The entertainment and computing industries differ in what is referred to as the two-foot versus ten-foot experience[i]: Users that are two feet away are typing away at their keyboard in front of their computers. When they’re ten feet away they’re watching movies or television. What if there was a new type of experience, based on an evolved viewing habit? What about a lean-back-feet-up experience, where the viewer is five feet from the screen? There are a growing number of users watching entertainment from tablets, mobiles, and computers. Some of those users don’t even have pay-TV anymore. They’re called cord-cutters[ii]. Display manufacturers haven’t yet targeted their products to fit the needs of these consumers. These are people that use their computer display like a TV, computer, and a communication platform – all in one. This is a missed opportunity. Let’s break down why. But before I get into it, let me explain my own setup. I don’t have a traditional living room where a TV sits at the epicenter and a sofa across from it. My living room consists of a computer and a monitor. It’s both my workplace and my place of entertainment. I have a relatively large 30″ monitor, so watching movies ten feet away on the sofa isn’t too bad, but it’s not ideal. I want to upgrade. But the product that I’m looking for doesn’t exist. I’m looking for a display that accommodates a five-foot experience – I want a 48” 4K monitor at 21:9 display aspect ratio[iii].
Why should you invest in a 4K television if there’s no content? It’s the classic chicken and egg dilemma: Buy a 4K TV and wait for content, or wait for content first. Computer users don’t see it that way. They don’t see 4K technology as a TV but as a monitor. So what’s the difference? If the display is a TV, then it’s an entertainment vehicle. When consumers buy a TV with new technology such as HD, 3D, or 4K, they expect to use those features immediately. In the mid-2000s HD movies were promoted around the same time as HD televisions. Blu- ray discs began shipping in June 2006[iv], roughly the time that 1080p monitors were released. Despite only a few titles, there were enough of them to enticed early adopters. With 4K it’s different. There are no Blu-Ray 4K discs, there are no 4K movies for consumers, and TV stations aren’t broadcasting in 4K yet. Lacking content makes it seem like 4K has come to market too early. I write extensively about the readiness of 4K, “Building a Case for 4K, Ultra High Definition Video” [https://dusil.com/2013/07/15/building-a-case-for-4k-ultra-high-definition-video/]. From an entertainment perspective, the release of 4K TVs looks like an industry fail.
On the flip side, computer enthusiasts strive for the fastest PCs, better efficiency, and greater productivity. For these users, a higher display resolution means more desktop real-estate – more windows, widgets, and icons. Higher resolutions beyond HD – some that are as high as UHD resolutions – are found already in monitors, tablets, and laptops. None of those consumers are complaining about the content. If the display is a monitor, then the argument about content is moot. As a monitor, the display is an interface to social media, games, productivity, videos, music, and communications (see Figure i). The big picture (pun intended) is that the computer monitor provides a window to connectivity, interactivity, and content – all in one.
Consumers have been primed for wider displays over many decades – from 4:3 in the middle of the last century, to the popularity of 16:9 at the tail end of the century. Wider screens eventually migrated from the cinema to the home. Today many movie lovers prefer the wider 21:9 screen[v] because it feels more immersive. With a large enough screen the movie begins to wrap around the viewer[vi]. Samsung’s curve[vii] strategy in their larger flat-screen displays capitalizes on that trend. For manufacturers, 21:9 is still quite new. Some displays are beginning to emerge at this aspect ratio, but haven’t yet grabbed enough consumer attention. This may be due to the fact that 21:9 is associated mainly with motion pictures. Case in point – In my video collection consists of around 40% of movies that were filmed at 2.35:1. 50% of them used 16:9 (or 1.85:1), and the remaining 10% – mainly older movies are in 4:3[viii]. So even in cinema, 21:9 doesn’t represent the overwhelming majority – at least in my collection. In television, nearly all programs are filmed in 16:9 displays, so this aspect ratio will likely remain the dominant champion in display technology for the majority of consumers. A UHD screen has a resolution of 3840×2160 – also called 2160p screens (taken from the 1080p nomenclature of HD TVs). A 21:9 screens could use a resolution of 3840×1648 UHD[ix]. This would result in an aspect ratio of 2.33:1, so movies filmed in 2.35:1 CinemaScope[x], or 2.39:1 would fit nicely.
Selling the notion of a five-foot experience requires an assessment of screen size versus viewing angle. There are varying opinions on what is considered comfortable to the viewer. SMPTE[xi] recommends no more than 30° horizontal from the viewer’s eyes to either side of the screen. Some retailers and manufacturers recommend anywhere between 28° and 36°[xii]. THX, on the other hand, considers a viewing angle as high as 40° (Figure ii).
