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At the CE Pro 100 and Commercial Integrator Summits, held November 6-8 in Houston, 10.5% of a small survey group of integrators said Ultra HD was “the most exciting technology you see on the horizon,” reported Julie Jacobson on CEPro.com on November 6.  Nobody mentioned 3D-TV.

Some manufacturers have already thrown their hats in the ring.  The 8-megapixel TV sets currently available from LG and Sony in the North American market have 84-inch screens and will up-convert HD content.  Up-converted content may not have the detail sharpness of native Ultra-HD content, but it is considerable sharper than HD content shown on the same screen.  That’s fortunate, since virtually no Ultra HD media exists in a form consumers can buy.

LG’s set carries an MSRP of $19,999, and can be had on the street for perhaps $3000 less.  Sony’s set is priced $5000 higher.  Both sets use LG Display’s 84-inch panel, so is there really $5000 more content in Sony’s set?  Probably not, and the time is long gone when the Sony brand name justified a price premium.

On November 6, Hisense USA, the U.S. marketing arm of the giant Chinese TV and appliance manufacturer, announced its new XT880 line of Ultra HD TVs.  The approach is different from Sony and LG, with their giant 84-inch screens.  UHD screen sizes from Hisense are 50-, 58-, and 65-inches.

Otherwise, Hisense includes every imaginable bell and whistle.  The models in the line include 3D and Smart TV capabilities, WiFi , a detachable camera that supports facial recognition, gesture control, and services such as Skype calling. The remote control includes a microphone for voice control. The sets include an ARM dual-core microprocessor running Android Ice Cream Sandwich, up-scaling, automatic backlight control, and contrast enhancement.

The members of the XT880 series are not available yet, but you can see them in Booth #7345 at the forthcoming CES, which begins January 8 in Las Vegas. Hisense has not yet announced pricing, but the company presents itself as a supplier of high-tech products at affordable prices, and we can anticipate prices far less than $20,000.  Far less is exactly what’s needed to accelerated sales in the technically exciting Ultra HD segment.

Recently, IHS iSupply forcast that roughly 4000 UHD-TVs will be shipped this year, growing to a bit over 2 million in 2017 – less than 1% of the global LCD-TV market.  Yet, as indicated by the CE Pro 100 survey, there is far more optimism in the industry for UHD-TV than there is for 3D.

The 4K (or Ultra HD) format is already part of the production work flow in cinema production, so content exists now and will continue to grow at a rapid pace.  Roughly 90 films have been distributed digitally in 4K, including the forthcoming The Hobbit, Preco’s Wes Donahue said recently at a New York Chapter meeting of the SMPTE.  But, right now, there is no way to get that content to the consumer in 4K.    Currently, Blu-ray Disc Association (BDA) says it does not have plans to add 4K support to the BRD specification, reported Home Media Magazine’s Chris Tribbey, but there is no technical reason why this could not be done.  On the positive side, the growing market for professional 4K equipment will create the foundation on which consumer products can grow.

It may be that the Chinese approach is exactly what we need to jump-start Ultra HDTV sales.

Ken Werner is Principal of Nutmeg Consultants, specializing in the display industry, display manufacturing, and display technology.  You can reach him at kwerner@nutmegconsultants.com.

Posted by Pete Putman, November 12, 2012 2:48 PM

About Pete Putman

Peter Putman is the president of ROAM Consulting L.L.C. His company provides training, marketing communications, and product testing/development services to manufacturers, dealers, and end-users of displays, display interfaces, and related products.

Pete edits and publishes HDTVexpert.com, a Web blog focused on digital TV, HDTV, and display technologies. He is also a columnist for Pro AV magazine, the leading trade publication for commercial AV systems integrators.