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Is 4K the next big thing in TV?

From afar, this year's Consumer Electronics Show seemed no great shakes.

The giant Las Vegas trade gathering had its usual share of quirky gadgets but offered few clues to where the industry is heading in 2013.

The year in consumer electronics will be defined by whether Apple enters the TV market or not. But, as usual, the company was absent from CES.

What we did see was a wave of so-called 4K ultra high-definition (UHD) televisions, which offer four times the resolution as a high definition (HD) TV.

One of the 4K tellies is already on sale here – a $24,999, 84-inch model from LG. Like other 4K TVs, it supports 3D, but the technology seemed out of vogue at CES this year.

Is it worth shelling out for a 4K TV (and believe me, you will shell out; Samsung's first 4K model will $US38,000)?

Nope. 

By all accounts, HD (1920 x 1080 pixel) content looks fine when upscaled to a 3840 x 2160 for display on a UHD telly, but US PC World says you would be struggling to tell the difference.

It will be several years before content makers and broadcasters universally fall in behind HD, which they will want to milk for quite some time before upgrading to support UHD. In terms of film content, Sony is promising 10 film titles in ultra high-definition format.

But my main worry comes from the other direction: standard definition broadcast TV (that is, most Sky content today) could potentially look worse blown up onto an 84-inch screen.

A second TV technology previewed at CES showed more immediate promise: OLED displays. Sums up PC World:
 
On an OLED HDTV, colours pop like nothing you've seen before. There is no blacker black than the black you'll see on an OLED TV, and coloors look vivid and twinkly against that pitch-black background. You also get ultra-wide viewing angles. Because of the display's fast response rate, fast motion looks fluid on the screen and 3D content looks amazing. OLED TVs don't need a backlighting system, so they're the thinnest HDTVs on the planet.
 
Sony will have a 55-inch OLED TV out in March in North America for $US12,000. Other TV makers will follow.
 
These technologies aren't mutually exclusive. A 4K TV can have an OLED display, and Sony and Panasonic have duly partnered to create 4K OLED TVs that were previewed at CES.
 
That sounds like just the ticket for your next TV - maybe in 2016, when the price inevitably falls below $1000.
 
Meanwhile, my feel is that what most people want from television is internet connectivity - and not just a handful of of apps but open-slather access to web. 
 
Last year, TV makers focussed on 3D, while punters went ga-ga for watching lo-fi YouTube clips. As always, it's all about the content. If Apple released a television that offered full App Store access (the Apple TV wi-fi box offers a limited amount of internet content), it would kill ...

More by Chris Keall

Comments and questions

Nice assessment of the 4K UHD market. CES was bit of a bust, wasn't it? I don't know if Apple entering the TV market will be any great shakes, though, as they'll be going up against players who have far more experience and innovation capability. While an Apple-branded TV might fool the sillier punters, it probably won't set the market on fire.

People said the same about Apple entering the mobile phone market in 2007, experienced competition, etc, but they came out all right.

That said, I'm still a bit iffy about an Apple telly, too.

Agree with the final statement re internet access. Most consumers are likely quite happy with the quality of their HD sets and would prefer functionality over huge leaps in res. Blu-Ray didn't exactly set the world alight as it just offered a higher-def version of an existing format but required a new hardware purchase. Reminds me of Sony launching Super Audio CD 10 or so years ago, thinking that's what the market wanted, just before Apple announced the iPod...

Blu-ray vs Standard definition or even DVD on my large projector screen looks much better. For screens below 50 inches people wouldn't need to "shell" out for the blu-ray discs and stick to DVDs.
As a side note: I found my dad using the remote control to type into the 70-inch LG TV so frustrating I bought him a second-hand PC, upgraded the video card to HDMI output, connected to his TV and passed him a wireless keyboard and mouse. A lot less patience required rather than seeing him fumble through, and you're not restricted to the services of the TV itself.

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