The International CES, formerly known as the Consumer Electronics Show, always trumpets the latest in pithy technological acronyms VHS, VCR, DVD, DVR, HDTV. This year, the show is all about 4K UHDTV.
So what is 4K, also known as Ultra-High Definition TV? Why is it the hot term for this year's show in Las Vegas? Is it worth worrying that it might one day make your HDTV obsolete?
Don't fret. Regardless of what you might have heard from the show, 4K television is not about to replace your new flat-panel HDTV any time soon. I remember seeing the first high-definition televisions show up at CES nearly a decade before they actually appeared on retail store shelves.
Despite that, 4K UHDTV technology is undoubtedly cool. This week, manufacturers that include Sharp, Panasonic, Samsung and Vizio introduced 4K TV sets. Sony introduced one at last year's show.
UHDTV is the latest wave of televisions that offer an even higher definition than high-definition TVs. At a resolution of 3840 by 2160 pixels, it provides up to four times the detail and number of pixels as a 1080p HDTV sold in stores today. The benefit is that you will be able to see even more moles on Snooki's face during a rerun episode of "The Jersey Shore."
Seriously, the real advantage to higher resolution is for two things watching sports and movies. Football or basketball games will look even more realistic when you can see beads of sweat on a player's face (if you're into that sort of thing). UHDTV also should make movies look much better and closer to film, the way it looks on a theater screen. The technology also will make 3D better because with UHDTVs, you can watch 3D in high definition and with passive glasses (the one's that don't have active shutters that can cause eye strain). HDTVs that use passive 3D glasses let you see the image only in standard definition.
Ultra-high definition won't be a stellar improvement over HDTVs the way HDTVs were over standard-definition TVs. Those who have seen the ultra-high models say the effect is less dramatic the farther you are from the TV and the smaller the screen. That's why the screens on the UHDTVs that have been introduced this week at the CES are in the 70-inch-plus range.
They're also prohibitively expensive. Sony has announced that the first UHDTV to go on sale, probably later this year, will retail at $25,000. That's one of the reasons you won't see UHDTV become a standard for televisions in the near future.
Another big obstacle for UHDTV adoption is that in order to watch movies or shows in that resolution, the formats have to be broadcast in that resolution. Today, there are no networks that broadcast 4K UHDTV images. There also are no disc players that display UHDTV video, nor are there any services that stream video. Netflix announced this week it is working on technology that will stream video for UHDTVs. But even if and when it becomes available, it will require a very fast Internet connection to keep the picture from stuttering. So there are a lot of problems to be worked out before UHDTV becomes the next television standard.
Not that Hollywood and TV manufacturers won't try and push the technology on us. They've been looking for the next big advancement in TVs since high-definition televisions became popular. They thought it was going to be 3D, but so far, that technology has not taken off in theaters or in homes. Manufacturers have to find the next format to entice customers or they won't have new TVs to sell, and Hollywood won't have new ways to sell you yet another copy of "Star Wars."
It will take years before this week's CES buzzword, "4K UHDTV," becomes a reality. So relax and enjoy the TV set you already have.
Now, if manufacturers could develop a TV that displays only good shows and movies, THAT'S something I would buy.
If you have a tech question for Vince, email him at firstname.lastname@example.org, and he'll try to answer it for his column in The Salt Lake Tribune or on its website. For an archive of past columns, go to www.sltrib.com/topics/ohmytech.