Samsung UN65F9000 580

Today, less than 9 months after the debut of Ultra High-Definition TV (UHDTV), the next-generation television format, industry leader Samsung dropped the price of its  UN55F9000 55-Inch and UN65F9000 65-Inch UHDTVs by $1000 and $1500, respectively. The move follows recent price drops in the same amount by Sony — one of the first manufacturers to bring UHDTV sets to market — for its current 55- and 65-inch models. Toshiba, which has yet to ship a UHDTV to its dealers, posted a $1500 price drop according to an authorized dealer website. More after the break.

Now, instead of paying $7000 or more for a 65-inch UHDTV at a time when there’s no broadcast, cable, or disc content available in the format, you can buy one at authorized Sony brick-and-mortar dealers or Amazon for $5498. In a situation reminiscent of the early days of HDTV, when most viewing consisted of upconverted standard-definition content, TV makers are telling consumers that their respective UHDTVs will upconvert HDTV to the new format.

Why the sudden price drop?

Here’s the real behind-the-scenes story: The cost of manufacturing a UHDTV isn’t anywhere close to the prices that TV makers are currently charging. Along with premium pricing and a lack of available content, the required transmission standards for UHDTV aren’t yet in place. Also, the current-generation digital interface found on new UHDTVs, called HDMI 1.4b, can’t handle signals in the 60 frames-per-second rate used by existing HDTVs. (The next generation of HDMI chips that would make this possible and are expected to arrive in early 2014.) And even if you get to see a movie in the UHDTV format, you’ll need to sit much closer to the screen than the typical 9-10-foot viewing distance in order to see the added detail. (Sony recommends sitting just 3.6 feet from its 55-inch model for an optimal viewing experience.)

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All current UHDTVs use LED-lit LCD panels to produce an image with 4 times as many pixels as current HDTVs: 3840 x 2160 versus HDTV’s 1920 x 1080 resolution. Billing its 55-inch UHDTV as the next step in television picture sharpness, Sony originally offered the new set this past April for $5000, while its comparable-size  KDL-55W900A regular HDTV sells for $2299 (read our review). Aside from the resolution boost, the only major addition found on the UHDTV is bigger, more powerful attached stereo speakers.

With high prices and no content, the new format is already struggling for market share. UHDTV is clearly too premature and expensive to encourage even higher-end TV buyers to make the leap. Unless you are the type who flies on private jets, or an early adopter who insists on having the latest TV format even before it’s ready for primetime, you can probably understand why consumers are not yet treating UHDTV like the next-gen iPad or the smartphone-of-the-month.

Not only are UHDTV transmission standards yet to be implemented, but the only movies available in the new format are from Sony, which is offering a $700 device called a Media Player to download titles and play them. How many movies can you get today? A whopping 10, with around 100 expected by this Christmas. Want to buy a Samsung, LG, or Toshiba UHDTV instead? Sorry, but Sony decided to make its Media Player  proprietary, therefore limiting those 10 movies to the buyers of its 55-inch XBR-55X900A(now $3998) and 65-inch XBR-65X900A (now $5498).

Our advice: Wait it out. With LG, Toshiba, Sharp, and others planning to soon offer more UHDTVs, we expect to see even further price erosion between now and the Christmas buying season.


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