5 Reasons You Shouldn't Buy a Fancy New TV Anytime Soon
Now that American movie theater attendance is at its lowest since the days of Waterworld and Judge Dredd (the one with Stallone), alphabetically labyrinthine home theater products like VOD on 4K 3D UHD TVs can finally reign supreme. The only decision you have to make is which assortment of letters will provide you with the best viewing of Hard Rain that money can buy.
To help, we sent a team to this year's Consumer Electronics Show to find the newest HD innovations in gaming, television, and heinous pornography. Our efforts found that the TVs of the future are less like a technographic wall of blinding progress and more like a Sisyphean mountain of eternal madness.
For Starters, There's a Huge Chance Your New TV Will Be Obsolete in a Year
Back in the days when The Cosby Show hadn't been recontextualized as the opening credits sequence from Se7en, Americans got their entertainment on unspeakably heavy cathode ray tube (or CRT) televisions that received broadcasts using something called NTSC encoding. It was basically a way to streamline how video was recorded and aired by standardizing the format. In the rest of the world this format was called PAL or SECAM -- once again affirming the United States' desire to be its own special little island when it comes to standardized units.
"The Metric system is a fad." -America
Since digital broadcasting took over, NTSC became something called ATSC: an HD standard which was in place right up until 4K televisions showed up, prompting the development of a new standard called ATSC 3.0, which is slated to transition broadcasting around 2016 or 2017. Everybody got that?
For the manufacturers at CES, this means putting out products that could very likely clash with the future system that ATSC lays out -- which is probably why Samsung, Disney, Netflix, Sony, LG, and several other companies used this year's CES event to announce their own content standardization, called the UHD Alliance. Like NTSC and ATSC before it, the UHD Alliance hopes to take 4K and streamline the terminology, technology, and broadcasting for Ultra HD programming. All the major companies coming together to agree on a uniform standard seems great, right? Well, the only problem is that Dolby got the exact same idea, and teamed up with Vizio (currently the largest TV manufacturer in the world) to develop their own completely different standard called Dolby Vision. It is unclear whether all broadcasts in this format will be introduced by Thomas Dolby, so it is our responsibility to assume that yes, they will.
"So if I wear this, I can watch Game of Thrones?"
When asked at CES, a Sony rep told Cracked that only one of their new HDTVs will be compatible with Dolby Vision. Meanwhile, most of the smaller manufacturers expressed concern over the two formats, because it is basically forcing them to wait on the sidelines to see which one becomes the standard. Remember back when you didn't know whether to buy that Fast and Furious box set on HD DVD or Blu-ray? Multiply that by the hundreds of TV manufacturers and raise the consumer stakes by at least $1,000 (the minimal amount you'd have to spend to buy one of these new TVs).
Suddenly it makes the complete opposite of sense to shell out a middle-class child's ransom on a Netflix-supported 4K television bundle (which, incidentally, requires a minimum 25 Mbps Internet connection), because the content available to you is going to be restricted. You're going to get to watch only a few TV shows and films (whichever ones happen to be produced by a company that joined the UHD Alliance). If you want to watch any content produced by a company that ends up backing Dolby Vision, you'll have to buy a completely different television that contains the correct decoder chip and compression. That's right -- you're going to have to own multiple televisions just to be able to watch your favorite movies and shows.
It's Impossible to Tell What the Best Quality Is
Just like how a sports car can go faster than most of us will ever get to actually drive, 4K and 5K TVs are so high-definition that it's impractical to buy anything under 55 inches, and even then you'll notice the difference only if you're standing closer to the television than you would a View-Master. Considering the average home viewer still sits at the same 7- to 10-foot distance everyone did when Johnny Carson was still on the air, you're probably not going to notice anything outside the fact that you just spent an unnecessary amount of money.
"This isn't a snack. Popcorn is the only food we can afford now."
The blunt, unvarnished truth is that we've gone so far with HD that the average consumer simply doesn't need to upgrade their television, at least not until the first holodeck is invented. Television manufacturers clearly know this, as evidenced by the baffling array of buzzwords we heard at CES that were all being used to describe the exact same thing.
For instance, every company showcased a variation of something called "Quantum Dots," which are small crystals that boost color. Sony called them "Triluminos," because holy shit that sounds like life-changing technology stolen from aliens and we need to buy some immediately.
Meanwhile, Samsung refers to their Quantum Dots as "Nanocrystals" and claimed they were better than something called OLED (which is yet another HD LED option, the O standing for "organic," because each pixel has the ability to completely shut off using an "organic compound" in order to achieve a perfect black). LG also has Quantum Dot televisions but insists that they aren't as good as OLED.
There's also ULED, an ultra LED (whatever the hell that means) that also uses Quantum Dots. When we talked to Hisense, one of the smaller TV manufacturers with way less market share at stake to risk by answering honestly, we were told that ULED and OLED are completely identical, despite the fact that OLED costs more. Confused yet? Maybe you should just give up and try Samsung's SUHD TVs, the S standing in for fucking multiple words like "special" and "striking," depending on whom you ask (in other words, it's totally meaningless).
We've got another S-word you guys can use.
So, do all these higher resolutions and Quantum Dots make TV-watching that much better? We honestly have no idea. Every company told us something completely different, focusing on ludicrously named new features we didn't even know had any bearing on viewing experience, while ignoring the dusty, old, boring features like color accuracy, compression, contrast, and motion blur that the viewing experience utterly depends on. It's like buying a half-million-dollar sports car because you're dazzled by its on-board voice-activated MP3 player, only to bring it home and notice it doesn't have any wheels or seats.
