Screen "real estate," not increased image intensity or depth of color, is what was driving the next wave in TVs at the recent Consumer Electronics confab in Las Vegas. New technology called ultra high definition, or UHD, delivers roughly four times the pixel density of a full high-definition (1080p) display, hence the moniker 4K TV. With prices down by about half from last year's introduction, and dropping, word on the street is that UHD is poised to take off in 2014 with an "eight-fold" increase in shipments, according to the CEA.
No trouble with the curve
The curved OLED screens in UHD are top-of-the-line, and LG (NYSE:LPL) and rival Samsung (NASDAQOTH: SSNLF) are both expanding the line of spectacular display sets with a 65-inch and 77-inch size, respectively. LG's 77-inch television is a "bendable" version that can transform back to a flat screen when used for ambient viewing of art. These UHD curved TVs, according to Dr. Ray Soneira of DisplayMate Labs, have marked advantages in that reduce glare and screen reflection from bright images behind the user. Curved displays "substantially" improve performance and are "no marketing gimmick," according to Soneira's technology review.
Sony (NYSE:SONY) is also going all out with UHD, using LCD technology, and will introduce nine models supporting the new 4K standard in three categories from 45-85 inches. It's a tough play for most TV set makers, all facing price pressure from the Chinese. In fact Vizio is on record with a 50-inch P series UHD set that will sell for under $1,000.
Don't count on UHD to rescue the likes of Sony and others on boosted profits from the technology just yet. Both Samsung and LG appear to be gaining traction in the high end with their curved OLED UHD sets, but Chinese manufacturer Konka showed its first 55-inch OLED TV (prototype) at CES as well. So, China is catching up here, too.
UHD is the real deal
Also at CES, chipmaker Broadcom displayed impressive 4K TVs, with simultaneous video streaming of four full-HD football games on a 70-inch screen, each stream displayed in full-HD. The extra UHD TV real estate affords the "control room" view, which would likely attract avid sports fans. But, its difficult to say just how successful Broadcom will be with its HEVC deployment, considering that there were over 28 vendors with various HEVC based solutions at the International Broadcasting Convention IBC in Amsterdam last fall.
Broadcom enables the bandwidth necessary to deliver all that extra data using a new delivery standard called HEVC, or High Efficiency Video Codec, also commonly known as H.265. It boosts coding and doubles the delivery efficiency of images through existing pipes and is used in both content production and delivery to the home. For its part, Broadcom said it is sampling two new low-cost satellite set-top box chips based on HEVC to deliver UHD. The goal is to help pay-TV providers increase the number of HD feeds without increasing bandwidth.
The value of UHD is in the extra pixels, which afford other configurations on new, massive screens. Plus, the concept can go beyond television programs to include social networking, Internet video calls, and even home automation, all on the big screen at the same time.
More real estate means more to display
Home automation will tie in nicely with this extra TV real estate, as sensors become integrated into the things around us. Some analysts speculate that this has helped drive web-based home automation vendor Nest to its stellar $3.2 billion valuation and subsequent acquisition by Google earlier this month.
Added real estate from UHD may also help entrenched cable and satellite television providers. First, they must deploy a new HEVC-enabled set-top-box to play in the UHD space. Services like UHD and home automation might also stem the tide of consumer defections away from companies like Comcast and DISH Networks, all suffering from cord cutters and the younger "cord never" generation.
There's no doubt that enhanced real estate on the big screen from UHD affords pay-TV companies new opportunities for revenue generation. The question is, can they remake themselves and remain relevant? Further, while the recent court ruling striking down the FCC's role in "net neutrality" gives Internet providers more leverage over pricing and delivery of bandwidth, it's still too early to tell if this alone can reverse the precipitous slide.
UHD TV = Information hub in the home
One thing is certain, UHD and curved OLED screens are real and they're coming. Just as high-resolution and dual displays for PC desktops improved both computing experience and efficiency, this technology will bring a new user experience that goes well beyond better images. The technology will help usher in completely new services that would reside on-screen and update in real-time beside the main content. This may eventually afford new advertising opportunities as well. So, get ready for another TV upgrade, and be prepared to get blown away -- again -- by the beauty and enhanced functionality a new 4K set will bring.