Tuesday, 9 June 2015

Looking in the wrong direction for the next big TV thing

Stuff Magazine gets the wrong message
I read with a total lack of delight in a techie mag that HDR may be the next big thing for TV. Here's my prediction: no it won't.

The fact is that TV makers are really bad at getting into the minds of the ordinary buying public.

We've already seen that disastrously with 3D TV. It is now being phased out, because very few people actually bought it. Very few people could see the benefit.

Now we've got 4K TV (with a lot more pixels) and HDR (standing for High Dynamic Range) vying to be the next next big thing. And I'm not sure they are going to succeed either.

The benefit of 4K is getting far higher resolution images than the current HD, while HDR, an effect you'll find on most modern camera phones, zaps up the contrast, making it less likely that parts of an image will wash out, though in exchange it can produce some very artificial looking colour palettes with an unnaturally rich mix of colours - it has a tendency to make reality look artificial.

Why am I doubtful? Because for the typical, say, 40 inch screen, most viewers are perfectly happy with the picture quality on an ordinary HD TV. In fact many of us don't even care about using the best of that. I can watch the main channels in ordinary broadcast quality or HD - usually I just watch ordinary because I can't be bothered to scroll down to the HD channels. You can see the difference in picture quality if you look for it, but if you are actually watching a programme or film, you don't notice it.

There is no doubt we needed to get to current basic levels to cope with modern screen sizes. But unless the typical screen size goes up to about 60 inch, we really don't get a lot of benefit from going beyond standard HD, and at current sizes, even that isn't really necessary. The fact that you only notice the HD if it's a bad programme/film, so it doesn't grab your intention and you instead spend your time studying the quality of the image, says a lot for how much benefit it delivers.

I'm not sure what the next big thing is for TV - but I don't think it will be about an even flashier image quality. It's far more like to be about getting the back end right - cracking the integration, for instance, of streaming services like Netflix into the user interface, so you don't have to switch from broadcast to iPlayer to Netflix to Amazon Prime, but instead simply look through what's available across the patch that you've subscribed to.

Sorry, TV makers. But 'Mine is bigger [resolution] than yours' isn't a winning game.

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