The Consumer Electronics Show (CES) 2015 is this week, so there are all sorts of television technologies being shown off by consumer electronics companies. Here is a brief breakdown, as I understand it:
Ultra HD (4K)
The next jump up in television screen resolution is Ultra HD, offering 4 times the number of pixels in the same space. High definition has a 1920 x 1080 pixel resolution, or a little over 2 million pixels devoted to the video frame. Ultra HD is 3840 x 2160 pixels, or 8.3 million pixels. You’re not likely to notice the difference on screens smaller than 65 inches, unless you stick your nose to the screen to enjoy the finer pixel grid. 65 and more inches allows you to sit as far away from the television as you want and still notice the increased resolution.
Most of us have LCD (LED) computer monitors and TVs. Organic light-emitting diode (OLED) displays are much thinner, more energy efficient, faster at displaying video, and offer a larger gamut of colors. OLED TVs are also about four times as expensive as LCDs. In two years, however, OLED TVs should be affordable for most of us.
If you are watching television in the United States or Japan, in every second 30 still frames flicker by on your TV screen. This is fast enough to trick your eyes and brain into seeing motion. In Europe, TV is 25 frames per second. When you go to see a movie, it is a little slower: 24 frames per second. High frame rate (HFR) doubles the movie frame rate, so that 48 frames flicker by every second. The recent Hobbit movies have been shown in HFR if you go to the right HFR-equipped theater. HFR can do wonders for making computer graphics pop on the screen, but a lot of people don’t like the higher frame rate when it comes to real people and real sets; to them these details are too realistic, too smooth, too strange. HFR will catch on eventually, though. More directors are interested in the details so many frames per second can offer, even without boosting resolution. They will also get better at filming their movies in HFR, adjusting makeup, set design and other details to take better advantage of the technology without weirding viewers out. James Cameron reportedly has been considering filming the Avatar sequels at an even higher HFR, perhaps as high as 60 frames per second.
Netflix announced at CES 2015 HFR support for OLED TVs sometime in the near future. OLED is great for showing HFR because the screen refreshes so darn quickly compared to existing televisions.
Don’t confuse HDR with HFR. High dynamic range (HDR) improves the light coming out of your TV so that white is whiter and black is blacker, and there are more levels of contrast between those two extremes. This ends up providing even more colors and details for your human eyes to ogle. Hidden details in shadows, for example, suddenly reveal themselves with HDR as compared to the existing dynamic range in today’s televisions.
Other technologies being shown off at CES 2015 are curved TVs, flat TVs that can curve at the touch of a button, Quantum Dot LCD screens, and Laser TVs. None of these really add much to current viewing other than, possibly, better color and brightness.
So what kind of TV should you buy, if you are in the market for one? Unfortunately, all of these technologies are becoming available before there is much video content to take advantage of their capabilities. Different television manufacturers also implement these technologies differently; currently a lot of industry effort is devoted to standardizing these technologies. The perfect TV would, of course, combine all four technologies—Ultra HD, OLED, HFR, and HDR—but so far that hasn’t happened yet. The best you can do now is buy an expensive Ultra HD OLED TV and someday HFR video may be viewable on it.
In about two or three years, however, there should be a confluence of technologies and content and affordability. As with all technology purchases, your best bet is to decide what you really want out of your TV, compare it to what is available, and save your money until you can get what you truly want. If you are ready to buy:
- today, then buy a nice new and very affordable 42- to 55-inch HDTV, perhaps including new technologies like Quantum Dots or lasers.
- at the end of 2015/2016, buy a 65-inch or bigger Ultra HD LCD TV.
- in 2017/2018, buy a huge Ultra HD OLED TV with HFR and HDR.
By 2018 there should be plenty of video content with these technological enhancements to make such an incredible TV worthwhile. Of course by CES 2018 there will be a host of even more exciting new technologies and advancements in video quality to make buying a new television even more confusing.