Ultra HD Can Ruin Video Games and Sports
Sure, sure -- watching movies and TV shows is only half the reason people buy televisions. Well don't worry, sports fans and gamers, because 4K sucks for you too, only harder and in the worst possible way. You see, the higher the resolution of the television, the longer a signal takes to snake its way through your ill-equipped HDMI cord into the TV's demented robot brain. This creates a huge amount of lag -- up to a full minute for live sports broadcasts through certain set-top boxes.
"Watch your Cleveland Browns on the Cleveland Browns of televisions!"
So, if you go out and drop several paychecks on a brand-new 4K television, you've just handed over a few thousand bucks for the privilege of watching your favorite team score the winning touchdown a minute later than some guy down the street watching the game on a black-and-white television in a failure-stained bowling alley.
This is demonstrably worse if you bought your new TV to play video games -- even though the lag on some units varies by only seconds, that's practically an eternity if you're trying to tomahawk some teenage dipshit in Call of Duty: Black Ops. Buying a 4K TV for gaming can be counterproductive, but there are online lists calculating which HD setup is going to get you less pwned.
HD Is Now Ruining Our Older Shows and Films
Good news, everyone! The Wire is getting a widescreen Ultra HD release! Only, The Wire wasn't actually filmed in widescreen Ultra HD. "Big deal!" you may be bleating ignorantly to your friends. "HD makes everything look better!"
Actually, no. Remember on your VHS copy of Ghostbusters, when Egon is conspicuously absent from the climactic hero shot at the end of the film?
His hair alone broke the aspect ratio.
That's something called pan and scan -- the process in which a widescreen movie is cropped to fit the regular ol' square televisions everyone used to have in their homes. Conversely, everything filmed specifically for television used to be simply shot in that boxy format (that's called a 4:3 aspect ratio). Beloved shows like The Wire and Buffy are now getting widescreen HD re-releases, despite the fact that they were originally filmed in 4:3 to fit everyone's television without the need to crop anything. For the HD versions of these shows, they are having to go in and stretch the images to make them fit widescreen televisions, in a process generally known as "ruining them completely."
"Come on; it just wouldn't be television if Joss Whedon wasn't getting screwed over."
Both The Wire and Buffy are, in essence, getting reverse pan and scans to look more "remastered" and cinematic. Additionally, because neither show was filmed in high-definition, the HD transfers are retouching key post-production filters, resulting in scenes that were supposed to take place during the night suddenly occurring in late afternoon:
"You smell something cooking?"
It doesn't seem too egregious until you learn that the guy on the floor is supposed to be a fucking vampire. On the other side of the coin, the default "smooth motion" function that gives HDTVs their clarity by reducing motion blur during sports and any video with a high frame rate are automatically making older movies look like foggy crap. Newer HD TVs are currently making it difficult to enjoy the shows and films we already love without major tinkering with the settings, like a hover-car that costs entirely too much money and destroys the ground it passes over.
No One Has Any Idea Why They Are Making Curved TVs
As we prowled the halls of the convention center, one unsolvable mystery continuously shrieked within our brains -- what is the point of curved televisions? The more flat-screen and curved units we compared with no discernible difference, the more we began to feel like Hugh Jackman in The Prestige.
We even tried dumping one in a water tank. Nothing.
After a while, we decided to just straight-up ask each manufacturer what the hell the advantage was to watching Mission: Impossible -- Ghost Protocol on a TV that curves inward like a windshield.
According to a Samsung rep, curved televisions "open up 30 percent of the rods in your eyes" to give your brain the sensation of motion the way an IMAX screen does, but they're also perfect for watching in large groups and parties. Not only were we stunned to learn that our eyes contain rods, we were also amazed that the reason a 5,000-square-foot IMAX screen creates a sensation of motion is because it's curved slightly, and not because it completely envelopes your viewing space until you have no peripheral vision to remind you that you're just sitting in a seat and not soaring through the rooftops of Gotham City. A curved TV can "open up your rods" only if you're wearing it like a fucking helmet, which actually makes it very bad for parties, unless everybody is wearing one.
Hisense agreed with this logic while still insisting that curved televisions are great for a personal viewing experience, which is why they're pushing a hybrid curved/flat screen that shape-shifts via a disturbingly creaky motor:
When asked by Cracked if the motor might cause maintenance problems, a rep very quickly responded with, "Yeah, they all come with a warranty. I would suggest extending it."
LG had a completely different yet still resolutely insane response, informing us that curved TVs are better because every part of the screen is at an "equal distance to the eye," which would be possible only if one person was watching it, unmoving, from a very specific position. Finally, yet another LG rep chimed in with the stock response that virtually every company has given: "Movie theater screens are curved, so having a curved TV makes your home viewing experience more cinematic." The problem with that logic is this -- the only reason movie theater screens are curved is to negate the warping that occurs when you project an image over a long distance. The screens are curved to make the image appear flat:
Now everyone can get a clear angle of the hardcore fucking all that hot arm-wrestling leads to.
We helpfully passed along this piece of information to the LG rep, who brushed it off by saying, "Well, if you stand back, you can't even see the curve -- that's how subtle it is." So ... what the hell is the point of the curve?
The only people who seemed to be on the up-and-up were Sony -- when we walked into the Sony showroom, we saw a noticeable lack of curved TVs, so we asked the Sony rep their thoughts about the whole "cinematic" contradiction. The Sony rep shouted a validated "Thank you!" before explaining that Sony has discontinued their curved TVs after finding that they produce "no benefit in picture quality." Considering the number of different yet utterly nonsensical responses we got about curved TVs, Quantum Dots, and the rods in your fucking eyes, it kind of sounds like television manufacturers have no idea what they're talking about and are just tossing out random bullshit that nobody needs until something sticks.
Like 3D TVs. Remember those?
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For more ways the future of entertainment will not be entertaining, check out 5 Movie Trends You'll Start To Hate In 2015 and 6 Futuristic Products for the Biggest Asshole at a Party.