Lauren Goode

Recent Posts by Lauren Goode

Talking TVs With an Imaginary Consumer at CES

4K. Ultra HD or USD. OLED. 4K plus OLED. 3-D.  

Don’t really know what it all means, do you?

It’s okay. You’re not dumb. You might be well-informed on tech topics. You might even be a member of the tech industry, you might even have been gushing tweeting about these very TVs during CES press conferences this week. And still you might not be able to decipher that jumble of letters and numbers.

Certainly the latest spate of acronyms spouting out of the mouths of TV makers is enough to confuse a potential customer. So after hearing a few different electronics manufacturers tout an arsenal of new super-duper high-def TVs over the past couple days, I tried to imagine what a conversation with that average consumer would entail:

Hey, Lauren! I’m looking to buy a new TV this year, and was wondering about all these new super-duper high-def ones, or one of those OLED TVs. Any recommendations?

Hi. I’m glad you asked, although I’m not an expert on TVs. Like many people, I buy a new TV only once every seven or eight years or so. That said, I do follow these products and trends for my job, so I might be able to answer some of your questions.

Cool. So what’s this 4K stuff I’ve been hearing about? Is it the same as Ultra HD?

4K is the same as Ultra HD, or UHD as some TV makers call it. It’s basically a super-high-definition TV display. 4K refers to the number of horizontal pixels, or, nearly four times the now-standard HD display resolution of 1080p.

To get really granular, that means the pixel “density” is greater than it is on a standard HD TV display. TV makers like to say that means there are no gaps in the pixels, because I know a lot of people that sit there watching their HD TVs saying, “Honey, let’s talk. I really think the pixels gaps have become a serious problem.”

Gotcha. I’m hearing a lot about OLED, too. How are you supposed to say that, and what does that stand for?

Some people say Oh-El-Eee-Dee, as you did, and others say Oh-Led. OLED stands for organic light-emitting diode.

Organic, huh? So it’s like organic food … it costs more, and it’s supposed to be better for you?

You’re half-correct. The “organic” light-emitting diodes are made up of a complicated chemical material that is electroluminescent, meaning that the material itself is what’s giving off the light (unlike backlit TVs, in which the light is shining from behind the screen).

Do these TV screens really look that much better than my HD TV?

Well, OLED TVs are supposed to offer better contrast in colors on the screen. They’re also supposed to have better viewing angles, so if you have multiple people sitting in your living room, everyone will get the same picture quality, without any shadows. Then again, if your friends are the kind of people that come over and complain about bad viewing angles while they eat your food and drink your beer, you might want to get new friends before you get a new TV.

Ultra HD TVs make everything look super crisp, and sometimes even give the illusion of depth without 3-D technology. Ultra HD TVs look a little bit like living picture windows — especially when you’re watching the endless loop of lush green scenery, ski slopes, seaside villas and bubbling waterfalls that the manufacturers are showing on the screens right now.

Can I get a TV that’s both 4K and OLED?

It’s technically possible. At CES this week, Sony Electronics showed off a prototype TV set that claims both features. But that TV set also had, shall we say, technical glitches on stage. So there’s still some work to be done.

What about 3-D?

What about it?

That’s all I’ve been hearing about before this, it seems.

Right. TV makers were making a big 3-D push at CES just a few years ago, thinking that was the best way to sell TVs. It wasn’t, as it not-so-suprisingly turned out. But 3-D hasn’t gone away; it’s now more of an ancillary feature with TVs. So, “smart” Internet connected TVs, and now these beauty-queen displays, are supposed to be all the rage, and 3-D just happens to come along with some sets.

Will I still need to wear those dorky glasses if I get a TV with 3-D?


I’ll stick with 4K, then. Will I have to take out a second mortgage on my house to finance one of these TVs? 

It depends on how much your house is worth. But, seriously, these TVs are big and expensive. Remember what HD TVs cost when they first hit the market? It’s like that.

LG Electronics currently has an 84-inch 4K TV on the market that costs $19,999. Sony’s 84-inch 4K Ultra HD TV sells for $25,000. Samsung is promising an 85-inch ultra high-definition TV by this spring, and while the company hasn’t confirmed the price yet, there’s a good chance it will also be in the $20,000 to $25,000 price range.

Eventually, the prices will likely come down, just as they did with HD TVs. Sony is planning to ship smaller models this year that might be more “attainable” as the company said, but that’s all relative. Vizio also has 55-inch, 65-inch and 70-inch 4K models in the works, and Vizio is known for being more affordable than some other high-end TV brands.

If you go the OLED route, you might catch a bargain: LG’s 55-inch OLED TV will arrive in the U.S. in March, and will cost “just” $12,000.

In either case, I’m not a financial advisor, but I wouldn’t recommend you go into serious debt for the sake of a better TV screen.

Hey, I got a loan!

Never mind.

So, I can totally get one of these new sets in time for the Superbowl, right?

Unfortunately, no. It’s safe to say — as with many of the gadgets shown off this week at CES — that these sets won’t become available until later this year or next year.

Case in point: Samsung showed off a dual-view OLED screen at last year’s CES, with the hope of bringing it to market by the end of 2012. That didn’t happen. But it might this year.

I’ll just wait until then. I’m sure there will be plenty of 4K TV shows and movies out by then.

Probably not. Sony said on Monday that it will launch a 4K movie download service this summer, and will offer a few titles sourced from super high-resolution masters, like “The Amazing Spider-Man,” “Total Recall” and “The Karate Kid.” Because you haven’t lived until you’ve seen Ralph Macchio’s high kick in 4K.

But otherwise, this asterisk on LG’s website best sums it up:

*No “ultra high definition” or “4K” content is currently available. No broadcast or other standard currently exists for “4K” or “ultra high definition” television, and the 84LM9600 may or may not be compatible with such standards if and when developed.

You’re such a Debbie Downer, Lauren. Have you ever seen that “Saturday Night Live” skit? Debbie Downer?

Yes. Back when TVs were dumb, and weren’t super-HD. The skit was still funny.


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Another gadget you don’t really need. Will not work once you get it home. New model out in 4 weeks. Battery life is too short to be of any use.

— From the fact sheet for a fake product entitled Useless Plasticbox 1.2 (an actual empty plastic box) placed in L.A.-area Best Buy stores by an artist called Plastic Jesus