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Race to 8K TV is on

TV brands are all rolling-out 8K displays. Even if you don’t want it, the race is real, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK

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It’s the most near-perfect technology ever for watching TV, but there is almost no reason for the average consumer to invest in it. It’s called 8K, and it offers double the resolution of the current high-end, known as 4K, which itself offers twice the resolution of regular high-definition TV.

It sounds incredible, and it is. One has to step right up to an 8K screen, with ones nose almost to the glass, before one can see the tiny grid that makes up the display pattern.  Where HD has 1920 horizontal lines down the TV screen, 4K has 3840, and 8K 7680 lines. When multiplied by vertical lines – HD at 1080, 4k at 2160 and 8K at 4320 – one sees an exponential increase in the number of pixels. These light elements that make up the picture leap from 2-million in HD to 33-million in 8K.

There is one fundamental problem with this dramatic leap in display technology: the world of content has yet to catch up with it. So, unless one has money to burn and an appetite for showing off, there is little point in buying an 8K set – for now.

What it really represents is the TV manufacturing industry demonstrating both its readiness for the content revolution, and its ability to lead in technology. This means that, because a Samsung or LG unveils an 8K unit,  consumers will have their perception of that company’s technology leadership reinforced, and feel more compelled to buy one of their lower-end TVs.

The further reality is that the new cutting edge technology that gets announced today is the mainstream technology three years from now and the entry-level in five to ten years. When the first OLED display was unveiled by Sony at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas a decade ago, a tablet-sized screen would have cost $20 000, or nearly R300 000 in today’s money. Yet, the same technology is now available in large-screen TVs for less than R10,000. A few years on, Samsung and LG unveiled the next big thing, Quantum Dot TV screens, at well over R50,000. Now Samsung’s version, called QLED, and HiSense, with ULED, are available for under R10 000.

In other words, the price of the cutting edge keeps coming down, and each new cutting edge drops in price faster than the one before.

So, when Samsung announced recently that it’s new QLED 4K and 8K TV models will be available at select retailers in South Africa from this month, it wasn’t mere hype.

Samsung argued that the 2019 editions of the Q80 and Q90 feature “Ultra Viewing Angle technology, which restructures the TV’s panels so the backlight passes through the panel with lights evenly onto the screen”.

The Q70, Q80, and Q90 models offer “Direct Full Array technology that uses a panel featuring concentrated zones of precision-controlled LEDs”. These adjust automatically to display deeper blacks and purer whites, delivering dramatically improved contrast.

Users of the Q900 model series won’t have to wait for content to be made in 8K format either. It uses the company’s Quantum Processor 8K to “up-scale” lower resolution content to 8K and optimises audio and video to the specific content on the screen.

In the same way, the QLED 4K models feature Quantum Processor 4K, which up-scales HD to improve brightness, picture quality and sound, based on each individual scene.

Meanwhile, at a Global Press Conference in Andalusia, Spain, last month, the organisers of the annual IFA tech fest in Berlin gave the media a sneak preview of what to expect at the event in September. Top of the list was 8K TV.

Hisense and Skyworth both signalled their intentions to join the 8K TV technology race, but at a far more affordable level than the industry leaders.

Hisense showcased the 74U9E 8K TV, a 75-inch monster that is due to be launched in China this year, and is likely to come to South Africa early next year.

It offers improved contrast and more vivid colours over the previous Hisense U range TV, while sound is integrated, with a subwoofer embedded into the stand of the TV. Like the Samsung 8K machines, the display dynamically upscales 4K content in real time.

At the IFA press conference, Skyworth showcased its 8K TVs via German TV brand Metz, which it acquired last year. The company offers a “premium-affordable” sub-brand called Metz Blue and, startlingly, this low-cost brand was chosen to showcase 8K TV, meaning it will reach the mass market even more quickly than previous high-end technologies.

With Skyworth having brought the first Android-based TV to South Africa last year, it came as no surprise that its new S9A 8K OLED is an Android TV, combining vivid picture colour with Android TV functionality. As Gadget’s Bryan Turner, who attended the event, put it: “Witnessing the 8K and OLED combination was incredible and felt like getting a new set of glasses.”

