I was feeling pretty cocky back in late 2014 when I proclaimed that 2015 would definitely not be the year of 4K. 4K televisions were too expensive, I said, and despite the hardware being out for three years there was still no programming. Back then, streaming in 4K was years away and we were still a year away from even getting 4K Blu-ray discs. We still don’t have any 4K over-the-air TV.
So what happened?
It’s not fair to say that 4K has been a dud. The technology has been with us since 2012 but it’s just been an a really slow trajectory. Just like high definition, it took years before the TVs were really affordable. Unlike HD though, it’s pretty hard to see the difference when you’re looking at 4K. It’s meant that 4K has been a pretty tough sell.
When will the stars align for 4K?
I would say in most cases we’re not there yet. There’s very little visible difference between 4K and HD when you look at streaming. Streaming video is highly compressed and often suffers when you compare it to video on a physical disc or from satellite. Yet, most people watch 4K on streaming boxes, if at all. DIRECTV’s 4K channels are still the best quality and the best value, but let’s be honest there are only three of them plus some pay-per-view movies. That’s the big problem… none of the major content providers are on board yet.
If we ever see 4K broadcasting over-the-air then we’ll at least have more content, but it’s not going to bowl people over when they see the quality. Keep in mind that the 4K signal is going to be compressed to fit in a space originally designed for a black-and-white standard definition signal. Compression technology can do some magical things but let’s be honest here folks. You won’t see truly pristine, mind-blowing 4K from your antenna. If you do it’s going to take several generations of encoders to get there.
Perhaps the biggest problem for 4K…
…is one that didn’t exist when HDTVs started taking over the world. There’s a whole generation who would rather look at a tiny screen than a big one. That technology exists now and it didn’t even really exist seven years ago. Today there are tons of people who use mobile devices instead of TVs and they’re not looking at quality, they’re looking at content.
But still, I do think there is a future for 4K. It will eventually come. The TVs today are so cheap that you may as well buy one. Internet speeds are going to get faster and that means better 4K quality through fatter streams. It’s going to happen. It didn’t happen in 2015 and it may not happen in 2019, but it’s definitely going to happen.