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!
I love Blu-ray, and it’s only a “failed” format if you expected it to kill DVD or somehow stave off streaming. I agree with everything else here, though.
Good post. I’d like to hear more about why regular TV isn’t broadcast at 1080p. Which cable providers are guilty of this? Is it 720p when I’m on channels labelled as HD?
Yes, most can’t appreciate a difference in 4K over 1080p on a 50-inch but the same could be said for for HD on a 27-inch TV. But that’s the thing, when HD came out, you were hard pressed to find anyone with a TV bigger than 32-inches. The higher resolutions do have that wow effect on 85+ inch screens. Of course there is a limit to what most homes can accommodate, but I don’t think that is 65 inches and 1080p forever.
I always thought blu-ray would have a life span of at least a decade, which is clearly enough. Sony’s strategy in putting literally the BEST blu-ray player into the PS3 was either a great strategic decision, or a legacy example of how even big corporations can get LUCKY once in a while.
But UHDTV will be joining it’s friend 3DTV (lookup my death call on that from previous posts!) in the woodshed within 12 months of market entry.
The data requirements are just TOO HUGE. While resolution is only 4 TOTAL times the HDTV 1920×1080, the overall SIZE of the video stream or storage is more like 10x. Blu-ray local transport is ca. 25MB, 4K would be more like 250K. With compression, one would need probably HALF that, so 125MB. From a delivery standpoint, neither internet, or satellite can compete and deliver that I don’t see either getting up to speed in the near future, if at all.
How many disks is that for a 2-3 hour movie? literally dozens if you want to maintain full resolution using the blu-ray storage system. I don’t even think they could put 2-3TB on one physical disk of any format yet. Just as we thought our libraries would get PHYSICALLY smaller as network delivery would take hold, they would have to get actually BIGGER and we’d need more storage IN THE HOUSE! WTW?