Now that another Consumer Electronic Show is behind us, it’s time to think about the future, and this future is going to be in 4K.
Yup, there’s no question about it. TV manufacturers are now stuffing their rosters with new Ultra HD TVs. Some companies have doubled the number of 4K models in their lineup from 2013, and that trend is bound to continue. 4K TVs are now in the position that 1080p TVs were in when they first hit market—an inevitable conclusion.
But what does all this mean to the TV buyer? Are there other concerns or trends that accompany or impact your decision to buy or not buy a 4K TV? Here’s everything you need to know about 4K TVs now.
1. Will 4K TVs be more affordable?
Yes, of course they will, but how much more affordable is still to be determined. Very few manufacturers release their prices at CES. Companies like Seiki, Polaroid and other 3rd tier makers did announce bargain-priced Ultra HD TVs at the Consumer Electronics Show, but most of the big names wait until spring when they actually release their products (and have nice parties in Manhattan with drinks and sports celebs).
Sharp did revealed the prices for its TVs. A 60-inch Sharp 4K will go for $4,999 while the 70-inch version is $5,999. In fact Sharp was more focused on the new Quattron+ TVs that display 1080p resolution, but use a new subpixel method to be what Sharp claims is the highest resolution 1080p TV (still working that one out). Those models also accept a 4K signal, making it an interesting bridge product between 4K and 1080p. They’re also a lot cheaper, starting at $2,229 for a 60-inch model.
Sharp 4K TV
Sony, Panasonic, Samsung, LG and Toshiba were all mum on prices.
Consumer Electronics, particularly TVs, always come down in price, and lately it happens sooner rather than later.
2. Will there be something to watch in 4K?
Yes. First, I think it’s important to make clear that with a 4K TV you can still watch anything you watch now, and most likely (depending on the TV) it will look better than it does on your 1080p TV. Image processing is everything (see more about that here). Your current 1080p TV (assuming you’re not watching an older 1080i, 720p or *gasp* standard resolution TV) is upconverting most of your content anyway. All those 480p DVDs or 1080i/720p TV programs go through an image processor to scale them to your TV’s native resolution without looking like they’ve just been shaken through a flower sifter. All 4K TVs do that too, some better than others. Because 4K content is going to be slow coming (but it’s coming), most of what you watch will be lower-resolution media upconverted by your TV.
Sony XBR-X950B 4K TV
While most of what you watch on an Ultra HD TV won’t be in 4K, there is more 4K content coming. Several TV manufacturers and streaming content services announced that sometime in 2014 they will be streaming 4K direct to your TV. Netflix CEO Reed Hastings declared that an internet download speed of 15Mbps is required. That sounds like a doable number. In fact, as I write this, my laptop is getting 18.34Mbps via Wi-Fi (from Verizon FiOS). Then why do I have so much trouble getting 1080 resolution content from my Netflix subscription (more on maximizing your network for streaming here)? Count me as a little skeptical until I see it happen in my own house.
Aside from Netflix, several other online streaming services are planning to do 4K, including Amazon, Comcast Xfinity, DIRECTV, M-GO and more.
Last year Sony launched a video server for buyers of its 4K TVs (the product only worked with Sony TVs, not other brands). That product will be expanded this year with more content being added.
Samsung also is launching a video server, called the UHD Video Pack. It’s actually less like a formal home media server and more like an external hard drive. I was told it will be include a USB output for connection to 4K TVs and include content from Fox and Paramount. There weren’t a lot of details on that product, so I’ll fill in the blanks as they come out.
One thing that most of the new 4K TVs will have in common is support of HEVC (high efficiency video codec) for decoding the new 4K data.
The Digital Entertainment Content Ecosystem (the group behind UltraViolet—the online movie locker, not the sci-fi movie) may also be adding a 4K solution to UltraViolet.
3. Will there be 4K Blu-rays?(or some kind of 4K disc)?
Maybe, probably. The Blu-Ray Disc Association told The Hollywood Reporter that a 4K-capable disc system is likely to launch this year.
To watch the new 4K discs you will need a new player because current players won’t support the format.
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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.