Ultra HD's Big Bang Theory

By Tomorrow Will Be Televised Archives
Cover image for  article: Ultra HD's Big Bang Theory

When participants of the first Ultra HD conference at a Consumer Electronics Association event gathered in New York, everyone saw the light about ultra high-definition television sets and the impact they could have on the TV programming we'll see through them. The big split of opinion: how soon we choose to buy these sets.

At round two of the Ultra HD conference in New York last week, that split not only continued in evidence, it widened.

Now as then, the CEA's research staff maintains its position that widespread adoption of Ultra sets will be a multi-year slog. After wrapping this year with 57,000 buys (half of those buys over the holiday season), the purchase estimates increase to 450,000 sets next year, 1.2 million in 2015 and two million for 2016. The big, long tail of CEA's metaphorical hockey stick doesn't shoot up until 2017, when around four million sets head off retail shelves.

Far different and sooner outcome, TV set manufacturers hark. Yes, they side with CEA's forecast for this year, then break loose with their 2014 and beyond estimates. "The solid sales we're getting now suggest we'll wind up north of half a million sets next year," believes Sharp Electronics vice president Jim Sanduski.

Toshiba vice president Scott Ramirez looks for at least a million ultra sets finding their way to households during 2014. "We're setting our product out right now, "he says.

The setmakers take their bullish cue from early feedback they're getting from consumer electronics retailers around the country. Dealer participants at last week's conference largely back up the set maker talk. "The consumer interest so far is beyond expectation," believes Video and Audio Center corporate director Tom Campbell.

All the credit for such interest, especially when so little content is produced or available in ultral HD format, goes to upscaling, the technical process setmakers use to deliver as close to the pure thing as possible. Although each manufacturer appears to march to their own upscaling drummer, consumers end up getting picture quality they admire. For them, "it's an incredible, out-of-the-box experience," explains LG Electronics home entertainment senior vice president Jay Vandenbree.

Nevertheless, Vandenbree warns that the TV set industry could derail its early ultra HD fortune if consumers get confused with too many details on picture quality, pixels, screen size and the like. Or if content makers don't come through with high-quality programming. "We all need to let consumers get the joy and the experience of watching ultra HD, not the fear and the rhetoric," he says.

The fact that ultra HD sets are also smart TVs, some of which already offer such advanced features as full Web browsing on the set, or side-by-side TV and Web display, could become a selling point to woo consumers. With smart TV application capacity and capabilities sure to expand, "there's a lot of untapped marketing potential" in that direction, acknowledges CEA chief economist Shawn DuBravac."It can add to consumer perception that these sets push the limits of what's possible in watching or using content."

Whatever sales pace his association forecasts, CEA president Gary Shapiro trumpets ultra HD as a transforming TV medium. "Few people are imagining what we can do with this process," he says. "When you see it for yourself, it makes a big difference."

If the TV makers and retailers have their consumer mood down pat, we won't wait as long as high-definition did to be the golden TV picture goose. Then it will be up to the content, network and application ecosystems to keep it that way.

Until the next time, stay well and stay tuned!

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