Should you upgrade to an Ultra HDTV in 2013?

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clip image002 thumb1 Should you upgrade to an Ultra HDTV in 2013?

We saw ample evidence at CES that 2013 is the year of Ultra HD technology. Sure, Sony started selling a 4K Bravia back in September 2012, but already faces stiff competition in the new year from LG, Samsung, Sharp, and Toshiba. That makes five companies that will have at least one Ultra HD TV available on the market sometime this year, not even counting the unconfirmed release dates for additional models and other companies.

Why You Should Buy? There’s no doubt that the picture is breathtaking. 4K pixels (give or take) is twice the resolution of 1080p — both horizontally and vertically, which basically means that one UHD TV gives you the power of four 1080p HDTVs. That’s a much bigger difference than the jump from 720p to 1080p.

Look Closer.

Ironically, the people who may get the most out of Ultra HD are the people who ignored all the advice about cramming a big HDTV screen into a small room. One of the big problems with digital picture is the size of the pixels — if you’re too close, you can see them. Ultra HD “splits” every 1080p pixel into four smaller ones, which means that you can be much closer to the screen before your seamless video image becomes a mosaic of dots.

Extra Considerations.

Because Ultra HD is the highest of high-end, the sets that are available also have all of the other bells and whistles of the top models of each company’s product line. Things like integrated 3D, Smart TV features, and premium built-in sound come standard on all the new 4K HDTVs — so you can be assured of a major upgrade from whatever you’re currently watching, even if it’s already state-of-the-art.

Those are the compelling reasons to jump on the Ultra HD trend. However, there’s a price to be paid for being an early adopter.

Cost Considerations.

The pricing on current-generation UHD TVs is enough of a barrier to allow many consumers to put off making the leap to 4K for the time being. The least-expensive 4K set is still in the five-figure range, so the 2013 market will generally consist of a relatively small number of affluent early adopters. Ironically, this is the same market segment that is most likely to have recently purchased an HDTV with 3D and Smart TV capabilities — who therefore may be somewhat reluctant to invest in another new TV technology right away.

Content is King.

Early adopters are also familiar with the lack of content for any cutting-edge technology. Aside from Sony’s pre-loaded hard drive and a handful of online videos, there just isn’t much 4K content available thus far, and no cable provider, in the U.S., anyway, has any definite plans for an Ultra HD channel. When the big push for HD video came, hardware manufacturers and service providers jumped behind the 720 and 1080 standards. Even so, a lack of programming and media was a serious issue, and HD adoption still struggled for a few years until HD cable lineups and Blu-ray became an option embraced by the mainstream consumer.

In addition to the distinct pros and cons, there are some potentially bothersome technical issues surrounding Ultra HD.

No More Discs?

The average 4K movie would be way too big for a Blu-ray disc. In fact, an HD movie is already too big; data compression is necessary to fit the film (and extras) on the physical disc. We heard at CES that compression technology will allow Ultra HD files to “only be about 25 percent or 30 percent larger than similar HD files.”  So what you end up getting is an even more compressed video, one which leaves out even more of the ultra high resolution that you’re paying to see.

Service Issues?

The HD that comes through your cable or satellite service is likewise compressed HD rather than full native HD, but there’s a potentially more costly twist. As with Blu-ray, the “bigger” 4K movies and shows will require even more compression, but also considerably more bandwidth. Considering that an ever-increasing number of consumers are getting their viewing via Netflix, Hulu, Amazon, or other Internet-based services, this adds up to lengthier downloads and hitting the bandwidth cap (or overage charges) from your ISP.

Compatibility

One point that has been raised is that the aforementioned Blu-ray players and HD channels are designed to work with 1080p (or less). Just as 720 HD video was upconverted to 1080, all current HD and SD video will need to be processed to a 4K resolution. This isn’t a big deal, and in many cases may subjectively improve the video quality, but expect to see a “softer” picture when viewing HD or SD video on an Ultra HD screen — especially when you sit closer to the TV than you should.

Photo by Pop Culture Geek

Author Bio: Dwayne Thomas currently writes for cabletv.com. You can find him on Twitter @Dwayne_CableTV.


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