When working two feet away on my 30” monitor, this results in a massive 55° viewing angle. I’m far exceeding the THX recommendation. But it’s not a problem. When I’m working on my computer my eyes are not trying to see the whole screen. I only need to focus on one desktop window at a time (such as when I’m typing this article). For computer users, their eyes only need to concentrate on the window that’s open, which only takes up part of the desktop. Therefore screen that exceeds the THX recommendation for home theatres, doesn’t apply to computer users. Still, it may explain why desktop display manufacturers are reluctant to make computer monitors larger than 34”. Table 1 shows the largest screen that could be accommodated if a 40° viewing angle is maintained at each distance. Leaning five feet back suggests a screen size of up to 48″. At 10 feet away, a much larger 95″ screen could grace the living room. Screen sizes are already approaching and surpassing 100”. Anything over 100″ is compelling for enthusiasts with larger living rooms or custom home theatres. 21:9 also helps with the vertical viewing angle. THX recommends that viewers should not tilt their eyes more than 15° from the horizontal[xiii]. As screens get larger, the vertically narrower 21:9 displays offer a more comfortable viewing angle.
Want Versus Need
If 21:9 takes off, it will likely remain a niche product. Even as a niche play, it’s still a great differentiator for display manufacturers. Companies such as Panasonic, Samsung, and LG are getting squeezed on margins, as prices continue to decline. Even 4K displays will succumb to tight margins as the market matures. Inevitably the market will be taken over by manufacturers that can tolerate thinner margins at the expense of higher volumes. The need to differentiate will be paramount. If manufacturers are listening, here are a few specifications for guidance:
- LCD Technology: IPS (In-Plane Switching)[xiv]
- Bezel: none! Let’s finally get rid of it.
- Screen Aspect Ratio: 21:9
- Resolution: 5K Display (5120 × 2160)
- Integrated Speakers: No! Enthusiasts want a separate surround sound audio experience.
- Inputs: 3 x HDMI[xv]0, 2 x Display Port [xvi], 2x USB[xvii], 1 x 1Gbps Ethernet, BlueTooth, built-in WiFi[xix]
- vSync: at least 120Hz
- Wall Mounts: VESA 100mm, 200mm, and 400mm mounts
- 3D: No one cares!
- Smart TV: Yes, please.
There is a growing segment of society who watch their entertainment via computer. These users are willing to invest in 4K without complaining about the lack of content. Regardless, 4K movies and TV shows will likely trickle to market as we approach the end of the decade. The entertainment industry already sits on a vast library of 4K movies that were digitized years ago, for their Blu-ray release. It’s just a matter of time before consumers get to experience them. In the meantime, there’s no reason to wait.
• Consumers complain that there is no content available to justify the purchase of a 4K TV. But many users already enjoy 4K on their tablets, computers, and laptops. None of them are complaining. At 2 feet away 4K is a display, and at 10 feet away it’s a TV. What if there is a new viewing experience that converges 4K into a single gateway to everything that is gaming, entertainment, and computing? There is a missed opportunity for screen manufacturers – It’s a 4K 21:9 monitor that addresses an evolved viewing experience. The 5-foot viewing experience is the next evolution in display technology.
[i] 10-foot experience, Wikipedia, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/10-foot_user_interface
[ii] Cord-cutting 101, http://www.digitaltrends.com/topic/cord-cutting-101/
[vi] “8K is not the future of TV. We think 21:9 Ultra Widescreen is instead. Here’s why… “, by David Shapton, Redsharknews.com, http://www.redsharknews.com/technology/item/1370-8k-is-not-the-future-of-tv-we-think-21-9-ultra-widescreen-is-instead
[viii] Aspect ratio (image), Wikipedia, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aspect_ratio_%28image%29
[xi] SMPTE, Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineers, Wikipedia, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Society_of_Motion_Picture_and_Television_Engineers
[xii] Optimum HDTV viewing distance, Wikipedia, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Optimum_HDTV_viewing_distance
[xiv] “LCD Panel Technology: IPS, VA, PLS, AHVA & TN Monitors”, http://www.pchardwarehelp.com/guides/lcd-panel-types.php
[xviii] Audio jack, Wikipedia, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Phone_connector_%28audio%29
• About the Author
Gabriel Dusil was recently the Chief Marketing & Corporate Strategy Officer at Visual Unity, with a mandate to advance the company’s portfolio into next-generation solutions and expand the company’s global presence. Before joining Visual Unity, Gabriel was the VP of Sales & Marketing at Cognitive Security, and Director of Alliances at SecureWorks, responsible for partners in Europe, the Middle East, and Africa (EMEA). Previously, Gabriel worked at VeriSign & Motorola in a combination of senior marketing & sales roles. Gabriel obtained a degree in Engineering Physics from McMaster University, in Canada and has advanced knowledge in Online Video Solutions, Cloud Computing, Security as a Service (SaaS), Identity & Access Management (IAM), and Managed Security Services (MSS).
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