The resolution war is coming

I wrote an early version of this in response to a Hacker News piece on the next generation of video games.

There is an increasingly clear picture of the future of TV screens. Ever higher resolution.

TV manufacturers are currently delivering quality HDTV 1080P sets in volume and at low prices. Nobody can really get out of a commodity play, and even the largest screens are unable to command premium prices.

The 3D diversion

The manufacturers have been trying to convince us to care about 3DTV, but the 3D gig is up. We collectively just don’t care about the 3D fad. The biggest issue is that we increasingly watch TV alongside other activities, such as surfing the internet, reading or talking. It’s hard to switch in and out of a 3D experience while multi-tasking, whether you use glasses or not. It speaks volumes that the biggest grossing film of the year, The Hunger Games, wasn’t delivered in 3D, and that “available in 3D” is becoming, for me at least, a sign of a truly crappy movie.

The other issue is 3D content and content delivery – there is (thankfully) not enough of the first, and poor means for the second. We are increasingly receiving our TV content over the internet, but even there we can’t see much of anything 3D.

HD Content
Apple and Netflix, at least, are delivering up lovely HD 1080P content already, which matches the highest available TV screen resolutions. It’s an even match between content delivery and TV manufacturers right now, but Apple and Netflix have a huge advantage over time. They are using the internet to deliver content, and end to end internet speeds are on a continuous growth curve. Pretty soon they will be offering much higher resolutions, well beyond the maximum HD resolution of 1080P, and there is no reason to believe this resolution race will stop in the next decade. This time there does not need to be an endless squabble about HDTV broadcast standards, as the delivery will be through IP, and TVs will, just like your computer, be able to accept a variety of input types. They’ll be software and perhaps hardware upgradeable so new video standards can be adopted.

High Resolution TV
To match this content we need ever increasing higher resolution TV screens, eventually delivering an IMAX experience in the home. Later on we’ll see lower prices, touch and eventually iPad functionality on our walls.

Apple is rumoured to be entering the TV market, and we know it won’t be with a me-too commodity product. So why wouldn’t they launch with a higher resolution screen? Why wouldn’t they match the experience of the iPhone and iPad 3? Apple will be able to keep controlling the delivery of media through the Apple TV (built in or not), and, with the iPad already in the lounge, gaming on the higher resolution TV is essentially ready to go. TV manufacturers are surely expecting this.

So get ready for a resolution war, and the players will be the content owners (MPAA), the content delivery owners (Sky, Comcast etc), the ISPs and the television manufacturers. There are a couple of candidates for the weakest link in that mix, but my money is on Apple to be the first to tie it all together in  compelling way. The TV screen has moved well beyond the broadcast era already, and with Apple it could be a seamless extension of the TV, iPad, iPhone and your computer.

Gaming devices
The next generation gaming devices (XBox, PSx, Wii) had better launch alongside new higher resolution TVs (Sony can do this), perhaps higher resolution new movie content and with stunningly detailed graphics. If not we will rightly yawn at their arrival and stick with our computers, iPads and iPhones.

Heck – if Sony, Nintendo & Microsoft continue with their very slow release cycles for the gaming machines, then the next generation of video game devices may well be the last – and we’ll be driving big screen games using iPads and other tablets.

Published by Lance Wiggs


5 replies on “The resolution war is coming”

  1. xbox has been offering 1080p for ages and appears to have a real head start in terms of content partnerships and distribution. Apple can control the hardware but it might be hard for them to control the content for our TVs, and that will surely be crucial for them to gain dominance.

    My money would be on the next-gen xbox 360 to continue Microsoft’s apparently successful assault on the living room, it appears to be gaining serious momentum, but need a faster and smoother experience, given that it’s running on 10 year old hardware.


  2. So true about 3d.

    I don’t believe there will be a TV resolution war in the short to medium term. It was an immensely costly jump to 1080p. I just don’t see that the cost of building a new high resolution (2160p??) broadcast delivery infrastructure could be justified just now. And realistically, my 55″ 1080p TV is sharp enough for me.

    Sky can’t even deliver the existing channel lineup in 1080 let alone consider increasing resolution to subscribers who just forked out $1000+ for a 1080 TV and won’t upgrade for 10 years.

    Non-broadcast and internet media delivery will lead the way to higher resolutions.


    1. > Non-broadcast and internet media delivery will lead the way to higher resolutions. I agree. However the broadcast infrastructure will simply move to an internet connection and servers based in the cloud, which is a lot more easy to upgrade than the cumbersome free to air, cable and satellite delivery mechanisms. While some programs are being shot in HD only, others are using film or use higher resolution kit like the RED cameras. So the early content is there.

      Sky already lose out for me to Apple, who can deliver 1080P movies and TV programs to my TV almost instantly. The only reason to keep Sky, and they know it, is for sports. So how long is it before Apple starts contemplating entering the sports market? They have plenty of cash, and how awesome would it be to have all of our media on-demand, rather than broadcast?


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