It supports the latest streaming apps, and can be controlled via the voice-controlled Google Assistant, which is available on most Android phones. 

In short, 8K is on a fast-track to our living rooms, at a speed never seen before in cutting edge TV.

  • Arthur Goldstuck is founder of World Wide Worx and editor-in-chief of Gadget.co.za. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram on @art2gee

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SA’s Internet goes down again

South Africa is about to experience a small repeat of the lower speeds and loss of Internet connectivity suffered in January, thanks to a new undersea cable break, writes BRYAN TURNER

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Internet service provider Afrihost has notified customers that there are major outages across all South African Internet Service Providers (ISPs), as a result of a break in the WACS undersea cable between Portugal and England 

The cause of the cable break along the cable is unclear. it marks the second major breakage event along the West African Internet sea cables this year, and comes at the worst possible time: as South Africans grow heavily dependent on their Internet connections during the COVID-19 lockdown. 

As a result of the break, the use of international websites and services, which include VPNs (virtual private networks), may result in latency – decreased speeds and response times.  

WACS runs from Yzerfontein in the Western Cape, up the West Coast of Africa, and terminates in the United Kingdom. It makes a stop in Portugal before it reaches the UK, and the breakage is reportedly somewhere between these two countries. 

The cable is owned in portions by several companies, and the portion where the breakage has occurred belongs to Tata Communications. 

The alternate routes are:  

  • SAT3, which runs from Melkbosstrand also in the Western Cape, up the West Coast and terminates in Portugal and Spain. This cable runs nearly parallel to WACS and has less Internet capacity than WACS. 
  • ACE (Africa Coast to Europe), which also runs up the West Coast.  
  • The SEACOM cable runs from South Africa, up the East Coast of Africa, terminating in both London and Dubai.  
  • The EASSy cable also runs from South Africa, up the East Coast, terminating in Sudan, from where it connects to other cables. 

The routes most ISPs in South Africa use are WACS and SAT3, due to cost reasons. 

The impact will not be as severe as in January, though. All international traffic is being redirected via alternative cable routes. This may be a viable method for connecting users to the Internet but might not be suitable for latency-sensitive applications like International video conferencing. 

Read more about the first Internet connectivity breakage which happened on the same cable, earlier this year. 

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SA cellphones to be tracked to fight coronavirus

Several countries are tracking cellphones to understand who may have been exposed to coronavirus-infected people. South Africa is about to follow suit, writes BRYAN TURNER

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From Israel to South Korea, governments and cell networks have been implementing measures to trace the cellphones of coronavirus-infected citizens, and who they’ve been around. The mechanisms countries have used have varied.  

In Iran, citizens were encouraged to download an app that claimed to diagnose COVID-19 with a series of yes or no questions. The app also tracked real-time location with a very high level of accuracy, provided by the GPS sensor. 

In Germany, all cellphones on Deutsche Telekom are being tracked through cell tower connections, providing a much coarser location, but a less invasive method of tracking. The data is being handled by the Robert Koch Institute, the German version of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 

In Taiwan, those quarantined at home are tracked via an “electronic fence”, which determines if users leave their homes.  

In South Africa, preparations have started to track cellphones based on cell tower connections. The choice of this method is understandable, as many South Africans may either feel an app is too intrusive to have installed, or may not have the data to install the app. This method also allows more cellphones, including basic feature phones, to be tracked. 

This means that users can be tracked on a fairly anonymised basis, because these locations can be accurate to about 2 square kilometers. Clearly, this method of tracking is not meant to monitor individual movements, but rather gain a sense of who’s been around which general area.  

This data could be used to find lockdown violators, if one considers that a phone connecting in Hillbrow for the first 11 days of lockdown, and then connecting in Morningside for the next 5, likely indicates a person has moved for an extended period of time. 

The distance between Hillbrow and Morningside is 17km. One would pass through several zones covered by different towers.

Communications minister Stella Ndabeni-Abrahams said that South African network providers have agreed to provide government with location data to help fight COVID-19. 

Details on how the data will be used, and what it will used to determine, are still unclear. 

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