The real problem with 4K TVs: Where would we put them?

The real problem with 4K TVs: Where would we put them?

Summary: With consumers shunning 3D TVs, the industry is pinning its hopes on 4K, which quadruples the on-screen pixel count. But do consumers have space for 4K TV sets in their hearts, minds, and living rooms?

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2012-08-29_Sony_IFA
Sony CEO Kazuo Hirai reveals a 4K Bravia TV at the IFA show in Berlin. It's about the size of... um, him. Credit: CNET

It wouldn't be CES week if we didn't have a lot of chatter about the piece of consumer electronics that dominates most living rooms -- the TV. This year 4K TVs -- that is, sets with a screen resolution of 3840 x 2160 -- is all the rage.

4K is seen by the TV industry as the next big thing, and the logical follow-on to high-definition 1080p. 4K has roughly four -times the pixels of 1080p, and, in theory, can delivery a much better image.

The TV industry likes the sound of 4K because it means selling consumers a new TV to replace their 1080p TV. People don't buy new TVs as regularly as they buy a smartphone or tablet, so anything that helps drive sales is seen as a good thing. As the industry realises that 3D is dead, 4K is the only new trick they have to offer at present.

To see the benefit of 4K consumers needs screens that are larger than those found on their paltry HD-ready 1080p TVs, ideally in the region on 50- to 55-inches or bigger.

Which brings us to the problem with 4K. It's not the bandwidth requirements, or the fact that Blu-ray doesn't have enough capacity to handle 4K. The problem is a physical one -- most people don't have the space for a TV that big. While a 55-inch TV mighty look small at the at the big box retailer's store, get it home and you quickly find out just how huge it is.

Not only will owners of 4K TVs need a space big enough for the TV itself, they also need enough space in front of the set in order to be able to sit at the optimal distance away from the screen. While advice varies on how far you should sit from the screen in order to achieve the best viewing experience, one thing is inescapable is that as the screen gets bigger, that optimal viewing distance increases.

While there's no doubt a market for 4K TVs, it feels like a niche market, and is likely to have far less appeal than HD-ready TVs did. People making the switch from standard definition to high definition not only got a picture that was noticeably better, they got cool -- and useful -- features such as HDMI ports. While the picture quality of 4K displays is better, the difference compared to 1080p is small, and most will be hard pressed to see an improvement even under ideal conditions. Marginal improvements are unlikely to drive up sales.

My prediction is that the industry is going to have a hard time convincing people that they need -- or even have the room -- for 4K in their lives.

Topics: CES, Consumerization, Hardware

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36 comments
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  • Kind of a strange argument

    I have been selling and installing flat panel displays for a decade. I have never heard someone make the argument that they may be too big! Lol. The 55" to 65" models have dominated sales for me since Samsung first released the 55" LED's. In addition, because of the bezel's shrinking down to virtually nothing, the actual footprint of these devices are much smaller than the older unit's. I recently upgraded a client to a 55" LED from a 50" Plasma and the unit overall was actually smaller, so they jumped it up to a 60".

    Plus, 4K just sounds awesome. "Do you want a 4K TV, or a standard 1080p?" People jump all over that kind of stuff the same way they did with 3D. I would actually recommend people pass on 3D models to save a little, warning that it was kind of gimmicky and really not very practical but still, it was the "new" so they wanted it. Time will tell but if anything will keep sales low, it will be pricing IMO.
    fgains
    • You're only talking to people who have bought a monster TV, then

      "I have been selling and installing flat panel displays for a decade..."

      Having bought such a TV, it's therefore extremely likely that your clients already knew they had enough room. And people without enough room would not require your services.

      "In addition, because of the bezel's shrinking down to virtually nothing, the actual footprint of these devices are much smaller than the older unit's."

      I agree with this. I was intending to replace my ageing analogue 32" with a 40", but then realised that I had room for the reduced-bezel 42".

      But I won't buy touching any larger set because it would look ridiculous in my apartment.
      Zogg
    • "Clients"?

      If you're selling TV's to "clients" and not "customers", then the people you're selling to certainly aren't typical of the mainstream buying public. Obviously folks in the upper 5% income bracket tend to have large homes with larger living areas where they host parties for business associates, etc., and they would be interested in a larger TV that could be seen by 50+ people. And these would be very useful for lecture hall-type facilities in corporate training centers, etc. But those aren't typical CONSUMER home-product purchasers.
      Rick_R
      • What?

