At the Best Buy store in North Fayette, a 4K Ultra High Definition home theater display puts the future of television center stage — or at least the future as it’s being promoted this year.
“Over the next couple of years, I think consumers are going to make a major shift,” said Reed Andrews, the store’s Sony Experience Expert. “It‘s going to be a common thing to see people replacing their high definition sets with 4K Ultra High Definition sets.”
For early adopters, the time to buy into the hot new innovations — whether it’s 4K Ultra HD, wearable smart accessories or next-generation video games — is ripe as soon as they’re released. But analysts and other industry insiders say the best moment to make the plunge into any new technology might be after consumers see signs it‘s actually going to last.
“Early adopters should keep one foot in reality and set some expectations about how you’re going to use this new product and how you expect it to make your life easier,” said Ben Arnold, a consumer technology analyst with Port Washington, N.Y.-based research firm NPD Group.
At the moment, Mr. Arnold acknowledges the television scene does seem to be moving to mainstream adoption for 4K Ultra HD. The economy of scale — the process where an increase in orders for a product drives down costs for manufacturing, component parts and the product itself — is well underway.
Sizes are also scaling down for the average consumer. Only two years ago, 84-inch 4K Ultra HDTVs that retailed for around $24,000 were the market standard, said Mr. Arnold.
Even if consumers are buying the new sets in increasing numbers, content providers will have to play catch up. Sony sets feature a library of 4K Ultra content available through its streaming services and Samsung has secured a 4K movie streaming deal with Comcast, but little made-for-TV material is currently filmed or broadcasted in the format.
Once content is created, consumers — many of whom jumped on the HD bandwagon only a few years ago — will have to upgrade cable boxes and possibly streaming plans. Netflix has been streaming a handful of movies and television shows using the upgraded technology, but its help center warns consumers they will need an HD Streaming plan and an Internet connection of 25 megabits per second or higher.
Dallas research Parks Associates predicts 4K Ultra HD will take over 80 percent of American living rooms in the next 10 to 12 years, and Netflix guesses the shift will occur in the next five years.
But it would behoove consumers to wait a few years before buying in, said Scott Steinberg of San Francisco tech consulting firm TechSavvy Global.
”Just because something’s shiny and new and is the latest thing out that‘s great but what you really want to follow is will there be television and movies and other content available for them? And if so, when?” Mr. Steinberg said.
That’s not just true for TVs, either. New and cool only go so far.
User comfort and an original sense of purpose are two hurdles blocking wearable technologies such as Google Glass and Samsung’s Gear 2 Smartwatch from mainstream adoption, according to Ethan Rasiel, CEO of Brooklyn, N.Y.-based technology marketing firm Lightspeed PR.
Mr. Rasiel, former communications director for Samsung Electronics, said the industry is headed in the right direction by integrating body monitoring functions into the watches and trying to make Google Glass look more like fashion and less like spy wear.
He said both technologies must come up with a ”killer app“ function that clearly distinguishes them from smartphones in order to last.
”No one has ever said ‘Mom I want a wearable for Christmas.’ What does that even mean?“ he said.
If wearables aren‘t this year’s hot holiday item, there‘s a chance that virtual reality gaming could step into the role, said Mr. Rasiel.
The Oculus Rift Virtual Reality headset has been available for developers since last year. A newer version that‘s lighter weight, has higher resolution and reduces the motion sickness and fatigue that sometimes occurs when moving through virtual territories is set to be released this month for around $350.
Consumers can’t buy the Oculus Rift headset yet but Mr. Rasiel said one might hit stores in time for this year‘s Christmas rush. Not to be outdone, both Sony and Microsoft are working on virtual reality products to pair with their gaming systems, although they haven’t set release dates yet either.
Regardless how cool a virtual trip to a Tuscan villa sounds, even the most anxious and wealthy gamers should hold off on the first version of any virtual reality product, said Steve Audia, director of IT at Carnegie Mellon University’s South Oakland-based Entertainment Technology Center. The second version is guaranteed to be better, he said.
And the virtual reality industry still has to prove itself in the world. ”No one has any doubt it will be used for gaming and entertainment but the question is will we ever use virtual reality for anything else?“ Mr. Audia said.
Mr. Rasiel said if a new technology is really a must-have, early adopters should either buy it within the first two months of its release date. That ensures a high resale value and eight to nine months to capitalize on potential deals.
Even that piece of advice came peppered with the caveat that almost nothing is a must-have until it‘s been proven safe and reliable by someone other than a consumer seeking technological bragging rights.
”The very first car — you wouldn’t have wanted to drive that. The very first plane — you woudn‘t have wanted to be a passenger in that,“ said Mr Rasiel.
”Don‘t buy the first version of anything, ever.“
Deborah M. Todd: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1652. Twitter: @deborahtodd