Will ESPN Lead In UHD As Massive Sets Go On Sale?

Get ready for ESPN UHD? The future of ESPN 3D is still being sorted out. ESPN HD seems to have debuted just yesterday. Now network futurists look to be huddling to figure out what to do about ultra-HD (UHD).

Another TV format that promises to offer transformative, mind-blowing sporstcasts is emerging. With ESPN wanting to stay ahead of consumers, exploring what to do about UHD –- which has four times the picture quality of HD -– would seem to be a necessity.

Bryan Burns, an ESPN vice president, is heading up part of a Consumer Electronics Association working group on how to bring UHD (also known as 4K) to market.

Will ESPN produce the BCS Championship in the format? What about launching an ESPN UHD network by the time Chris Berman’s next contract runs out around 2019?

Certainly, UHD has drawn the attention of NBC Sports. With 3D moving at an adoption rate slower than some expected, NBC Sports chairman Mark Lazarus raised the prospect this week that networks will emphasize UHD instead.



“We will follow, not necessarily lead (in 3D), and we think that ultra-HD is probably the next migration both in the transmission and consumer electronics business,” he said at a Bloomberg Sports Business Summit. 

Several years back, ESPN’s Burns said an impetus for the dive into 3D was a realization that ads for 3D sets would begin appearing on the network. ESPN didn’t want to appear behind the times.

If it follows that pattern again, ESPN may need to move swiftly in UHD -– even if it’s just producing some events in a beta mode. Both Sony and LG plan on launching huge 84-inch 4K sets this fall.

The Sony model retails at $25,000 as pre-ordering started this week. LG’s will cost about $20,000 when it hits the market next month.

Maybe members of the 1% will use some pocket money to pick one up, but clearly not many sets will be sold. The CEA does predict 20,000 will move next year. (Toshiba has launched a model in Japan, which is likely to come stateside soon.)

Even with scant sales, the sets offer Sony and LG an opportunity to brand themselves as cutting edge, so ads may be coming. The idea being: we've got a set with a three-chip, 4K X-Reality Pro picture engine, so clearly the $238 32-inch LCD you'll buy is phenomenal.

By the way, whether TV manufacturers ultimately agree to position the new sets as UHD or ultra-HD or 4K or something else is still to be determined. The CEA working group is looking to come up with a common definition, so people walking into Best Buy ask for the same thing -- be it a Sony or LG.

(The UHD moniker could be at a disadvantage. Boomers and older might confuse it with UHF.)

One of the suggestions why 3D TV has not been an early phenomenon is a lack of content. But that doesn’t square. Consumers just seem lukewarm.

ESPN 3D is 24/7. So is a network from Discovery, Sony and IMAX. DirecTV’s n3D was too, until it cut back due to lack of interest.

Still, if there is a dearth of 3D content, there is practically zero in 4K. Sony did just release a Taylor Swift video in 4K and says broadcast content with the 3840 x 2160 resolution is coming.

If content isn’t produced in native 4K -– a format with roots in theaters -- HD content could be up-converted. Sony might be able to speed things along as the only TV manufacturer with a production studio.

Then, with hardware and content, perhaps Sony will also produce ads in UHD. Reasons for moving so fast in a $25,000-a-set format are unclear. Of course, the picture quality isn't.










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