When 4K was still a long way away

Some articles don’t live up to the title. One of my favorite titles of the many thousands of articles I’ve written is BAD NEWS: 70% of folks don’t know “4K” from “Special K”. Yes, it almost ventures into dad-joke territory, but I thought at the time it was a great way to introduce a problem in the home theater world.

In a nutshell…

Back in 2014, consumer 4K TVs had been out for a year or so. They were still incredibly expensive. And, it seemed interest in them was practically nonexistent. A lot of people were turned off by what I call “the whole 3D TV debacle” and had decided to settle on the TV they had for a while.

3D TV debacle?

3D TV has been all but forgotten in recent years but in the early ’10s it was supposed to be “the next big thing.” After massive success in 2005-2009, the TV industry looked to keep the momentum going. People had bought new flat TVs to replace old, and rapidly obsolete, tube TVs. 3D TV was supposed to get them to trade in those nearly-new TVs for something even better.

The problem, of course, was that 3D TV just required too many compromises. There were the glasses of course, which caused headaches for many. There was the fact that 3D TV was half the quality of HD — half the picture went to each eye. And let’s not forget that 3D looked darker than HD because of the glasses.

But mostly 3D was just a dumb fad; with a TV under 100″ there was not real feeling of “being there.” And the average TV in those days was under 40″.

But getting back to 4K…

So many people had completely “turned off” their desire for a new TV that 4K had a hard time with adoption. Despite the fact that DIRECTV rolled out its first 4K hardware in 2015, there was little to no 4K programming. In fact it has only been in the last two years or so that we’ve seen a slight uptick in 4K programming over traditional pay TV.

And so for years I told people not to waste their money on a 4K TV. I finally changed my tune in 2018 when 4K TVs got so cheap that I could say “why not.” And while that’s a pretty limp endorsement for 4K, at least I can say that it’s something I can endorse

The outlook for 4K

It’s finally getting to the point where 4K is starting to take off. I’m not talking about streaming 4K, which at this point in time is practically impossible to tell from HD. I’m talking about real, live 4K. It’s getting easier to find 4K and that’s a good thing.

Having the Super Bowl broadcast in 4K was a big moment. Yes we all know that the production all happened in HD. I’m one of those who was somewhat disappointed by the live broadcast… I thought the colors were flat and the loss of detail was obvious. But it still beat Fox’s 720p presentation by a mile.

I expect to be more impressed by the upcoming 2020 Tokyo Olympics. There’s expected to be a lot of 4K content available and that should make for some exciting viewing.

And of course, if it ever happens, the upcoming ATSC 3.0 standard (also called “NextGen TV”) will allow for true 4K broadcasts over the air and could drive a massive amount of growth in live 4K.

It’s also fairly telling that the last study I could find about 4K awareness comes from 2016. I think that means that enough people are aware of it that there wasn’t even a need to ask.

Good news for home theater fans for sure… although potentially bad news for the folks who make Special K.

About the Author

Stuart Sweet
Stuart Sweet is the editor-in-chief of The Solid Signal Blog and a "master plumber" at Signal Group, LLC. He is the author of over 6,000 articles and longform tutorials including many posted here. Reach him by clicking on "Contact the Editor" at the bottom of this page.