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3-D is dead. Long live 4K!

There is a striking similarity between how 4K is suddenly being pushed by the consumer electronics industry, and how those same vendors pushed the now dormant 3-D technology just three years ago.

I’m not making a comparison between the technologies themselves. I just simply see parallels as TV set makers continue to try to drive sales by hawking the next must-have technology regardless of minute benefits. So, why should broadcasters care?

They should care because broadcasters eventually have to deliver matching imagery.

The 2010 CES show was filled with 3-D TV sets and demonstrations. The media went overboard on the benefits and the “wow” factor, and predicted its huge success. The NAB convention followed only three months later, and practically every video booth had some type of 3-D technology demonstration. Were the demonstrated products real? Of course not. Companies had only 90 days to whip up something to show attendees they were supporting the new 3-D bonanza.

This year, you’ll need a magnifying glass to find 3-D at the NAB Show — not because it isn’t being developed, but because no one is buying the technology. Sure, Hollywood and CES want to develop new products; I get that. But, after recently seeing the just-released 3-D version of “Top Gun,” all I can say is, “Wow, film grain looks even better in 3-D.”

So, back to 4K. There’s a building community of support for 4K imagery. And, it seems it may be the next legitimate step in increased image quality. But, let’s be sure we understand where 4K may be applied.

First, 4K and the CES term Ultra HD are not the same. You’ll also see 4K called Quad HD, but Ultra HD is the official CES technology icon for 4K-like imagery. Ultra HD provides 3840 x 2160 pixel images. True 4K imagery relies on 4096 x 2160 pixels. The new CES-labeled Ultra HD TV sets do not accurately display a true 4K size image. But, who’s going to see the difference?

Second, although TV set makers may be moving full-speed ahead, broadcasters aren’t exactly sitting on their hands.

Just last month, CBS used six FOR-A FT-ONE 4K cameras at Super Bowl XLVII. Also last month, Japan announced it will broadcast the World Cup in 2014 in 4K. Even the 2012 Summer Olympics in London were available in 4K at selected public venues, but no DTH broadcasts.

Despite the CES push, and for many practical reasons, 4K may not quickly become the next must-have. The Korean trade publication Chosun Biz says that LG has sold only 300 of its 84in Ultra HD TV sets since its August introduction. Currently, the TV set costs $20,000. We all know prices will drop, but will viewers “see” enough image improvement to part with hard-earned dollars?

An Internet search will provide plenty of stories about the drawbacks of 4K screens in the home. Issues include the requirement for 80in or larger screens and optimum viewing distances that can’t be accommodated in most average living rooms.

Given these unknowns, should engineering managers today even consider supporting the technical requirements of 4K technology when upgrading a facility?

One expert I trust, Stan Moote, VP business technology at Harris Broadcast, says, “There is no reason to be frightened over 4K. Without putting a single 4K feed out to air, broadcasters can embrace 4K technology to improve their build-outs and productions.”

OK, that I’ll buy.

Tell me what you think. Is 4K technology in your future? Is it on your 2013 buying list?

Brad Dick, editorial director