Last fall, I was reading predictions for Black Friday sales, and many were saying that HDTVs would be a big sale item, because they were finally reaching market saturation. Prices have fallen to the several hundred-dollar range, and most people who want one, can get one. And indeed, Black Friday rolled around, and arguable the biggest sale item was Best Buy’s 42″ 1080p HDTV, for $200. That was the best deal, but there were over 50 over great ones, all below $400.
Typically, businesses as successful as Samsung, LG, and Sony aren’t stupid. They can foresee market saturation (and the accompanying fall in their revenue) long before we do. So as we rolled into CES this year, I was on the lookout for the next big thing in TVs. Where do we go from here? Turns out, we didn’t get one new big thing, we got two.
The Current Situation
Plasma is dead, LCDs are king. There’s been a lot of talk about LEDs, and some of the newer ones use LEDs as backlighting. They are still LCD displays though. A typical HDTV of 2011 was a flat panel LCD, an inch or two thick. Anywhere from 32″ to 55″ in screen size, and running at 720p or 1080p resolution. 1080p is a measure of the height of the video, in pixels. The higher the number, the better the resolution, and better the picture.
1080p vs 300ppi
Grading TVs based on the number of pixels is a flawed measurement system. It doesn’t take into account the TV size. A 20″ SDTV (standard definition), playing 480p video, is equivalent to a 42″ HDTV at 1080p. What we need to look at instead isn’t pixels, but pixels per inch. The human eye can only see so many pixels per inch. 300ppi is the number I’ve seen used most, but some argue a higher number. Even if we take 300ppi as the start point though, HDTVs don’t come close.
For example, if we wanted to know the ppi of a 40″ TV, running at 1080p, we’d first have to take into account the differences in measurement. 40″ is measured diagonally, 1080p is measured in height.
As shown in the image above, if we convert 1080 pixels from height to diagonal, it becomes 2203 pixels. Divide that by 40 inches, and we have 55ppi. How small does a 1080p TV have to be to reach 300ppi? 7 inches. A 7″ screen (The Amazon Kindle, for example), running at a 1080p resolution, is just over 300ppi. Anything bigger can be a higher resolution than 1080p with noticeable benefits.
Knowing all of this, TV manufacturers finally pushing beyond 1080p. With the new catchphrase UDTV, or Ultra Definition TV, LG showed off it’s new “4K” TVs at CES this year, as did Sharp, who demoed an even larger 8K TV. And Sony has said they will be joining the trend, later.
As a note, 4K changes how we refer to resolution. 720p, 1080p, as discussed above, are the height. 4K, 4000, refers to the width. Twice as wide, twice as tall, 4 times the total number of pixels. A significant improvement on larger TVs. To put it back into perspective, a 4K TV could be twice as large (15 inches), and maintain the 300ppi). And 8K could be 30 inches and be 300ppi.
Why even upgrade my 55″ then?
Even if it’s not 300ppi, the resolution of a 4K TV will be double that of a 1080p TV, no matter what size you have. And we have to take into account the fact that most people sit many feet back from their TV screen. 300ppi isn’t needed when you are that far back. It’s sort of an upper limit, and while we haven’t reached it yet, 4K and definitely 8K pushes us closer, and will get you a much better picture.
The other large improvement unveiled at CES 2012 was real OLED TVs. OLED has been in the works for a long time. The potential is enormous. Super thin, incredible picture quality and colors. It’s just also incredible hard to manufacture, and until now, impossible at large sizes. A year ago a 32″ was unveiled, but it was rather clunky looking. This year, the size has been pushed to 55″, and it’s beautiful.
Only 4 mm thick (the size of a pen), and with minimal bezel (the black bars around the edges), it certainly looks the part of the future of TV. The keyword though, is future. LG has promised release date sometime in the end of 2012, but we’ll have to wait and see if that’s not delayed. And the price tag may prevent consumers from adoption as well. $8000 bucks, with a promise of falling to $4000 a year later. But, even LCDs started out in that range only a few years ago, and look at where we are now.
The real question is, 5 years from now when 8K OLEDs are approaching the market saturation of LCDs today, where will we go next?
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