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Your next TV: Will it be Ultra HD?

Published: Wednesday, Jan. 8, 2014 11:21 a.m. CDT

LAS VEGAS (AP) — After attempts to hawk 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, and at the International CES gadget show this week, major streaming players Netflix and Amazon said they’ll offer movies and TV shows in the format, and Sharp introduced a relatively inexpensive TV with near-Ultra HD quality.

The moves are meant to coax consumers to pedal faster on their TV upgrade cycles. At the moment, most Americans buy new TVs about once every seven years. TV manufacturers would love 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 TV trend, which quickly eroded into a tech fad in recent years, analysts say Ultra HD may actually catch on. With screens that house four times more pixels than regular HD TVs, Ultra HD is a simple enough upgrade to gain widespread adoption in the next few years. Aside from being visually jarring, 3-D required sometimes 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 that plagued the Blu-ray disc standard.

“You see it, you get it. It’s a big, awesome picture,” said Ben Arnold, a consumer electronics 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).”

In side-by-side comparisons, 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. Although prototypes and demonstration models have been around for years, 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 U.S., with 485,000 estimated this year, according to the Consumer Electronics Association.

Netflix Inc. CEO Reed Hastings made the rounds at news conferences Monday to declare that the streaming video company is working on distributing 4K video over the Internet. Hastings said all Netflix original series are being shot in 4K and that the company is working with studios on formatting movies and TV shows in 4K, with one of the first series being Sony’s “Breaking Bad.”

Both Amazon.com Inc. and Hulu are shooting original series in 4K, and Amazon said it was working with major content producers Warner Bros., Lionsgate, 20th Century Fox and Discovery to make 4K content available.

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