Ultra HD Premium TV: Pretty, but don't rush to buy

At CES 2016, major manufacturers are spruiking their latest and greatest Ultra HD Premium TVs. There’s some cool technology on display, but that’s not quite the same thing as a compelling reason to buy.
CES 2016 is underway, and as there always are, the big television manufacturers are rolling out their premium 2016 offerings. This time, just like last time, they’re the best TVs you’ll ever be able to buy. Honest. The big manufacturers wouldn’t needlessly hype things, would they?
LG loves its OLED, and is back in the flat panel game.
Samsung still has curves, and it has Quantum Dots too, and a strategy for the Internet of Things that encompasses its 2016 TV range, alongside an Internet-enabled fridge, because some old jokes never truly die.
Sony has really thin TVs, and everybody’s talking HDR (or Ultra HD Premium if you like badges) as the latest and greatest thing that your TV absolutely must have otherwise you may as well be watching TV reflected into a puddle from behind a grimy shop window or something.
Not that HDR, sorry, Ultra HD Premium is that bad, or anything like it. For the right material Ultra HD Premium could bring significant visual punch. As with any TV comparison you’re more likely to discern the differences when panels are side by side, because once you’ve got a single panel in your home spotting comparative detail is much harder.
If you are planning on having multiple Ultra HD Premium-ready TVs in a single room in your home, you’re certainly outside the tax bracket where much of what I’m about to say is going to be all that meaningful, by the way.
The same is true if you’re in that videophile-money-is-no-object space, because, well, by your own definition, money is no object. Go ahead and enjoy your Ultra HD Premium TV.

So what’s the problem?

Here’s the thing, though. For all that these new Ultra HD Premium panels will have excellent display characteristics (or at least should have — CES is a showcase, not an opportunity for anyone to do any in-depth testing), like the TVs that first debuted at CES 2015, they’re going to be frightfully expensive at first.
The Australian arms of these technology giants won’t even say what they’ll cost when they hit local shores, partly because they don’t know, but also undeniably because at the very top end there’s bound to be more than a bit of sticker shock. That doesn’t take too much crystal ball gazing at all to discern.
So they’re good to great Ultra HD Premium panels at prices that are likely to be frightful, at least at first.

Ultra HD Premium: Show us the content!

But that’s OK, right, because all your latest 4K movies will look superb on them.
What’s that? You don’t have any 4K movies? But it’s been a standard for a couple of years now!
Surely Hollywood and the big TV studios have caught up with the latest in display technology?
Quick, rush down to your local purveyor of Blu-Rays and let me know how you get on finding actual 4K quality discs. I’ll wait here while you get frustrated trying to do so.
There are promises for a wealth of 4K titles to make their debut this year, but that wealth doesn’t by my reckoning extend to more than a couple of hundred titles at best.
That’s several years after 4K TVs started being released, too, which means that the content side of the TV market isn’t exactly falling over itself to gear up for 4K production.
Take out the genuinely new releases this year, and you’re also talking “improved” versions of movies or shows you most likely already own copies of.
I’m reminded of a joke that one of my favourite humorous writers, Mark Evanier uses, where he complains that every new format is essentially an excuse to get him to buy Goldfinger again.
Actually, his column around that is well worth your time reading at this link, even though it relates to the shift from VHS to DVD, way back in 2000.
A couple of hundred titles is really just a drop in the bucket, especially when you consider that a lot of viewers don’t bother with physical media at all any more, instead using streaming services.

Oz Streaming services: Plenty of choice, not much 4K

Streaming services are huge and hot in Australia right now, but I can count the 4K capable providers on a single finger. It doesn’t even need to be a complete finger, not that I’m asking for amputation, because nobody’s got a complete 4K catalog of titles.
That sole-but-limited 4K provider would be Netflix.
You can only get you 4K on its most expensive tier.
You can only have 4K for a smattering of its Originals programming.
That really doesn’t matter, though because 4K Netflix relies on you having a fat enough and uninterrupted enough broadband pipe to actually support the 20+GB of files per 4K program.
Hands up if you’ve got that kind of broadband, but not if you’re one of those lucky swines folks who get actual FTTP NBN. Outside that you’ll have to be very lucky. I’m lucky enough to get HFC cable, but 4K is well beyond it once it’s shared around the neighbourhood, and I have very little faith in the ongoing debacle that is nbn(tm) to change that any time soon.
So is a 2016 Ultra HD Premium TV automatically a bad buy?
No — they should still be perfectly capable TVs, and I’m certain that the default Ultra HD Premium rolling content that will no doubt accompany each TV when it loops endlessly on showroom floors will be very pretty, because it always is.
What a 2016 Ultra HD Premium TV will be, however, is an expensive buy, and given that 4K itself is now a couple of years into the market, what’s arguably a better prospect given we’ve still got that dearth of actual material would be a 2015 reasonable brand 4K TV. No, you won’t get a fancy Ultra HD Premium badge with it, but you won’t get the price point either.
Yes, there are even cheaper off-brand models you can buy, but below a certain point you start getting very iffy panels with limited feature sets. Unless you plan on upgrading regularly, a decent brand TV should last you that bit longer, and Australian consumer law tends to agree on that too.
You’ll still get most of the nice upscaling that a good 4K TV can offer, but at a significant discount. When (and if) either enough 4K titles are available or Australia’s broadband significantly improves you’ll still have a very good TV to watch them on, and much more money in your pocket in the meantime.
The other good bit of news here is that by the time CES 2017 or 2018 rolls around, those Ultra HD Premium sets that are cutting edge right now will be remarkably cheap to buy, so if your existing set is doing you proud, you’ll be able to get a very nice upgrade without breaking the bank in a year or two. There might even be some content to go with it by then.
Lead image: Samsung

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