High end video is disappearing… why is that so troubling?

You just know the person who had this mod living room had an equally tasty open-reel sound system. There might have also been a console television — in color to be sure — and maybe even a quadraphonic 8-track. That’s serious style.

Today, you’re far less likely to be “wowed” by the quality of someone’s lovingly cared-for sound system, and you yourself probably can’t remember the last time that home theater really inspired you. The high end of the home theater market has continued to shrink and considering that 4K TV isn’t really taking off, it’s likely we’ll see even more top-end companies disappearing.

In a recent article, Signal Group Forums member dsiebert asked why it’s such a bad thing when “videophiles” disappear. After all, you can get a sound and video system today for under $1,000 that handily beats the best systems of the 1970s, with thousands and thousands of songs and videos in your pocket or streamed free from the internet. Your TV is orders of magnitude better than the finest tube or projection sets from back in the day… why shouldn’t we just be happy with what we have?

Because we’re not there yet.

Every innovation in video has started with expensive technology — once a VHS player cost as much as a used car, and the first flat panel TVs were over $20,000. It’s only after a new thing has been embraced at the high end that manufacturing advances can bring it to regular folks. The videophile is an important part of the development cycle.

By walking away from the next generation of high-end video, we’re walking away from our own futures. How will we ever get 8K video screens the size of a wall that use a penny’s worth of power a day? How will we ever get projection video that hangs in the air without a visibile screen, or color holograms? There’s so much more that can be done with display technology especially. Audio technology isn’t done either — what about a sound system that focuses on you alone, giving you a rich experience that no one else can hear, without headphones? It’s not impossible, just impossibly expensive right now.

The internet provides us access to more information in a day than our grandparents saw in their lifetimes, yet our window onto that virtual world is annoyingly small, limited to the size we can hold in our hands or put on our desks. Imagine the possible interactions if we could browse the internet in an immersive virtual space? Again, not impossible, just impossibly expensive.

There are some folks exploring the deep reaches of video and audio technology, the aptly named Google Glass Explorers, but they are a small group and so far their world is not terribly desirable to us. Video and audio technology has languished for close to a decade without giving us something new we want to drool over… instead opting for gimmicks like 3D with glasses that do nothing but give us headaches. 4K is a step, but obviously not a big enough one especially without content.

We should all be explorers, all be videophiles, if not in reality at least in our dreams. That’s how the next generation gets the stuff they really want. That’s why it matters.