3D was truly a failed technological launch, timed about as poorly as possible. The industry needed, more than ever, something to make new HDTVs compelling to consumers at a time when their houses were, all of a sudden, worth half of their value. 3D wasn’t it. Ultra HD, on the other hand, has the potential to get consumers to buy new TVs for the first time since the mid-2000s.
The consumer launch of Ultra HD has been anything but smooth. First, nobody could agree on a name: The term 4K was being used within the industry. However, as the technology is being implemented in TVs, “4K” isn’t quite 4,000 pixels wide, so we had to worry about whiny, wimpy lawyers who might cook up some class-action lawsuit because somebody called a 3,840-pixel-wide screen resolution “4K.” Thus, the term Ultra HD was born.
Then there’s the fact that, while television manufacturers can make TVs with four times the resolution of a 1080p set, they can’t agree on the more important topic of 10-bit color (which offers over one billion colors, compared with 16.78 million in our current 8-bit system.
Finally, a Blu-ray standard for 4K was not defined, so there has been no timeline for the arrival of a stable, non-Internet-based Ultra HD format. Oh, you want a broadcast standard? We didn’t have that, either.
But now, things are starting to look up a little for Ultra HD. A few recent announcements are encouraging signs for this emerging format.
• CNET.com is reporting that, by spring or summer of 2015, the Blu-ray Disc Association will start licensing the 4K Blu-ray technology so that companies can start making discs and players, which could arrive by the 2015 holiday season.
• DirecTV is launching two new satellites in the spring to address the bandwidth and technological needs of Ultra HD, which by 2016 should provide on-demand Ultra HD content to consumers.
• For those with 25-Mbps and faster Internet connections, Netflix is offering or soon plans to offer Ultra HD versions of its great original shows like House of Cards and Orange Is the New Black, as well as other shows and movies. Thus there is at least a stream of content flowing right now to those with the best, new Ultra HD TVs.
• At CEDIA last week, Sony announced that it will soon open up its FMP-X10 4K media server to work with other manufacturers’ UHD TVs, so you’ll have more freedom of choice for a UHD TV that can access the company’s 4K Video Unlimited download service. Maybe this will inspire Samsung to do the same with its UHD Video Pack USB dongle, which is currently only compatible with Samsung TVs.
Is today the day you buy an Ultra HD set? It’s hard to say. If you need a TV right now and the price is right, Ultra HD sets are hard to beat in terms of overall performance in the marketplace today. Should you go cash in your top-performing 1080p plasma if it’s working perfectly? I wouldn’t, but I would keep an eye on what’s going on with Ultra HD, as the trend is clearly heading toward a world where we can have higher resolution, better color, and better dynamic range in our home theater. That is something to get excited about. It looks like that day may be closer to 2016 than late 2014. Nevertheless, there are good reasons to get excited about the future of video in your system.