2014 CES: Television: Analyzing Ultra HD at CES 2014
What is “television” anymore? Is it a piece of hardware? Cable or satellite service? Over-the-top streaming from companies like Netflix and Amazon? Something you watch on a tablet or smartphone?
CES 2014 provided an answer to those questions: It’s all of those and more.
What we observed: Smart TVs are now de rigueur. 3D TV continued to keep a low profile, although there were some glasses-free 3D TV demos (we weren’t overly impressed by any of them). But Ultra HD TV, a.k.a UHD, a.k.a. 4K TV, ruled the show in terms of video product announcements.
The sense of urgency surrounding UHD in the CE industry is palpable: We’re in a race to find that lucrative sweet spot between high profit margins and ubiquitous content. And time is running out.
“It may be cliché to say content is king, but when talking about 4K Ultra HD TV, it reigns over consumer decision-making,” said Mike Lucas, senior VP, Sony’s Home Entertainment & Sound.
As UHD prices plunge downward due to a glut of inexpensive UHD TVs from second- and third-tier manufacturers, the native UHD content still, for the most part, isn’t there. So the default buzzword for UHD TV sales is upscaling. How UHD TVs handle HD content – and how you demo it – will be the vital selling point this year.
Not surprisingly, leading manufacturers echoed that sentiment at CES. Each touted its upscaling expertise, and showed some impressive results.
Here’s what some top-tier TV manufacturers announced for UHD at the show:
• Sony led with a content message, which wasn’t unexpected as it also is a notable TV content producer. It touted its support of HDMI 2.0 and the new HVEC UHD codec to display 4K media at 60 frames per second; its Video Unlimited 4K content download service, which debuted in September, requires a separate Sony 4K Ultra HD Media Player, and features 140 UHD films and TV shows; compatibility with Netflix’s upcoming 4K service; and support for 4K photo services such as the 500px community and Sony’s PlayMemories service. It also noted its sets’ support for its 4K Handycam camcorders. Sony’s 2014 UHD lineup will ship this spring and feature three a total of nine models ranging from 49 to 85 inches.
• Samsung unveiled a much-ballyhooed 105-inch curved UHD TV. Overall, Samsung’s UHD lineup will feature four series and 11 curved and flat models ranging in size from 50 to 110 inches, with support for HEVC, HDMI 2.0, MHL 3.0 and HDCP 2.2. It promoted its UHD TVs’ “future-readiness” with its Samsung UHD Evolution Kit, an external “One Connect Box” that houses the “brains” of the TV and can be upgraded to the latest UHD standards when they emerge. Samsung said it will help build the “UHD ecosystem” by offering a UHD Video Pack pre-loaded with 50 movies and documentaries, and by launching a UHD content streaming app in partnership with Amazon, M-GO, Netflix, Comcast and DIRECTV.
• Sure to delight cinema buffs, LG showed a 105-inch curved UHD with a 21:9 aspect ratio (making it a “5K” TV due to the increased pixel count) and a front-facing 7.2 multi-channel sound system develop in conjunction with Harman Kardon. LG will offer UHD models with sizes from 49 to 105 inches featuring a built-in 4K HEVC 60p decoder for H.264 and HEVC H.265 formats, in 30p or 60p. LG also announced content compatibility with 4K offerings from Netflix and YouTube.
• Sharp introduced two THX-certified UHD sets of 60 ($4,995) and 70 ($5,995) inches, both THX-certified, but made perhaps the most intriguing announcement among big TV players with its AQUOS Quattron+ (Q+) Series, a technology it calls “the highest resolution Full HD TV.” The company says it is able to create two pixels from one for deliver 16 million subpixels – 10 million more than conventional 1080p HDTVs. Sharp says they are the only HDTVs that can play 4K content, at about half the price of a similarly sized UHD TV. It’ll be interesting to see this in practice.
• Toshiba debuted three series of UHD TVs of five models from 50 to 84 inches. The sets, scheduled to ship this summer, incorporate HDMI 2.0 for 4K at 60 fps, HDCP 2.2 and and H.265 HEVC.
• Upstart manufacturer Hisense went in a unique way with two series of UHDs – five models ranging from 50 to 85 inches – that feature Android 4.2 and will be available in the third quarter. Hisense also showed a 65-inch curved UHD TV.
• There was also talk of OLED TVs making their first big mark in 2014, and there were 8K TVs demo’ed that won’t hit retail this year.
Oh, and what about HDTV? CES revealed there will still be a lot of new HD sets available this year, but the CE industry is now treating these margin-deprived sets as an afterthought. Consumers, on the other hand, don’t yet share that view. n