Ultra HD televisions coming into “sharp” focus

Sony's XBR-X900A-4K-Ultra-HD TV

Published: Saturday, February 1, 2014 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, January 30, 2014 at 11:13 a.m.

Adopting new technology is always a gamble. As it is in Vegas, the more you risk the more you'll potentially prosper and, likewise, lose. Fewer areas of the casino are riskier than your own living room, namely your television, where top-rate features can mean spinning the roulette wheel of your wallet.

The high rollers in the television market now are eyeballing the next big thing, Ultra HD, or 4K technology. What's the big deal? You know that old television that weighs 800 pounds, the one collecting dust in the garage? It's probably 480-pixel resolution. Chances are the new one, the one that makes you think your eyeballs drank from the fountain of youth, is probably 1080-pixel resolution. Enter 4K, which displays at about 8-million pixels while the best sets today might hit the 2-million range.

The pixel peepers of the world will find this a massive improvement.

The problem in building hype for revolutionary screen technology is that you cannot tease people with a glimpse of what 4K looks like without an actual 4K screen. Commercials for Ultra HD are showing only in standard HD; websites show only as much as the monitor you are viewing. This technology must be witnessed firsthand, which is why manufacturers rely so heavily on the early adopters to spread the message to the masses.

These companies must overcome the hurdles that come with peddling new technology. One of the largest of those hurdles was met recently when Netflix announced it would be producing and instantly streaming Ultra HD content into our living rooms. This is significant when you consider the home theater is a two-pronged arena. First you have the television set and then you have the content. You cannot make a revolutionary upgrade in one without a two-step tango with the other.

Most cable companies and satellite providers stream content at 720-pixel resolution, which is considered Stone Age technology. It's the only way to provide so many channels in high definition. Content flows like a straw, and today's straws simply are not very big. The other popular source of content is from DVDs, yet many owners who've just recently made the leap to Blu-ray players are going to be hard-pressed to purchase an expensive new 4K player. Finally, you need content, and until Hollywood sees the demand, the industry is not going to supply 4K content. The fact that Netflix, a major player on all of these levels, will produce and stream 4K content gives the green light to those sitting on the fence.

Who wants to buy a car that goes 200 mph when they live on a 30 mph street? Netflix is essentially offering that open road on which users can drive this new technology.

This is the level of forethought that goes into making an investment into technology that likely will sell for a fraction of the price in the coming years. I remember the first plasma screen I fell in love with. The price tag was $15,000. Today it would go for hundreds. Major manufacturers such as Sony, Samsung and LG, have Ultra HD offerings from about $5,000 all the way past the $100,000 barrier. These sets are so sharp they will seemingly cut the eyes of the beholder. Your friends will be calling you to invite themselves over for movie night. Finding a house sitter will never be a problem as long as you leave them the remote. Get it?

Grab your chips, as the time has come to place your bets on 4K.

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