Robin Miller: This is Dr. Alfred Poor known to most Slashdot readers as Alfred, and he is an expert on high-definition televisions and televisions in general. Today we’ve rounded him up to talk about televisions and high-definitions televisions. If you’re one of the many people who bought a high-definition television when they first got reasonably priced around five years ago, is it time to look at another TV. Alfred is it? Should we look at new TVs or just stick with what we have?
Alfred Poor: Well, the first thing is getting a lot of attention these days is the new higher definition sets that have come out.
Robin Miller: Right.
Alfred Poor: CES wants us to call them UHD for Ultra High Definition, but everybody is calling them 4K because that stands roughly for 4,000, which is roughly how many vertical lines of resolution they’ve got. In other words, they’re roughly 4,000 pixels across. And that compares to roughly the 2,000 that you have in a standard 1080p television that we have already.
So essentially, if you have a 50-inch 4K display, it’s the same as taking four 25-inch 1080p displays and gluing them together to make a bigger one. So it’s really just a question of having more pixels. There’s a bunch of problems with this; the most important one of all is that there is not all that much content available yet in 4K resolution. There’s tons in standard HD, the 1080p HD resolution.
The movie theaters are using 4K, a lot of stuff is being produced for the movies originally in 4K, but not that much of it is available to consumers. Sony has started by selling a little box that it has some movies in 4K installed in it and you hook it up to the Internet and they’ll be able to download or you’ll be able to buy and download more movies in that resolution, but that’s a pretty narrow stream of content.
The second big problem is as the Sony box demonstrates, there’s not a big infrastructure to deliver this. You can’t get 4K over any cable systems at this point, there may be some experiments going on with satellite, but again your standard channels are coming through in 1080 at best. A lot of cable systems end up compressing the signals so badly that you’re not even getting a good quality 1080 out of it, there’s no way they’re going to be able to send four times that number of pixels and get you a good image quality.
Robin Miller: Mine is giving me a 720p actually, that’s what I get from my cable provider.
Alfred Poor: But again, just like MP3, you can adjust the amount of compressions, and you can squeeze it so hard, you now limit the amount of bandwidth required that you start getting artifacts, and MP3 sounds bad, with some cable systems you actually can see visual artifacts as a result of all the compression.
Robin Miller: I actually can if I’m watching – I live in Tampa Bay Bucs territory, but if I’m watching a better football team that moves faster than Bucs.
Alfred Poor: So delivery of the content is a problem and also storage, I mean we’ve got Blu-ray which can do 1080p, but there’s no 4K Blu-ray definition systems available at this point. They’re in development, but we don’t have them yet. So to buy 4K in order to get the higher resolution and the better looking image while it’s going to be tough to find the source material, it’s going to show you the better image.
Now a lot of people talk about how good the up-scaling is on some of these sets, and that’s certainly true, but Robin when I can give you $2 and you can up-scale it and give me back $8, then I believe in up-scaling.
Robin Miller: And here is the thing though too and another thing, I’m old, I really am, I’m ancient, I get social security, but still, I’m not that old, I have a TV, I have a small living room, it’s not huge, I watch a 42 inch TV from about eight feet away, and I will tell you very bluntly that I cannot personally tell the difference between really high quality, well-shot 480 and 720, I can’t tell.
Alfred Poor: Right, at that distance you shouldn’t be able to, the minimum screen for a high definition – minimum size screen for high definition at about eight feet is it really needs to be 47 or 50 inches before anyone with good eyesight is going to be able to tell the difference. So if you’re not going to get a big enough screen, you’re not going to be able to tell the difference. So if you’re sitting more than five feet away, I mean eight feet away I’d say, and you want to get a 50 inch screen, well just physically you are probably not going to be able to tell the difference between a 4K screen and 1080p HD screen.
Robin Miller: And because of my room layout and the way it’s designed, there is no real room for – before I bought it, I measured it and I said, the maximum I can put here comfortably and look good is a 42 inch. So, you know what the real big difference I see or have with Blu-ray when I get a Blu-ray piece or good high def, sound.
