International CES 2014 is in the history books, and it was the most exciting CES in recent memory. 3D Printing, Connected Living, Fitness Tech, Wrist Revolution, 2 in 1 PCs, Intel RealSense™ and Qualcomm's open source All Joyn™ alliance are just a few of the highlights I'll cover in this multi-part CES wrap-up. But let's start with 4K, Ultra HD TV sets.
The industry would like you to purchase a new 4K set as soon as possible. The fact that there is very little content to play on it is of little concern. 4K is the new, new thing and every manufacturer has a line of Ultra HD TV sets for you to choose from.
If you were at CES this year, you would have seen several curved LED 4K sets and even a "bendable" LED set from Samsung (the 85U9B).
Should you buy one? Let's discuss...
What is Ultra HD?
HD (or 2K) is commonly specified as 1,920 pixels across and 1,020 pixels high. You've seen the spec referred to as 1080p. The "p" stands for progressive scan, which is how the images are displayed on the screen. The other specification that people care about is scan rate. 2K sets commonly ship in one of three different scan rates: 60Hz, 120Hz and 240Hz. The faster the refresh rate, the better fast action sequences look. This is not always true, but is it a general guideline.
Ultra HD (aka UHDTV or 4K) sets have a minimum resolution of 3,840 × 2,160 pixels – that’s 8.3 megapixels, or four times the number of pixels of a top-of-the-line 2K HDTV (1920 × 1080 or 2.1 megapixels). These sets are often referred to as 2160p (the “p” is for progressive scan) sets.
In practice, for sets under 60" in size, you don't need 4K. If you sit at a normal viewing distance from a 60" 2K set, you can't see individual pixels – you see a continuous tone image. This is not true for sets over 65", and when you get up in to the realm of 75" – 100" 1,920 x 1,080 pixels isn't going to cut it. The pixels are so big that you can actually see them from a normal viewing distance.
The solution? A 4K set – it has twice the number of pixels and four times the resolution. 4K is awesome for sets over 60" and under 110."
What Should You Buy?
Is there a point in purchasing a 4K set under 65?" No.
Is there a point in purchasing a curved set? No. Unless you live alone and like to sit exactly in the center of your living room at the apex of the equilateral triangle formed by the TV as the base.
Is there a point in purchasing a bendable set? No. Either you want a curved set (which makes very little sense to anyone who has ever invited a group of people over to watch football on any given Sunday) or you don't.
Not to put too fine a point on it, but when I asked the LG people about their curved set (the 55EA9800), I was told that thousands of hours of research went into determining the exact shape of the curve. I heard a tale, worthy of a sommelier, about optimum viewing angles, physiology and optics. So imagine my surprise when I asked the Samsung folks about the new bendable sets and was told that, "Americans like controls."
One final item. Sony and Panasonic have shut down their joint venture to build OLED screens – that leaves LG and Samsung as only ones manufacturing large OLED HDTVs. David Katzmaier, CNET's senior HDTV writer, joked with me that we were seeing the "total inventory of large OLED 4K screens right here on the floor of CES." What he meant was that the scrap rate for OLED production is so high, that large scale production is unlikely anytime soon. That said, the color space and contrast radio of OLED is extraordinary and LG's 77" curved, OLED, 4K is a sight to behold. If you've got an extra $20-25k lying around, you may be able to buy one later this year.
4K Yes or No?
4K is going to be a hard row to hoe. Netflix and Amazon are going to produce some content – but everyone has to produce in 4K to make a 4K business. Truthfully, next year’s Super Bowl has to be shot and distributed in 4K to make the format relevant in America. 8K will be coming soon, but you really don't need it unless you are going to cover a wall with a screen.
And, of course, VOD and SVOD systems are not set up for 4K, so there's a bunch of infrastructure that has to be upgraded before we can have a true 4K business.
Will it happen? Yes, I think that sometime in the future, you will see widely distributed 4K content and sets in America. Will it happen soon? No. Should you run out a purchase a 4K set? Only if it's over 65" and has a 480Hz refresh rate. Other than that... there's no point.
For more information about 2014 International CES, please visit ces.shellypalmer.com.