The great experiment with 3D TV is over. There wasn't a single 3D set announced at CES, marking the culmination of a trend that started with the 2013 show, when some vendors began giving up. The writing was on the wall last year when Vizio, which really commoditized HDTV sets, didn't offer any 3D sets that year.
In 3D's place is 4k and now 8k resolution TV. Ultra HD, the formal name for 4k, is rapidly dropping in price, with some sets available for $1,500 or less at Best Buy. They will be under $1,000 by Christmas. And even though there is next to no 4k content, TV vendors are already pushing 8k resolution.
For a little perspective, the current HDTV standard is 1920x1080 resolution with two million pixels. What we call "4k" is 3840x2160 or 4096x2160 with 8 million pixels, which is about four times the resolution of HDTV. The 8k sets have 33.2 million pixels, which translates to 7,680 x 4,320 resolution.
These TVs are not meant for the 24-inch to 32-inch models usually used in bedrooms or waiting areas. The 4k and 8K TVs are for 65-inch and larger screens, since those millions of pixels allow for a larger screen with clearer picture.
There's just one problem: the content. As it stands now, you can get HD programming via cable but the bulk of it isn't even true HD, it's 720p resolution. That's not really a factor in many cases, it's just a reality that cable wires simply cannot handle the bandwidth of a true 1080p image. For example, AT&T U-Verse's DVRs cannot handle more than 4 simultaneous streams.
So how are you going to get content for those 4k and 8k TVs? Well, you cord cutters can forget it. A 4k movie on average is over 20GB, which means an expensive Internet program unless you are one of the lucky few with fiber or Verizon FiOS. DirecTV just launched a satellite that will offer 4k transmissions, which will be great until you have bad weather and the satellite goes out.
The networks aren't going to rush to 4k anyway. Fox Sports exec Jerry Steinberg said that while there will be 4K cameras at the upcoming Super Bowl, there is little chance that the networks would make the move to UHD. "We spent millions going to HD and never got an extra dime from advertisers. … It seems today [that 4K] is a monumental task with not a lot of return," he said at an event held by the Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineers (SMPTE).
There's always physical media. The Blu-Ray Disc Association reportedly has a near-completed spec for the Ultra HD Blu-ray disc, but the bad news is you will need a new player. Existing regular Blu-ray discs won't support it. The spec is expected to be frozen sometime in the first half of 2015, with hope of licensing starting in mid-year. That means Ultra HD Blu-ray discs at CES 2016.
The problem with that is Americans are abandoning physical media at an ever-increasing rate. Video stores have vanished from the landscape, except for Redbox in the supermarket. And the studios are making virtually no effort on DVDs. A decade ago, when I was the editor of IGN's DVD section, we have amazing box sets, like the Extended Editions for the "Lord of the Rings" movies and the "Alien Quadrilogy."
Studios are making no such efforts now. Many movies aren't even being released in high definition. I thought for sure after Kathryn Bigelow won the Oscar for "The Hurt Locker" that her brilliant 1995 movie "Strange Days" would get a Blu-ray release. The regular DVD is horrible. But no. The studios have stopped caring about home video and DVD releases and are making no efforts. Their home video departments have been gutted.
The bottom line is these high resolution TVs really are useless until they get content, and that's not going to happen any time soon. HDTV should serve just fine for the foreseeable future, and you really won't have much of a choice, either.