4K Is More Important Than 3D
New 4K TVs shown at Japan expo
Prototpe 4K TV shown by Toshiba at the last CES. I expect many more 4K products over the next year.
October 04, 2012 by Grant Clauser

It looks like TV makers have caught on—people aren’t willing to pay more or get overly excited over 3DTV, so instead the focus moves to 4K. New models from Toshiba, Panasonic and Sharp shown at Japan’s CEATEC expo indicate that we’re heading into the next big thing.

Networked World quotes a Mito Securities analyst Keita Wakabayashi as saying “TV makers weren’t able to use 3D to boost the prices of their sets, so it has just become a drag on their profits….4K technologies have much more appeal, though at current prices just for the wealthy.”

First, a few words about 3D. We can’t really blame the TV makers for the shrug response from consumers. Today’s 3D TVs work well, and prices have come down so they’re affordable for most families. It’s the whole 3D concept, as well as the shortage of decent 3D content that’s to blame. But enough about that.

We’ve seen a trickle of 4K TVs and projectors over the last year, and we’ve written about the pros and cons that extra resolution brings to the video experience. Now at Japan’s CEATEC show 4K appears to be overshadowing 3D.

Sony and LG both showed off 84-inch TVs at CEDIA recently, and they’re hitting the market this fall. Now Toshiba appears ready to commit to several 4K TVs with Panasonic and Sharp showing prototypes in Japan that will likely become actual TVs by the time the Consumer Electronics Show comes around next year in Las Vegas. Samsung has shown a 4K prototype in the past, but hasn’t mentioned anything about its plans recently.

The Panasonic model is a massive 152-inch plasma, the only 4K plasma we’ve heard about so far, while Mitsubishi’s showpiece was a 155-inch OLED TV.  Most of the 4K TVs that have been publicly shown have been 84-inch LED-based LCD systems.

Anyone considering a 4K TV is bound to ask about 4K content. So far there is none, and I’d be very surprised to see any next year as well. But that doesn’t necessarily mean the TVs have no place. Even today, most of our TVs are 1080p, but we spend comparatively little time watching 1080p content.

Why is that? Because 1080p comes mostly from Blu-ray movies (Vudu also has 1080p streaming), yet most of our television time is spent watching cable, satellite or basic streaming (such as Netflix or Amazon). That’s all medium-high definition at resolutions of 1080i or 720p. The TVs upscale that video to 1080p, and if they do it well, the results are great.

The first crop of 4K TVs need to be fantastic at upscaling or they’ll be failures with home theater enthusiasts. From what I’ve seen in person so far (from Sony and LG), the new TVs seem to be doing a very good job. Several of the manufacturers at CEATEC appear to recognize this, and are touting their products’ video processing prowess as key selling points. A good processor can do wonders, and on these big TVs, they better.

The most important reason 4K TVs will be more significant than 3D is that 4K technology has the greater potential to impact image quality (even if you have to get really close to see it). Essentially, 4K is a progressive technology that improves on picture by offering more picture information and potentially more accurate information while 3D is simply a trick.

For the record, 3D isn’t out of the picture. It just isn’t as primary a focus as it once was.

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Grant Clauser - Technology and Web Editor, Electronic House
Grant Clauser has been covering home electronics for more than 10 years with editorial roles in several consumer and trade magazines. He's done ISF-level damage to hundreds of reviewed products and has had training from THX, the Home Acoustics Alliance, Control4 and Sencore. His latest book is Necessary Myths. Follow him on Twitter @geclauser.

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