In our never ending quest for the best picture and sound in the home, the Hub is always on the look out for the latest advances in audio and video. The Economist has written an informative piece on the next generation of TVs. In particular, the article cites how 3D is driving the need for more pixels (watching in 3D halves your TV’s resolution). The next HD standard, known as “Quad-HD” or 2160p doubles the horizontal and vertical lines, resulting in a quadruple number of pixels. Studios, which are now using 4K digital cameras and starting to shoot movies at 48 frames per second, are looking for a way to make up for declining DVD sales. The article states how the studios hope they can make up the revenue short-fall by streaming Quad-HD content to a new generation of TV sets in the living room.
As much as the Hub is looking forward to “Quad-HD”, it will probably be years before we see wide-spread availability and acceptance. Unlike cell phones, people wait at least five years if not longer before replacing the living room TV. How old is your HDTV and are you ready to replace it yet?
The other constraint out there is network bandwidth to the home. A quality 1080P stream from VUDU requires around 9 megabits. Blu-rays stream at around 40 Mbps. Even with advances in compression algorithms, one can assume a Quad HD stream would require much more bandwidth because of the increase in pixels and frame rate. The reality is that the average Internet speed available to the home in the United States is about 5 Mbps (source: Akami). However, it’s improving with Verizon FIOS offering Internet connections up to 150 Mbps in some areas.
On the other side, some cable companies have started to or are contemplating ways to cap monthly bandwidth usage as a reaction to the the threat of video streaming services. The fear is that subscribers will pay for Netflix and Hulu Plus and cancel the cable TV subscription (Netflix would argue they are a complimentary not competitive service). If the cable companies start capping bandwidth, it may extend the life of physical media. Alternatively, cable companies may just charge more for Internet service.
Finally, the article could lead you to believe that picture quality is simply tied to the number of pixels. In reality, there’s lots of other factors such as contrast ratio, frame rate and color depth. In fact, while many HDTVs are capable of displaying many more colors from a feature called “Deep Color”, there are no movies or TV shows that utilize it. Studios could take advantage of this functionality improving the picture on the HDTV you already own.
Revolutionary TVs: It’s More than Hardware