TV Goes Too Far: Who Needs Ultra HD?

NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- For as long as I have covered computing, technology and content have been racing one another, with technology winning.

My first PC, bought in 1982, had a green screen like an oscilloscope and could only display letters-and-numbers. I had to buy a brand new Microsoft ( MSFT) Windows '95 PC in 1994 just to display primitive cartoons, run off a CD-ROM.

But technology keeps on accelerating. By early in the last decade it was assumed that you could run video files on your PC, the only limit being the speed of your connection. With broadband, you could download a full screen in real-time.

Now it's common to watch high-definition movies on devices like the Apple ( AAPL) iPad and Amazon ( AMZN) Kindle. The latest movies, in all their glory, download as fast as they display.

But technology has no patience with today, no matter how insanely great, and just as we're getting used to HD, the Consumer Electronic Show in Las Vegas is bringing us something called Ultra High Definition.

Ultra HD specifications were finalized last May and claim to have four times the number of pixels as standard HD sets. Since most people change their TVs every seven years, most now have HD sets and the price of a flat screen set is now down to $364, as The Washington Post reports .

Good news for you, bad news for TV makers like Sony ( SNE) and Vizio. Bad news for chipmakers like Qualcomm ( QCOM) and Broadcom ( BRCM). Technology companies can't sit back just because you're happy. They have go forward, and hope you will follow, to the next big thing, and the next, and the next.

Trouble is, there's little programming yet for Ultra HD. Sony has put 10 of its movies into the format, in order to sell sets and the coming standard, as The Huffington Post reports , but that's about it for now. Still Samsung, Vizio, HiSense LG and Sharp all announced Ultra HD products at this show.

It's a chicken-and-egg problem the industry faced before, with HD, but back then you at least had movies made in the format to fall back on. This time, we're putting in better sets than the studios can supply with content.

If the studios can't save Ultra HD, maybe the Internet can. Maybe game companies can. Broadcom announced an Ultra HD home gateway chip at CES, writes Cnet , along with a new codec for digitizing Ultra HD .

Qualcomm says its new Snapdragon chip for mobile phones can play back Ultra HD video while running your battery no faster than older standards and older phones. Qualcomm CEO Paul Jacobs gave the CES keynote address, covered by CBS.

But here is the problem. As the way content is displayed improves, it costs more-and-more to create good stuff.

Words are cheap, even though they're the raw material for everything else. Radio files cost a little more to produce, video even more, and when you're making an HD movie eight-figure budgets are common, even when the results are terrible.

The half-life of technology keeps getting shorter, as the technology itself gets better. CDs were a thing for almost three decades and DVDs were around for two. BluRay was gone within a single decade and now we're supposed to replace it all for Ultra HD?

Is anyone going to be making good use of this technology before it becomes obsolete?

At the time of publication, the author was long MSFT and AAPL.

This article is commentary by an independent contributor, separate from TheStreet's regular news coverage.