Pulling the 4K Trigger on Black Friday

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The fever starts just after Halloween. At first, it’s a vague, nondescript but growing yen. Within a few weeks, the hunger amplifies to a fathomless intensity. But while Thanksgiving is supposed to slake any magnitude of nutritional deprivation, no amount of turkey, stuffing, gravy or Pumpkin pie will satiate this particular craving. I speak of the Voldemort of the consumer electronics world: HDTV sale prices on Black Friday.

To be clear: I have no urgent “need” for a new HDTV. I own a terrific 65” 3D TV that I bought in the summer of 2012. I’ve enjoyed many hours watching Blu-rays, DVDs, HD and SD programming interpreted via its few million pixels. I also purchased a 5 year extended warranty for the monitor, which still has over 2 years of coverage left. So the millisecond the flat screen falters, I can either repair or replace at my discretion. Along with a recently purchased A/V receiver (HDCP 2.2 compliant; more on that in a moment), Blu-ray player and 5.1 sub/sat audio system, I feel fairly confident that I own a home theater whose effectiveness should last for at least another 3 – 5 years. But in the world of consumer electronics, the concept of a “year” has the same malleability as the age old dilemma associated with translating canine years into human years.

A friend once joked that in the world of consumer electronics, a component’s “state-of-the-art” status can be measured in the time it takes for the ink to dry on the credit card draft (back when we signed them in ink).Before you’ve even unboxed your purchase, something newer, shinier and more elaborate is already on the way. I’ve been chasing “state-of-the-art” for over a quarter century, squandering a king’s ransom of personal unsecured credit in a futile attempt to achieve that elusive ideal. I’ve yet to accomplish said Sisyphean goal.

But here we are, in the middle of the 2nd decade of the 21st century, and I have the fever all over again. This time, however, it’s potentially different. Black Friday 2015 may represent the first real economical gateway to owning a state of the art 4K HDTV. The bargains are truly providential. So why am I ambivalent? Because I have this nagging feeling if I pull the 4K trigger now, I’ll just be shooting myself in the foot.

For starters, there’s a trifle disagreement among the CE manufacturers and content providers on how to implement one of 4K’s chief improvements over 1080p HD: High Dynamic Range or HDR. While everyone agrees that 4K must include HDR, some offer plain vanilla HDR and then there’s Dolby Vision’s version. I’m still trying to figure out if there’s a compatibility issue, but apparently so is everyone else. I would hate to find that the 4K TV I just bought will not interpret HDR off 4K UHD Blu-rays, which launch next year. Dolby Vision and Vudu recently announced 4K with Dolby Vision HDR streaming, promising unimaginable picture quality…provided you have one of Vizio’s Reference Series 4K HDTVs replete with Dolby’s proprietary processing. (Prices start at $6K for the 65 inch model and a tidy $130K for the 120(!) inch set.)

On the topic of compatibility, a brief digression: I mentioned a recently purchased A/V receiver. Less than two months old, to be precise. A year ago, I almost pulled that trigger. I held off for mainly economic reasons. Turns out, my patience there was well-rewarded: 4K pass-through apparently requires something called “HDCP 2.2 compliance.” HDCP stands for “High Definition Copy Protection,” the latest flavor of anti-piracy protection. The first HDCP 2.2 receivers really didn’t start hitting shelves until spring of this year. Had I made my purchase eighteen months ago – or Black Friday 2014 — I would already be looking at a dinosaur on my A/V rack.

UltraHD-BlurayAnother conundrum is the depth of discounts. Some 4K UHD TVs – which entered the marketplace as recently as 6 months ago – are now 50% off. If I were buying a car or a washing machine with the same markdowns, my purchase decision would be a no-brainer, signing on the dotted line before I could say “living beyond my means.” But with A/V components, such good fortune can be a red flag the size of Middle Earth. Remember when HD-DVD players dropped to $99? The format went bust two months later. I realize my comparison is not apples-to-apples, but whenever a price drop THAT substantial arrives so soon in an emerging format, my CE senses start to tingle.

So, after much hand-wringing, internet browsing and raw introspection into my very being – and my checking account – I’ve decided to sit out Black Friday 2015, at least when it comes to buying a present for myself. In a few weeks, CES will unveil the newest in electronics, including the next generation of 4K UHD TVs, as well as the packaged media content and players to feed them. Will my resolve be vindicated, or will I continually face palm myself as I stroll down every aisle of the Las Vegas Convention Center? As Filby eloquently mused at the end of George Pal’s “The Time Machine”: “One cannot choose but wonder.”

In the meantime, wishing everyone a very Happy Thanksgiving!

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