Who Cares About 4K TVs?

If you believe the hype around the Consumer Electronics Show, 4K television is all the rage. TV makers have long hoped to spark demand for so-called ultra HD televisions, and this time around, they’re trying to ensure it by packaging the sets with some nifty new features. 

The big question is whether anyone outside the consumer-electronics bubble here in Las Vegas will care. The answer: Probably not, at least until some of the newer software features migrate away from insanely priced hardware.

Judging by this morning’s sessions at CES, manufacturers like Sharp and Panasonic will be bringing their 4K TVs to market with a slew of new features such as better search and discovery, handy mobile apps, and in one case (via Panasonic’s VIERA Life+ Screen) even Kinect-like facial and voice recognition baked right in. Of course, that’s not all the 4K tech Panasonic has up its sleeve. The company also took the wraps off a new 4K wearable camera

In unveiling its new AQUOS line—Aquos HD, Aquos 4K, Aquos Q, and the belle of its ball, the Aquos Q+—Sharp emphasized its Quattron Plus technology, which has 10 million more subpixels than full HD. But almost as a side note, the company took a moment to show off what’s really cool—its “Smart Central” software. The interface takes a cue from streaming set-top boxes like Roku to make universal search and suggestions across all TV apps easier and more intuitive. And it comes with a companion remote control app that takes the drudgery out of entering search terms onscreen. 

Such software is way more interesting than the hardware. The reason is obvious: These features may not be game-changing, but they’re convenient and they stand a chance of coming to products that everyday people can actually afford sometime soon. 

Not so for the hardware. Sharp did make a point of lowering the cost—within weeks, the 60- and 70-inch 4K Ultra HD series with 2160p resolution will go for $5,000 and $6,000 respectively, down from a 70-inch unit launched in September for $7,500. Can Samsung, LG and Sony do better? Not likely. This technology has been a wallet-gouger across the board, and that’s even before you realize that there’s very little to watch on these pricey new sets.

See also: 4K In 2014: Will YouTube, Netflix Bring Ultra HD Into Mainstream?

Until makers manage to shed those elitist prices, 4K televisions will remain little more than a matter of curiosity and hype, not essential entertainment gear.

To underscore the point, Sharp will also show off its 85-inch 8K television prototypes at CES again this year. Developed in conjunction with Dolby and Phillips, these innovations do push all sorts of envelopes. But as cool as glasses-free 3D on a mammoth, insanely high-resolution television is, it might as well be a holodeck. That would stand the same chance of landing in mainstream living rooms. 

Images by Adriana Lee for ReadWrite

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