Just bought a new TV? It's already out of date: HD, 3D, forget it! New screens 15 times sharper will mean the pictures are as clear as real life

There was indignation from many viewers recently when Dean Bell — the foul-mouthed, unemployed 'star' of Channel 4's latest so-called reality documentary, Skint — was shown spending £2,500 of his social security benefits on … a new TV.

But one wonders what Bell's reaction will be to the news that his pride and joy — a 47in high-definition affair that shows programmes in 3D, connects to the internet and uses a 'magic' remote with voice recognition — might be past its sell-by date within a year or two.

Are today's top-of-the-range HDTV sets about to become yesterday's technology? That, at least, is what television manufacturers hope and believe.
Out of date: Jim Royle (Ricky Tomlinson) holding a TV remote controlOut of date: Jim Royle (Ricky Tomlinson) holding a TV remote control

They are putting their faith in a potentially enormous development in TV technology that, they trust, will see millions of us ditch our current sets in order to buy swanky new ones.

Prepare yourself for Ultra-High Definition TV — known as UHD — which delivers pictures so crisp, colourful and realistic that, experts say, we may in future have trouble separating in our memories those things we saw on screen from those that happened in real life.

Gimmicks come and go, but true revolutions in TV do not happen too often. The emergence of colour TV in 1967 was one such step change.

The advent of flatscreen TVs more than a decade ago was another cue for people to upgrade: how many people do you know who still use a big fat cathode-ray telly as their main TV? And then, of course, there was the move from analogue TV to digital.

A few years ago, the TV companies thought they'd found their holy grail with 3D TVs. But that has proved an expensive flop.

If you go into a big TV store today, you will find plenty of TVs that happen to offer 3D — but the idea of wearing silly glasses in your living room has never taken off. (If a telly does offer 3D, it's ranked as attraction number four or five on the shop's checklist of features, just above the one that tells you what sockets are included on the back of the set.)
Ultra HD TVs like this massive 84 inch LG model boast astonishing picture clarity with images that are said to be four times sharper than current high definition TVsUltra HD TVs like this massive 84 inch LG model boast astonishing picture clarity with images that are said to be four times sharper than current high definition TVs

So what is UHD? Why is it different, and what does it mean for our television viewing?

Currently, millions of us watch 'high definition', or 1080HD, television. The picture on such a screen contains around two million pixels, as the tiny dots that make up the picture are known.

Two million pixels might sound like a huge number, but in this day and age it's not that impressive. When you consider that TV screens have been getting bigger over the years — it's not uncommon to see 50 in screens in ordinary homes — the relatively small number of HDTV pixels results in pictures that aren't as clear as the original purveyors of high-definition promised.

But Ultra High Definition stops television looking like television. It just looks like real life — as though the screen were not there and you were simply looking through an open window at the scene.

Later this month, the BBC and Sony will be carrying out a joint experiment at the Wimbledon Championships. Unknown to any but a handful of viewers, the Corporation will be filming some of the action with a set of Ultra High Definition cameras.

These cameras will be taking video containing not two million pixels per screen, but eight million.

The Corporation conducted a similar experiment at last year's Olympics, in partnership with the Japanese public broadcaster: only that time it was experimenting with an even higher definition picture, with more than 33 million pixels —more than 16 times as many as today's supposed 'high definition'.

Meanwhile, Sky has been experimenting, too. Last October, it recorded one of Arsenal's Champions League matches in UHD. And its recent natural history programme about penguins, narrated by David Attenborough, was also shot in UHD.
The big advantage of Ultra HD for consumers is that they can be placed anywhere in the room because the big screens look good even from close up (file picture)The big advantage of Ultra HD for consumers is that they can be placed anywhere in the room because the big screens look good even from close up (file picture)

So what difference do these millions of extra pixels make? Iain Baird is curator of broadcast culture at the National Media Museum in Bradford. Rather brilliantly, he is also grandson of John Logie Baird, the inventor of television.

Iain was one of a select few who were allowed by the BBC to watch the live UHD pictures of the 2012 Olympics as they came in. He says the images were 'astounding'. 'It was like sitting inside the stadium,' he says. 'They only had two or three cameras, and there was no commentary, or graphics, or instant replays, so you didn't get the production values you'd normally get in a sports programme — but the picture quality was amazing.

'The detail was remarkable. You could see individual expressions on every person in the crowd.'

