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Tightrope Walking: Defining UHD TV Basics While Pushing Innovation on Better Pixels

by Eric Smith | Jul 25, 2014

This is the year that 4K Ultra HD (UHD) TV sales are set to dramatically rise from the embryonic status it has occupied for the last two years. Sales figures in 2014 are in line with our forecast from a few months ago. Now, trade groups and TV vendors are getting more serious about how to define and promote UHD TV.

Both the Consumer Electronics Association (CEA) and the Steering Board of the DVB Project released guidelines to define UHD TV in the past month, as compared below:






3840 x 2160

3840 x 2160


Aspect Ratio





from 1080p to 2160p



Frame Rate









ITU-R Recommendation BT.709

ITU-R Recommendation BT.709


Color Bit Depth








Both organizations essentially punted on the issue of “better pixels” as the European Broadcast Union (EBU) noted in a recent policy statement. It’s important to note that the EBU is looking to set a robust broadcast standard before any non-test broadcasts have taken place on the continent. Furthermore, there are no TV sets currently being sold which could meet these ambitious goals. Meanwhile, trade groups like the CEA and DVB are concerned with keeping the standards broad enough to sell TVs, build a healthy installed base, and incrementally bring innovation to the market while reaping profit from their massive investments. UHD TV standards will necessarily lag behind real world innovation as a result, and consumer confusion is likely to reign as we consider what else is possible for UHD TV:

  • Frame rates of beyond 60 per second to enable smoother pictures for fast motion scenes such as sports
  • Wide color gamuts to display colors more closely associated with what we see in the real world
  • Extended dynamic range to simultaneously display plasma-quality blackness in one part of an image and bright white in another


Pixel count is an easily marketable number and UHD panel prices have plummeted, allowing for UHD displays to narrow the price gap with their 1080p cousins. From the discussions we have had with major TV vendors, however, they are eager to differentiate their products by touting better pixels.

Case in point, Sony’s July Holiday Showcase in New York last week. Aside from the odd symbolism of a Sony event held inside the “Haier Building,” I noticed more attention from Sony spokespeople on the merits of UHD TV beyond just the pixel count: Triluminous displays that can reproduce colors like “Denver Broncos Blue” or “California Highway Sign Green”; dual control of backlighting and shutters (X-tended Dynamic Range PRO) that allow for a brightness range of up to 3x that of a standard LCD TV; HEVC compression shipping standard on all models to support UHD OTT streams; and, UHD upscaling from 1080p content to address the content gap from linear and physical content inputs.

Their flagship XBR-X950B 65” UHD TV (pictured above) includes all of those features listed above as long as you have $7,999 to spend. That hefty price tag, though considerably lower than six months ago for a similar quality set, is probably why trade organizations are content with defining the basics of UHD rather than pushing for higher pixel quality.

Perhaps when pixel quality is addressed, we will begin to see TV vendors prominently exhibit side-by-side UHD/1080p comparisons and it will be up to consumers to understand the various parameters of UHD TV. Until then, bringing UHD TV prices as close to 1080p TV prices will be the main goal in introducing UHD TV to more mainstream consumers.

Previous Post: Google tries its hand at TV.....again. | Next Post: IFA 2014: It’s all about the curve but don’t forget UHD.

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