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    Ultra HD television edging ahead

    LG’s 105-inch curved ultra HD television sets are on display at the International CES, now underway in Las Vegas.
    Jae C. Hong/Associated Press
    LG’s 105-inch curved ultra HD television sets are on display at the International CES, now underway in Las Vegas.

    LAS VEGAS — After their attempts to sell 3-D and OLED TVs fizzled in recent years, television manufacturers are taking small steps toward making a new technology, Ultra HD, more viable for mainstream consumers.

    It’s the first TV format to be driven by the Internet video-streaming phenomenon. At the International CES gadget show this week, Netflix and Amazon are saying they will offer movies and TV shows in the format, and Sharp is introducing a relatively inexpensive TV with near-Ultra HD quality.

    The moves are meant to coax consumers to upgrade their TVs faster. Most Americans buy a new TV about once every seven years. Manufacturers aim to create another wave of buying like the one that sent millions of people to stores a few years ago to upgrade from standard-definition tube TVs to flat-screen HD models.


    Unlike the 3-D trend, which quickly eroded into a tech fad, Ultra HD may catch on, analysts say. With screens that house four times more pixels than regular HD sets, Ultra HD is a simple enough upgrade to gain widespread adoption in the next few years. Aside from being visually jarring, 3-D sometimes required pricey special glasses and gave some people headaches. Because Ultra HD content can be delivered over a standard high-speed Internet connection, it isn’t likely to get bogged down in a format war like the one that plagued the Blu-ray disc standard.

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    ‘‘You see it, you get it. It’s a big, awesome picture,’’ says Ben Arnold, an analyst at NPD Group. ‘‘Consumers will be interested in it as prices come down. Consumers are also moving toward bigger screens. All of this is good news” for Ultra HD.

    Ultra HD is remarkably crisper than HD. It displays richer skin textures, finer details, and less pixelation. The extra resolution becomes more important as consumers spend more money on bigger screens that amplify images.

    But Ultra HD, or 4K, is in its very early stages. The first sets for consumer use didn’t hit the market until 2012, with prices in the tens of thousands of dollars. Only about 60,000 Ultra HD sets were sold last year in the United States, with 485,000 estimated this year, according to the Consumer Electronics Association.

    The lowest-priced Ultra HD TV being sold on today is a 39-inch model from Seiki Digital for $500. The cheapest name-brand manufacturer’s model, a 58-inch screen from Toshiba, sells for $2,750. And LG said this week that it would sell an Ultra HD set as small as 49 inches diagonally, which could bring entry-level prices closer to $2,000 for top brands. Sharp’s new Quattron+ brand, which brings near-4K resolution to sets, will probably sell for about $3,200 for a 70-inch set.


    While such price tags are likely to appeal only to early-adopters, they’re getting closer to prices people currently pay.

    To entice consumers, a handful of companies promise to make more movies and shows for the super-sharp screens.

    Netflix chief executive Reed Hastings said all Netflix original shows are being shot in 4K, and the company is working with studios on formatting movies and TV shows in 4K.

    Amazon and Hulu are also shooting original series in 4K, and Amazon said it is working with Warner Bros., Lionsgate, 20th Century Fox, and Discovery to make 4K content available.

    The emergence of Ultra HD marks the first time a major TV standard is being pushed forward with the Internet.


    ‘‘It’s a chance for the Internet to really shine,’’ Hastings said.

    Downloading Ultra HD files would take speeds of only 15 megabits per second and it could even be done with a Wi-Fi connection, Hastings said. LG’s chief technology officer, Skott Ahn, said 4K content could be streamed with 8 to 15 mMbps Internet speeds.