Others, too, speak highly of the experience. Technology expert Steve May, who has been writing about the television industry for 25 years, says it's important to realise the significance of UHD.
Next year's football World Cup in Brazil will be the first major event to be broadcast in full Ultra HDNext year's football World Cup in Brazil will be the first major event to be broadcast in full Ultra HD

'People don't have a real appreciation for what this all means. When you go to a cinema and watch a digital movie projection of a Hollywood film, it was shot at two million pixels. So moving to eight million pixels is going to have a fantastic effect on the way we watch TV.'

He's seen a lot of supposedly must-have technologies, but this, he says, is a real revolution. 'It's a much more photographic experience. The sense of texture is much more pronounced. It's wonderful.'

May says that because the picture is so much more detailed, we may all want much bigger television screens to take advantage of the superior picture.

'At the moment, 50 in screens are quite common, but within a couple of years 70 in will not be uncommon,' he says.

In fact, LG and Sony are already selling sets with 84 in screens. To put that into some sort of perspective, an 84 in screen measures 7ft from the top left to the bottom right. Imagine 6ft 5in John Cleese lying diagonally across your TV, wearing a 7 in top hat. That's how big it is.

May explains that UHDTV works best if you get so close that the image fills your whole field of vision. 'That way, it's all you can see — a much more immersive way of watching TV.'

Baird adds: 'When we watch TV at the moment, we still have to suspend our disbelief — in the sense that we know we are looking at a television, whatever the programme. That effort is part of the experience of viewing.

'But UHD will change that. It will make TV more difficult to differentiate from reality — which will mean that it could become difficult to separate out memories of what we've seen on TV from our memories of real life.'

To some of us, that might not seem like an attractive prospect. There are other pitfalls, too. First, cost. Sony's 84 in UHDTV, which is available now, sells at £24,000. The LG equivalent is £17,000. That's an awful lot of money to spend.
Are today's top-of-the-range HDTV sets about to become yesterday's technology?Are today's top-of-the-range HDTV sets about to become yesterday's technology?

But prices are likely to fall very quickly. When flatscreen first launched in 1997, a 42 in TV cost around £10,000. Now, you can pick up an equivalent telly for as little as £350 — or 3.5 per cent of the original cost.


The 84 inch gigantic screen is almost triple the size of average 30inch large television.

It weighs 14 stone - the equivalent of 6ft5in Olympic Gold medal sprinter Usain Bolt.

Ultra HD picture is four times sharper than normal HD and double that of latest Hollywood films shown in cinema.

10 powerful speakers provide cinema-quality surround sound.

Five pairs of 3D glasses are provided for family to watch.

It can convert normal television pictures into 3D.

Two pairs of split screen glasses allow users to see only one film while TV is split and showing two at the same time.

A voice recognition and motion remote rather than a remote control handset.

Built-in wi-fi allows thousands of movies and shows to be downloaded and played from the internet.

It has Skype allowing video calls across the world.

Video and music content can be streamed onto the television from a mobile phone.

The second problem is more fundamental. If you buy a UHD set today, there is no ultra-high-definition television to watch on it. The BBC and Sky may be filming an event here or there in UHD, but they are physically unable to broadcast the material to the rest of us.

Sure, your new TV will convert the standard HD signal into something sharper, more impressive, but it won't be an ultra-high-definition picture.

It's believed that the Hollywood studios are busy getting big movies ready for UHD formats, but it's unlikely there'll be any UHD programming on TV for at least two years, perhaps longer. And no broadcaster will guarantee its arrival, even in principle.

But the sensible money is on any problems being ironed out — and pretty soon. Why? Because the TV manufacturers desperately need UHD to work.

Some of the biggest names in TV are in a terrible mess financially. Sharp made a loss of £3.5 billion last year, and warned investors that the future of the company could be in 'material doubt'.

Meanwhile, Sony has only just returned to profit after five loss-making years. Incredibly, the company makes more money from its life-insurance business than it does from selling TVs.

Steve May says: 'There's a big drive to get us to want this. There are a number of big consumer electronics companies that have a vested interest in getting us to upgrade our screens, otherwise they'll go out of business.

'And Hollywood wants it to take off, too, so it can sell us all those movies we've bought on video, then DVD, then Blu-Ray, one more time — in UHD.'

If this latest TV revolution is as dramatic as it sounds, we may not be able to resist.
  1. 2013/06/19(水) 12:07:54|
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