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Ultra High Definition Television (UHDTV, or “4K”) packs four times the resolution of regular HDTVs. Until this week, they also came with ultra high prices.

The first models, introduced late last year, cost $20K-$25K. Samsung is offering an 85-incher for $40K. Sony’s 55-inch UHDTV is $5,000.

This week, Chinese TV maker Seiki (pronounced SAY-key), began shipping a 50-inch UHDTV for just $1,500. At Seiki’s NYC press meeting today they demonstrated it using UHD  content. We got to check it out.

The question on everyone’s mind: How sharp did it appear? It’s so detailed; it’s  more like looking through a window than a TV. Think of it as an iPad Retina screen on growth hormones.

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The low cost TV manufacturer revealed to us how they make a UHDTV (3840 x 2160 resolution) at a fraction of the price of the Korean and Japanese TV makers. The Seiki SE50UY04 uses a Chinese LCD LED edge-lit, 120 Hz panel made by Chiemei (CMI).The Chinese have been pouring billions of dollars into LCD panel factories and the development of super high resolution screens. They have latched onto LCD panel manufacturing and UHD because they can be made in many different screen sizes. The highly touted OLED (organic light emitting diodes) screens have never been demonstrated beyond 56-inches and continue to be delayed due to the inability to mass produce them at affordable prices. Full HDTV Plasmas (1080p) TVs have never been offered in screen sizes below 42-inches, making it unlikely a cost effective 50-inch UHD model can be produced.

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A Seiki executive told HD Guru they will be offering other UHD TVs this year: a 65-inch version in Q3, and a 39-inch version for Q4. These are aimed to to coincide with the expected arrival of the Playstation 4, which is anticipated to play some content in UHD resolution.

The CMI UHD LCD panels are shipped to Seiki’s factory in China where they build the circuit boards, mold the cases and assemble the TVs. To keep costs down Seiki makes all of its TVs very bare-bones. This means no built-in Smart TV features such as Netflix, no video camera for Skype and gesture control, no 3D, and no voice control. Many of these features can be found in LG, Sony and Samsung UHDTVs.

While the lack of features isn’t a huge deal (Roku streaming boxes are inexpensive and excellent), there are also no gamma, gray scale (for color temperature calibration) or color management system adjustments. This is a potentially much larger deal, as these three adjustments can radically affect a TV’s picture quality. We hope Seiki will consider adding these since all are software, not hardware, based and should not add much (if anything) to the cost of the TV.

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Seiki also developed the algorithms needed to upconvert high definition and standard definition content to UHD resolution. They showed us Blu-ray disc content to prove the TVs capabilities.

The SE50UY04 is currently available from Amazon. It is also expected to arrive in the near future at brick and mortar stores such as HH Gregg and Sears, according to a Seiki spokesperson.

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Currently there is no commercially available UHD content. Seiki used a desktop PC with a 4K video card and stock demo footage fed to the TV via a supplied HDMI cable. Sony plans to sell a 4K media server this year; however they say the unit will only work with Sony TVs. The aforementioned Playstation 4 should work with any UHDTV. Satellite and cable are looking into UHD broadcasts, but we don’t expect them to begin until late 2014 or beyond. So why buy a UHD TV now? To be future proof… sort of.  Current HDMI specifications only allow up to 30 frames per second at UHD resolution, precluding frame rates of 60 Hz that are currently employed in 720p HD broadcasts by ABC, ESPN, Fox and others.

For a spec sheet on the SE50UY04 click here

For the Amazon link click Seiki SE50UY04




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