As the boom in sales that occurred during the HDTV conversion fades into history, consumer electronics manufacturers are again searching for a message that will drive consumers to upgrade their TV sets. They thought that 3D would propel the next replacement cycle. In our 2012 NAB report Positive Flux predicted that would not work [LINK] and, unfortunately for the TV manufacturers, we were proven correct.
CE manufacturers now have set their sights set on UHDTV (Ultra-High Definition, sets with significantly better picture quality than HDTV), but we believe that they are headed for a repeat of the 3D failure.
Unlike 3D, we actually believe strongly that UHDTV can be a great consumer experience, and believe that there are and will be strong drivers for adoption. However, we’ve been screaming from the rafters that the CES manufacturers are going about it all wrong. Here are some typical descriptions that manufacturers are leading with in their promotions (their first bullet point, so to speak):
- “Get four-times the resolution and four-times the “wow”…Everything’s bigger, richer and in more detail than ever in stunning 4K, the next generation of TV resolution.”
- “See a picture that’s more lifelike than ever…Ultra High Definition TV displays your movies, sports and shows at 4x the resolution of Full HD and upscales your existing entertainment with incredible detail.”
- “Packing four times the pixels of a Full HD display into the same screen area, 4K Ultra HD brings a level of clarity and resolution that is nothing short of breathtaking…3840 x 2160-pixel LCD screen creates 4K video images that surpasses anything you have experienced before.”
Can you spot the mistake?
The beauty of Ultra-High Resolution is actually not the resolution, but the dynamic range. Dynamic range is the difference between the darkest darks and the brightest brights. The greater the range, the more vivid the images appear. True UHDTV has significantly improved color depth and brightness range.
None other than Mark Schubin, at the recent Hollywood Post Alliance symposium in LA, presented a paper showing that HDR (High dynamic resolution) provides a significantly higher impression of quality than simply expanding the resolution. His paper included scientific studies and tests that show that devoting bandwidth to dynamic range is significantly better at forming a positive impression than simply increasing the resolution, which would not actually be visible except on extremely large screens or by viewing way too close. We could not agree more.
Despite this clear differentiator, a quick glance at the current listings shows manufacturers listing their monitors as “4K” or sometime “UHD 4K,” promoting the resolution, screen size and curvature, but not the dynamic range. Not to be picky, but what they are calling 4K isn’t even 4K at all (Hint: It’s actually 3840×2160, not the real 4K used in theaters). Many of them do not even support natively the greater dynamic range built into the standard, but instead use tricks to make it appear as if they do.
Although not currently selling TVs, Apple has it right when they advertise their monitors as “retina” displays. It’s not about resolution–it’s about overall impressive color, range and image quality. When people see it, they immediately see the quality and connect with the brand. Credit should also be given to BBC and Sky who have started the UHD forum and are promoting a “UHD ready” certification logo that seeks to balance the increase in pixels with the improved color and dynamic range.
CES television manufacturers would be wise to do the same.
We wonder if these manufacturers think dynamic range is too complex for the consumer market. If so, they might want to talk to their colleagues over in their companies’ smartphone division. Many of these same TV manufacturers who are dropping the ball in their UHD messaging have HDR photography capability front and center in their smartphone marketing.
We think UHD is technical progress that will appeal to consumers, but it is incumbent on CE manufacturers to get the story right. Limited availability of content was one of the factors that ultimately killed the market for 3D and spoiled the investments of those who planned to deliver 3D content. Content producers and distributors should demand now that CE manufacturers deliver a UHD message to consumers that will resonate. That’s a story we can all get behind.