There is an open secret at CES 2013. No one here is going to buy a 4K Ultra HDTV (UHD) announced at the show, no matter how much we gush over the jaw-dropping picture quality. No one reading this is going to buy one either. There is simply no reason to own a 4K UHD television in 2013. And there probably won’t be a reason to own one for watching movies and TV in 2014 or 2015 either.
That’s because they will be expensive. Like new car expensive. Though Sony, LG, Samsung, Toshiba, and the others did not announce pricing, expect all the 4k sets announced at CES 2013 to be priced more than $10,000, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see Samsung S9, the 85-inch UHD TV with the “Timeless Gallery” design, to cost well north of $35,000.
It’s because they are too big. They just have to be. The smallest 4K sets announced at CES bottom out at more than 50-inches, because any smaller, and the extra pixels 4K provides would not be discernible. In other words, a standard 40-inch 1080 HDTV and a 40-inch UHD display look near identical in terms of fidelity from a reasonable watching distance. That’s why most the commercially available 4K sets today sit at around 85-inches. However, smaller sets for medical imaging and digital editing might hit the market in the next few years, but these won’t be media consumption displays.
Finally, there is almost no 4K content available now. Yes, most sets feature “4K upscaling,” which suggests it takes standard 1080 HD content and magically turns it into stunning 4K. But the upscaled 4K content won’t look nearly as good as the demo footage playing on a loop at CES 2013 or the store. It won’t look pristine because it will have been compressed before being upscaled again. All that processing takes a toll on image quality.
Granted, Sony announced a new 4K content service at CES, promising to bring 4K blockbusters to Sony 4K sets. But that selection is severely limited to Sony “blockbusters” like Battle for Los Angeles and the Total Recall remake. Also, don’t hold out hope for those promised 4K Blu-ray disks, as they will require an expensive 4K Blu-ray player.
Get Excited for These CES Announcements
The most exciting home theater CES 2013 announcements, or at least the most practically exciting because they involve products that consumers will actually buy and use, were buried under the 4K hype.
They include the $150 Asus Qube Google TV box. Google TV has not taken off as a smart TV platform thanks to some lousy hardware and lack of development, and after Google hastily cancelled its Q Nexus media box in 2012, it seemed like the Android maker had abandoned the idea of Android on a TV. The Asus Qube seems like a legit piece of Google TV hardware however, complete with quality remote (it has a gyroscope for gaming, like a Wii Remote), USB inputs for peripherals like cameras for video chat and game pads, and significant UI enhancements.
They include Samsung’s revamped Smart Hub, because smart TV UIs are universally lousy, and it’s refreshing to see Samsung at least attempting to remedy the situation.
They include the revamped LG Magic Remote, now with voice and motion sensors. The remote control has become bulky, cumbersome, and confusing. LG is looking to remedy that by adding gesture and voice controls. Kudos to LG for trying to make changing the channel and accessing HDTV features easier.
They include the Roku Time Warner Cable deal, Intel Comcast Xfinity news, and the Dish Hopper with Sling. All three bring us closer to the entertainment junky’s Promised Land: that mythical future of shared content across multiple screens.
Finally, they include the HP Pocket Playlist. On top of sporting a slick design (who knew the designers at HP had it in them?), the PocketPlaylist acts as a streaming media service DVR. Through PlayLater, users can actually “record” popular streaming service content from Netflix, Hulu, and others, to play back later while offline on Android, iOS and Windows Phone 8 devices. This is a traveler’s dream come true! No more lousy airplane in-flight entertainment! PlayLater has actually been around for a bit as a software service, and it has its kinks (it records in real-time, for starters), but if the PlayStick simplifies the PlayLater process and offers easy offline Neflix streaming to an iPad or Android tablet, it will be the coolest thing to come out of HP in at least the last five years.
These are the devices, services, and enhancements that will actually improve home entertainment in 2013, and they will likely be remembered as such while 4K UHD television is still just a novel, albeit impressive, concept to 99.9% of consumers.