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4K Should Be the ‘New Normal’

11 Jul, 2013 By: Thomas K. Arnold

Sony XBR 4K TV

There’s an old saying: Once bitten, twice shy.

I hope that doesn’t apply to the home entertainment business.

Yes, we got burned pretty badly on 3D for the home, which sputtered and ultimately failed — not so much because consumer demand wasn’t there but because consumer demand wasn’t great enough for people to put up with all the hassles of actually watching movies on 3D in their home.

The blame for that, as I’ve written about previously, rests squarely on the shoulders of the consumer electronics industry, which rushed out a parade of incompatible formats with constantly changing specs. They also tried to sell the public on the notion of high-priced glasses that run on batteries — an expensive, arduous proposition no one could quite grasp, given the simplicity of the cheap plastic glasses handed out in theaters.

But the 3D-for-the-home debacle is no excuse to sit on our hands and watch the 4K juggernaut take off with no one from our industry on board. As one reader, a veteran video retailer with whom I’ve corresponded off and on for the better part of 20 years, said in a recent email, “If you have not see the 4K sets … you should. They are the real deal. … I was blown away. If you don’t want one, it’s because you haven’t seen one.”

I’ll admit, when 4K first came on the market I was skeptical, since for all these years we’ve been led to believe that high-definition in its purest form — 1080p — was the clearest picture you could possibly imagine. Heck, that was the whole premise for Blu-ray Disc: DVD, as good as it looked on our old TVs, was no match for the new breed of thin high-definition widescreens that hit the market like a clap of thunder in the middle 2000s. Thanks to high-definition, you could see every pore, every freckle, on a human body; I remember when The Wizard of Oz was restored and issued on Blu-ray Disc the picture was so clear technicians had to remove the suddenly visible strings holding up the flying monkeys, while Dorothy’s unblemished face all of a sudden looked much more like that of a normal teenager.

But as my friend, Dan Crider, writes, 4K is the real deal. It’s the new normal in movie theaters, and as of last month consumers could finally buy 4K TVs for less than $1,000.

Amazon is already selling a 4K “Ultra HD Media Player” from Sony for $700. The device has 2 terrabytes of internal storage and comes preloaded with 10 4K movies, as well as the capability of using the soon-to-be-launched 4K Media Streaming Service, which will allow consumers to “rent” 4K movies for $7.99 or buy them for $29.99. The size of the movie files is surprisingly small, thanks to revved-up compression technology from a company called EyeIO.

As Crider notes in his email to me, “20 to 50GB is very doable. For starters, it fits on a standard two-layer Blu-ray Disc. Even at 100GB, three-layer BDXL discs can accommodate them, so there is no need for a new format.”

I know packaged media is passé and old school, but despite the bruising format war when high-definition first burst on the scene in 2006 it can be argued that Blu-ray Disc extended the lifespan of the physical disc by at least 10 years.

4K could be another life-extender — but we have to take action and soon.

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