Alfred Poor: Well, there is that, yeah
Robin Miller: I have a – now I don’t have a $1 billion sound set, I have a Logitech front and rear speaker and center, and sub woofer piece that I bought refurbed from Newegg for $40.
Alfred Poor: Wow.
Robin Miller: Yeah, and I have friends come over and say, wow, your home theater thing is wonderful, and the answer is, it’s real 7.1 because I hooked all the wires up and most people don’t.
Alfred Poor: Right, most people don’t. Now the other thing here is the problem with the 4K is again, the majority of people out there are watching DVDs on their HD televisions and think they look great.
Robin Miller: They do.
Alfred Poor: We forget that DVD is old fashion 480p standard definition, it looks so great because it’s digital and eliminates all that analog noise that we get with the VHS tapes, but the fact is that the average consumer is not screaming for more resolution. They’re very happy with the low-res DVDs that they’ve got.
Robin Miller: I’m right there with them, I mean, I’ve gone up, I have a Blu-ray player and I’ve gone up to the redbox thing and I’ve paid the extra for the Blu-ray and a couple of times I’ve gotten the same movie, Blu-ray and DVD, and I brought them and like I said I can’t tell the difference.
Alfred Poor: Yeah, well that – again, with your screen size and the viewing distance, it’s unlikely that you would be able to tell the difference. Now there are somethings about the new TVs that are available now, that weren’t around five years ago that might give you a reason to buy a new one. And one of that is the whole smart TV, Internet connected TV kind of thing.
Robin Miller: You mean like that little Google, little tiny device I have stuck on the back that cost me $40.
Alfred Poor: Right, so a lot of people are adding those functionalities to their existing television with the Chromecast or buying one of the local boxes or Western Digital has got them and lot of people offer these boxes that will add the Internet connectivity, but it gives you access to Netflix and Hulu Plus and Youtube and a whole bunch of kind of online sources that a lot of people want to watch. I know in our house we watch a lot of Netflix and Hulu Plus streamed right to our television.
Robin Miller: Yes, a long time ago a friend of mine in Boston said you don’t have a Wii, you need a Wii and he gave us one as a gift because he had gotten a bunch of those, and so he gave us a Wii, and that gave us Netflix.
Alfred Poor: Yeah, the Wii will do that, the Xbox also is a platform for streaming. It’s funny, some studies have shown that people spend as much time or more watching Netflix and other online streaming content on their Xboxes than they do playing video games.
Robin Miller: We do on our Wii.
Alfred Poor: Which is – well, the Wii is more of a family kind of device in the first place, but it’s
Robin Miller: Well, we’re a family people
Alfred Poor: Right, I know, but I’m thinking a lot of people think of the Xbox as being more of a hardcore gaming platform and yet people are using it to watch a lot of video content as well. So yeah, we do have the option of adding a low cost box to your existing television and getting a lot of that functionality at the same time.
Robin Miller: Well, the Chromecast thing, I’ll tell you and I’m going to do a review shortly for Slashdot of it, and here is a teaser for you folks. It’s nice but it hasn’t changed my life. It hasn’t done much that I couldn’t already do with the Blu-ray, the $85 on sale, whether we buy at Target or something because I don’t even remember Blu-ray little box.
Alfred Poor: Yeah, a lot of Blu-ray players also include the Internet connectivity, so that’s another way you can get it. But again, if you don’t have it through one of those channels, getting a new television is one way to get it. Another reason for getting a new television may well be, especially if you bought one five years ago, is you’ve probably bought one that was too small. And so now today the 47 inch models are from good brands are under $500. I saw a 60-inch set for $800 advertised today. So the really big ones have come down so far in price that if you bought one that’s too small for the viewing distance that you have, you might think about migrating the smaller ones to some place where the viewing distance would be more appropriate or doesn’t matter so much like a guest room and getting yourself a proper sized one for your viewing space.