        The idea that to be considered a client you had to achieve a certain income level pretty silly. If you read on I talked about 55"-65" TV's which is hardly a lecture hall display. I only sell CONSUMER home-products and my primary "customer" base (hope that feels better) are middle income "average" folks.
        fgains
  • 4K is just an interim measure

    - I'll hold out for 8K !
    Random_Error
  • Most likely 4K blue-ray and 4k streaming..

    Will start to happen, which will then drive the want for that one 4K tv in the house. Heck get that TV down in the 10k or less range with some sports broadcasts that take advantage and I'm all over it. Heck I'll be it shows up in some bars pretty quick.
    Johnpford
  • It'll happen

    When the price drops below $1000 these things will sell like hot cakes ;)

    IMHO comsumers are well conditioned at this point, only the truly "reckless with money" ones will pony up for these screens when they know they'll be 50% cheaper a year or two from now.
    oncall
    • By the time

      that 4K TV's hit $1000, the industry will have moved on to 8K TV's. It never ends.
      shameermulji
      • Exactly

        These are not going to be "mainstream" products until they hit the "mainstream" price point, which for TV sets seems to be under $1000. Much above that and you are in "enthusiast and early adopter" territory. Even people with money are reluctant to fork out more than $2k for a TV set as Pioneer found out.
        oncall
  • What a stupid question...

    I'm sure I could fit a 4K 42inch HDTV almost as easily as my 1080p 42incher. Stupid author! What does resolution have to do with physical size? Nothing. Now he'll argue we should have known he meant 85inchers because who needs 4K in a smaller screen. Your opinion.
    timspublic1
    • What a waste of money that would be.

      Are you sure that you could tell the difference between 4K and 1080p on a 42" TV at your current viewing distance?
      Zogg
      • I never said anything about that

        only commented on the stupidity of the author for not distinguishing.
        timspublic1
        • You're being dull.

          His argument was that to get any benefit out of 4k TVs, you really need a larger TV.

          That said, I don't exactly agree with that argument, but it's certainly valid.
          Aerowind
      • Go to the optometrist. You need glasses.

        Yes. Absolutely.
        tkejlboom
        • And you know this because...?

          There's a chart showing the relationship between viewing distance and the ability to see the benefit of higher resolutions. For example, beyond a certain viewing distance, 1080p become indistinguishable from 720p.

          4K screens have only just started appearing, and yet you somehow feel confident to claim "absolutely" that you can tell the difference between 4K and 1080p at an *unknown* viewing distance?!?!?!

          I strongly suspect that you are talking rubbish.
          Zogg
    • ...

      I have 1080p 47" TV and I kind of regret not buying 55" because I never watch movies on 47" TV. I use 130" projector to watch 1080p movies and the author is right.

      If you really want to enjoy 4k, you don't want 42" TV. Why place Viper engine in a Civic?

      I think upgrading to a 42" 4k TV from 42" 1080p is a complete waste of money. Why not get a high resolution PC monitor with all that money now on 30" if size doesn't really matter?
      klaviste
  • Where would we put them??

    I think the issue is less of a problem today then ever. Especially if a person is willing to mount them on a wall. I live in a apartment and in a common area I know of at least two places I could put one.
    Johnpford
    • Projectors

      My current projector gives a 6-foot (72 inch) diagonal - I could go bigger but lounge room furniture gets in the way. At 1080, I have to get "quite close" to see individual pixels. From the lounge, with my glasses on or off, it's simply a beautiful picture.
      Even if 4K source was available [optic fibre to home? Upscaled Blu-Ray, like DVD?] I'd be hard pressed to see the difference. Someone would need to set up an interesting showroom, to point out [and sell] the difference.
      Alan Campbell
  • 4K TV

    I could just go with 47" 4KTV like I currently have at home. I can easily read text at 1920x1080 up close since my keyboard is below my monitor (literally, I don't look at the keyboard keys while typing). If I look up close, I could see some black squares surrounded by pixels, so since the pixels per resolution is at 96, if I could go with 4K, I could double up to 192 pixels per inch and get crisper text in Kubuntu 12.04. But then I'll need to get me a 4K digital camera in order to take advantage of 3840x2160 resolution.

    47" (46 is okay) is a very great size for my visual impairment. I usually don't look at the very top of the screen, since I have a slideshow of photos took from Epcot at Walt Disney World (only Future World), including Boardwalk, Contemporary, Swan and Dolphin, French Quarters, and others where I favor modern architecture and landscapes with waterfalls and rails.
    Grayson Peddie
  • another reason for low demand

    There is simply no interface to feed this resolution. No movie content and the PC interface is still limited to 1080p. There is no standard computer interface to do 4k yet and these TV sets hit the market too soon.
    danbi