The message from the Your Next TV Ultra HD conference at CE Week: Hurry up and wait

Sections: CE Week 2014, TVs

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If you’re considering whether or not to buy an Ultra HD TV, your decision wasn’t made any easier after the half-day Your Next TV conference, which was held this week during the growing industry-only event called CE Week in New York. Basically, the aggregate, conflicting message that emerged from the numerous panels was, “Ultra HD TV is awesome. You should buy it now! But wait, Ultra HD TV has a long ways to go until it’s mature. It’s too early to dive in.”

Clearly, everyone WANTS Ultra HD TVs to succeed — especially the people who make and sell them. Those of us in the media want it to succeed because it makes for lots of interesting content. And consumers — at least those who know (or think they know) about the technology — would love to have it in their homes.

But there was an air of cognitive dissonance in the room. Is this technology ready for prime time TODAY or isn’t it? The shaky answer seemed to be, “Yes, it is and it isn’t.”

Heck, the industry still can’t figure out if it should be called “Ultra HD” or “4K”. I’d say we’re still in the nascent “only super-enthusiasts need apply” stage.

14NexttvllogoThe manufacturers, hungry to accelerate demand for Ultra HD, discussed how awesome their technology was, but were left to focus on how well their Ultra HD sets “upscale” HDTV and Blu-ray to Ultra HD resolution — because there’s practically no native Ultra HD content available yet, and even a halfway-decent amount of it doesn’t seem to be on the horizon for some time.

The assembled retailers said Ultra HD was reviving their businesses. The only problem was that their particular businesses cater to people with WAY more disposable income than the great majority of people have. The kinds of people who can drop several thousands of dollars on a TV set because it’s another conversation-starting showpiece for their upscale homes.

The analysts said Ultra HD sales are rising at a steady rate and that prices are coming down at a steady rate as well. A quarter of U.S. homes will have an Ultra HD set in 2018, one said, noting that HDTV sales rose much more rapidly.

The hardcore, much-respected techies spent all of their time describing just how much Ultra HD isn’t nearly a finished product, and about the danger of compromising the technology’s potential in a rush to market. I tend to trust their opinions because they don’t have as much to lose as the others.

Overall, it was a fascinating display of expert opinion, subtle marketing and, above all, hope that something great is around the corner. But that’s the industry. Not the consumer.

People always ask me if they should buy an Ultra HD TV. My response was reinforced by this event. And that is, if you have to ask, you probably shouldn’t.

But before you make any decision, you should go see one at a reputable high-end AV shop (i.e., not Best Buy or Walmart). It’s pretty awesome in a controlled setting with native Ultra HD content playing.

Sit down. Relax. Check it out. See what it can do. See how it makes you feel.

And then hold off for a year or so.

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