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Ultra HD, The Next Gen TV: Who Can Afford Them?

Anyone at this year's CES would have seen the connected device manufacturers promoting "Ultra HD" or "4K" TV. This next-generation TV provides picture quality many times better than HD (or BluRay) devices can produce today - 3840 * 2160, (approx. 8.3 megapixels per frame) vs. HD's 1920 * 1080 (approx. 2.1 megapixels per frame). On the surface, it seems like a breakthrough and early adopters will undoubtedly covet this new screen, but will they be impressed enough to make a purchase?

LG Electronic's CEO Havis Kwon said "2013 is an important year because for LG, it marks the beginning of a newTV era.  With game-changing products such as the OLED TV and Ultra HD TV, we are in a strong position strategically to lead the industry. Delivery of our Ultra HD TV well before the competition and the imminent release of our OLED TV in the first quarter of 2013 will give us a head start in a market where speed is a critical component of success."  So seems at least LG is betting big on it.  Rumour was that after 5 months LG had sold only 300 of its early models!

Predictably, there are potential stumbling blocks. The 4K TV is expensive. The first screens will hit the market in the middle of the year and Sony is taking pre-orders for its 86" model at US$25,000. Samsung's 85" is rumored around $37,000 and LG's 84" at 24,000. The price is on the high side, but many early adopters, who are keen for the latest gadgets, will open their wallets. With each new generation TV screen, the time taken for price commoditization gets shorter and shorter, so it's likely that more mainstream, attainable consumer pricing will be available in a year or so.

The major stumbling block for this new gadget is lack of content. Broadcasters currently do not broadcast in 4K. Their current best is 1080i, which is not as good as 1080p or BluRay. Sony's offering comes with ten 4K movies pre-loaded and Samsung is promoting an engine to improve 1080i/p but not to the full 4K quality, although the Samsung CES demo looked stunning.

So the manufacturers are planning streaming and download business models to generate revenue and drive adoption by providing plenty of content. However current BluRay movies are 8GB and data from Apple suggests download times of 1-6 hours (4GB), so 40GB would take 10 times as long or 10-60 hours. This means the current consumer experience would switch from: rent a movie online, wait for pizza to arrive, movie is ready to watch to: rent a movie, wait 2 or 3 days and then it might be ready to watch. In the age of instant gratification and the Gen Y "I want it now" era, this is hardly a model likely to impress.

Advancements in CODECs (H265 is just around the corner) will help but not solve the problem and it's the sheer file size that kills the download or streaming experience. We at Akamai are also working hard to introduce the next generation of download and streaming technologies to massively improve performance.

So while there are challenges, the sheer picture quality and solvable content problems will lead to us all having a super large screen in our lounge rooms in the near future and offering a first mover advantage to those bold enough to address the issues.

POLL: Will you spend $25,000 on a Ultra HD TV? 

Yours, monetizing your online media,
David Habben, Akamai's Chief Media Strategist for APJ