Ultra HD TVs hitting the market, but many doubt whether you actually need one

Published: Friday, Nov. 9 2012 9:56 a.m. MST

A crowd admires the higher resolution of a huge Ultra HD TV, but would they sit this close in their home?

lge via flickr

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First it was black and white. Then it was color. Only a few years ago it was HDTV. Now, the latest and greatest and sharpest television standard just being introduced is called "Ultra HD TV."

USA Today announced the $19,999 84-inch Ultra HD TV from LG Electronics on Oct. 25. It has four times the resolution of a standard HDTV. "As television gets bigger and bigger we need more lines of resolution and pixels to maintain the picture quality," Jay Vandenbree, head of LG's U.S. home entertainment business, told USA Today.

But will all that sharpness make a difference?

"It's expensive," Al Griffin, technical editor at Sound + Vision magazine, told USA Today, and consumers "are probably not going to sit close enough to the screen to really benefit from that extra resolution even if they did have" programs to watch.

HD Guru referred to the new Ultra HD TV sets (Sony introduced a $24,999.99 84-inch model right after LG Electronics) as UHD TV. The TVs used to be referred to as 4K HDTV. But regardless of what they are called, they have a limited utility: "Currently, there is no standard for broadcast, cable, consumer camcorders or disc-based media with UHD resolution. If a standard ever comes to pass, we doubt the current TV models can be updated. The HDMI inputs are hardware, not software based and are limited (under the current HDMI 1.4a standard) to a 24 frame-per-second UHD signal. HDMI is working on new generation chip standard for UHD with higher frame rates and it we expect it to be announced in January 2013."

It may be at least three years before Ultra HD TV programs are broadcast.

Geoffrey Morrison at CNet thinks the new sets are, well, stupid. He says the format was developed for the huge screens in movie theaters.

"The human eye, for all its amazingness, has a finite resolution," Morrison says.

He says to be able to see the difference between a regular HDTV and an Ultra HD TV, you would either have to sit really close (which, he says, nobody is going to do) or get a really big screen (also very unlikely). What may be more of an important difference in choosing a new set is how well the TV handles contrast ratio and brightness.

"Sure screen sizes are going up, but how many of you are really going to put an 85-inch screen in your home, and sit close enough to it for (Ultra HD TV) to matter?" Morrison says. "Don't believe me? Get a chair, and sit close enough to your TV so you can just see the pixel structure. Now watch an entire TV show like that. Now convince your family to do the same. There's this feeling of inevitability with (Ultra HD TV), like because we can do it, we will do it. I just wanted to point out early that regardless of what the marketing and hype will say, you don't need (Ultra HD TV)."

Harry McCraken at Time, however, wants one. He says someday we may call HDTV "low-def high-def." He read what Morrison said about how it is "stupid" to want an Ultra HD TV in a home. But, still, McCraken saw a Sony demo of the set. "I bow to Morrison's expertise," he says. "Ultimately, though, I care most about what my own eyeballs tell me. They're still excited about (Ultra HD TV), and Sony's demo only got them more riled up about it."

High-Def Digest looked at the new LG television: "LG claims that any TV or display above 65-inches … will benefit from the added pixels (of) Ultra-High-Definition, but then again there are a lot of people with projectors happy with screens in the 100-200 inch range. Also, the lack of native 4K content concerns me. ... Here's the one disclaimer that caught my eye: No 'ultra high definition' or '4K' video content is currently available. No broadcast or other standard currently exists for '4K' or 'ultra high definition' television, and the 84LM9600 may or may not be compatible with such standards if and when developed."

But by the time the new Ultra HD TV standards are adopted, people will probably be able to buy a new Ultra-Ultra HD TV to watch "Gilligan's Island."

EMAIL: mdegroote@desnews.com

TWITTER: @degroote

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