COMMENTARY By Lou Covey, Editorial Director Many tech media outlets (as well as several general media pubs like the WSJ) are predicting that 4K television will be a very big deal this year at the annual tech echo chamber known as CES.
The question I keep asking, however, is “Why?” So far, I’m not getting an answer.
In truth, most of the media is focusing on technology that is driven by sponsors and advertisers at CES, and 4K TV is a big deal for the companies making the TVs as well as the component manufacturers and embedded software/hardware design companies. All of them have big money riding on the success of 4K TV... just like they did for 3D TV for the past three years. The problems with those hopes and dreams for 4K are the same as for 3D, however.
HDTV took a long time to get into general distribution, basically because HD content took a long time to develop. It was only last year that Netflix actually streamed HD content for the first time... if you had an internet connection strong enough to handle it and most people don’t. No streaming media service can support 4K content now or for the foreseeable future, nor can most ISPs. While Blu-ray disks can hold more content than DVDs, they lack the capacity to handle any 4K content longer than 30 minutes, upgraded to 4K. So we are going to need significant upgrades to content delivery systems before any current 4K TVs are going to be able to show what they can do.
But that’s just the content problem.
When HDTVs came out, 40 inches was a big deal and most people went with smaller products simply because they took up less space in the house and they cost so much less. The problem was that the content could only be viewed in full 1080p on a TV at least 42 inches big, viewed from a minimum of 6 feet away, so consumers weren’t getting the full HD experience. That changed when President Obama gave a tax rebate to everyone regardless of whether they paid taxes. That rebate, in most cases, was enough to buy that 40+-inch HDTV... right in time for the federally mandated switch to HD broadcasting.
Like 3DTV, 4KTV lacks the federal subsidy and the regulatory support the HDTV had, so unless some serious back-room lobbying is going on 4KTV is headed for a tough financial road. But let’s say, just for a second, that their is some dealing going on. What does the 4KTV experience look like for the consumer.
There are rumors that CES will feature an announcement of a below-$1000, 60-inch 4KTV for purchase sometime in 2015. According to CNET, to watch an HDTV, at a 20 degree angle, needs 2.5 times the length from the screen to get the benefit of the screen or 12.5 feet from the display. The good news for 4KTV is the ratio is about 1/4 less. So if you buy the smallest available 4KTV (60 Inches) you’ll be fine seated 9 feet from the screen, which is the largest average distance most people sit in front of their TVs. Here’s the problem with that.
Most housing developers are heavily lobbying to reduce the average square footage of their developments with common living areas reduced to 10x10. Not only will a 60-inch monitor consume most of the space, but it may be impossible to sit far enough away to make viewing optimal.
Economics, technology, content and geometry is all working against the success of 4KTV. But that is not stopping the industry from telling a consuming public, that is getting savvier technologically, that this is the next big thing. That focus is what will delay the acceptance and success of the platform.
The industry should be investing in development and promotion of delivery mechanisms for the platform, as well as creation of appropriate content. The latter, in particular, will drive demand for the platform. It’s not a chicken and egg issue. It’s a cart and horse issue.