technologies have run their course. It was just about 7 years ago, when most people were very glad to pay about $4,000 for a nice 50″ plasma TV. Now, that 2013 version of that same TV, probably retails for around $700 or less. The big profits are just not there, so new ways to make more profit have to be brought to market by companies.

    I saw 4K/ultra HD at CES four years ago. Most people knew it was just a matter of time before it came to the mass market. Now that we have TVs crawling in that are 4K, look for the content or a good way to upconvert existing content, to push start them, until it becomes mainstream.

    I agree, it hard to see the difference in HD on smaller TVs than larger ones. 4K could have a big future home to 70″ or larger flat panels and projectors. Only the consumers will tell is if or where 4K will fit in.


  • Bernd Hesse

    Seems Mr. Hill isn´t a fan of 4K.
    If so his one-man-opinion shouldn´t be blasted out in the web.
    Stop complaining and take it as a man – 4K is comin.
    Better picture, higher res and somewhen small screens.
    Dead on arrival ? Thought better of you.
    The industry will convince him and so will the consumers.
    3D is something for movie theaters and trade shows ( LGs outer space presentation looked awesome ) but not for your home – agreed.
    But 4K is. Like Blu-ray succeeded DVDs so will 4K take over FullHD.
    Nothing more to ad to this point.
    Get used to it ; )

  • Brian Caldwell

    The critical piece of the UHD/4k still missing is native content. Upconverting from Blu-ray only provides a sense of backward compatibility. All the demos I saw at CES took me back to the late ’90s when HD/ATSC was introduced. Everyone had the same basic content of nature shots and clips from “The Fifth Element.” UHD needs a tipping point like NFL in order to create a sense of urgency among consumers. Now, shall we talk about streaming capability for 4k content? Yeah, that’s the thing that’s going to impede growth down the line here in the US.

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