Who did you call an idiot

Written by Nandagopal Rajan | Updated: Jan 28 2014, 11:02am hrs
You might have noticed that fewer people are now calling the television an idiot box. There is a solid reason behind this shift. The new televisions are anything but idiot boxes. In fact, some of them are as smart as smartphones or even computers.

The past few years have been ones of evolution for televisions, one of the most common gadgets the world over. The fact that they are so common also meant that the markets were saturated by devices that could run for a decade without a need for replacement. Though this showed the manufacturers in good light, they found themselves staring at flatter growth curves. That is when the industry decided to change the paradigm altogether.

First, the screens started getting bigger and flatter, and a lot of people were inspired enough to shift from small, 21-inch CRT screens to large LCD panels. Then, they became smarter and clearer by adding processors and connectivity on Full HD screens. After that, the industry revived 3D televisions and touted them as the next big thing. The next shift came a couple of years back when the world got to see the first 4K, or Ultra HD, televisions with resolutions four times better than the 1080p Full HD screens. These pictures where often better than what the human eye could see, but the televisions where prohibitively expensive and there was no 4K content to play on it.

Since last year, companies like LG and Samsung have been competing to make the screens curved. This is now possible as television screens can be made using more flexible OLED panels. Manufacturers claim these screens are much better for viewers as curved is a more natural vision for the eye.

But despite all the technological advancements, the industry has been struggling to find a stable standard. For instance, despite all the push it could give, people have not really opened their eyes to 3D at home. You cant blame them, for watching the third dimension on a home screen is a headache. Smart TVs are still very expensive, when you can add the smartness with media boxes that cost a fraction. And despite all the advancements in the hardware side, television signals all around the world have not really kept pace with the times, except for the addition of some premium 3D and HD channels.

Incidentally, the brightness of the content has been kept at a very low 100 nits to deliver them on traditional CRT TVs. This is when the new LCD panels are capable of at least 1,000 nits and the human eye is capable of viewing much brighter images, explains explains Mathias Bendull, senior director, Broadcast Business, Dolby Laboratories. The company, usually associated with setting the standards in audio delivery, is now trying to fix this with Dolby Vision. We think this is the wrong way and are working with industry bodies to change the standard to 10,000 nits. We are also working with everyone one in the value chain to enable this content, he adds. Dolby is certain that 3D will take off only if we get rid of the glasses. So it is working with manufacturers to evolve glasses-free 3D TVs. TVs with Dolby Vision and Dolby 3D logos on it could start selling as early as later this year.

However, the big redeemer for the industry was always going to be the clarity of the screen. And in this context, 4K is pretty much the best technology. While it was prohibitively expensive in the first year, a few months back, Sony changed the paradigm by launching 4K televisions for as low as R3,00,000. That is still a steep figure, but remember that until then, the cheapest 4K screens cost four times more. At this rate, it wont be long before 4K becomes the standard screen resolution for hardware and software. Now, however, that is still a few years away as satellites dont have the bandwidth to beam down this content. This is where new services like Intel Media will try and make a difference, delivering ultra high resolution content through broadband. But till then, we have to wait for a clearer picture on how the television is going to evolve.

The author is editor, New Media, Indian Express Group