Sony showed off movie footage from a standard Blu-ray disc player that had been upgraded on a 65-inch ultra-HD screen and the result was stunningly clear.
The file sizes of ultra-HD movies will only be about 25 percent or 30 percent larger than similar HD files, according to Pete Lude, the past president of the standards-setting body, the Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineers. It's not four times as much data, despite having four times as many pixels as HD, because of advances in compression technology, he said. That means broadcasters won't have to make infrastructure changes to upgrade just a few years after they made huge investments in HD, and that Blu-ray disc standards might be revised without the need for consumers to buy new hardware.
"We want to get it all right in one big standard," Lude said. He pegged the timing for an ultra-HD standard as being anywhere between months and decades away as industry players dispute the merits of different technical specs.
Still, ultrahigh definition may not be as far in the future as you might think. According to research group IHS, about 20 percent of TVs shipped globally in 2017 will measure 50 inches or bigger, up from 9 percent in 2012. And this past holiday shopping season, Americans were much more attracted to these big screens. Flat panels that are 50 inches and bigger saw unit sales rise 46 percent from a year ago, compared with a drop overall of 1.5 percent, according to NPD.
The average screen size of TVs purchased around the world is expected to creep up to 40 inches by 2016, from 22 inches in 1997, according to the Consumer Electronics Association.
More big screens should create demand for a sharper image and more incentive for TV signal providers to start offering a premier service of ultra-HD channels.
But CEA analysts predicted that the high price tag and low availability means ultra-HD TVs will have a slow start.
Ultra-HD TVs are expected to account for only 1.4 million units sold in the U.S. in 2016, or about 5 percent of the entire market, the CEA said. The market share of all sets in the rest of the world is expected to be smaller.
"It's a very, very limited opportunity," said Steve Koenig, director of industry analysis at the Consumer Electronics Association, which officially kicks off CES Tuesday. "It is going to take some time for this market to gain traction as those price points come down."
Could ultra-HD be a passing fad? Possibly. But one advantage it has over other recent innovations is that most people can appreciate increased clarity on giant screens.
Other aspects of image quality that the industry has touted in recent years, like the color vividness of organic light-emitting diode (OLED) sets, can be a matter of taste. 3-D can even make people sick.
Ultra-HD is "the most buzz-worthy thing TV guys will be talking about," said Paul Gagnon, an analyst with NPD. "It has some potential in the future, but it'll remain a niche, high-end business for a while."
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