The future of TV: Ultra HD, HDR, Sky Q, quantum-dot and more

Your viewing experience is about to blow your mind

From super-wide screens and 32MP resolution, to TVs that change shape – sit tight, your viewing experience is about to blow your mind…

The humble television is changing fast. Just a few years ago, it was good enough to have a flatscreen TV, but the goalposts have moved. TVs are now smarter – stuffed with apps, Wi-Fi and Bluetooth – much bigger, and often not even fl at. huge-screen and curved ultra HD TVs are already on sale, but there's much more going on that will change the quality, and even the shape, of tVs in the future.

Unstoppable trend

Go look for a curved TV from Panasonic, Samsung, LG or Sony that doesn't have Ultra HD resolution. You can find them, but they're so few that it's obvious the curved TV was just a clever way of getting Ultra HD TVs into our homes. While the curved TV will likely prove a fad, the drift from Full HD TVs to Ultra HD televisions is an unstoppable trend that will, eventually, come to every living room and home cinema. Ultra HD puts eight million pixels on a screen – four times that of a Full HD TV's two million. Think about it in camera parlance; that's eight megapixels to a paltry two megapixels. Why wouldn't you upgrade and, eventually, go even further? Until now,

a good reason has been the lack of available content, but with Netflix and Amazon now offering 4K streaming, and BT Sport Ultra HD now broadcasting in the UK (making it the country's first live Ultra HD 4K channel), that excuse is rapidly slipping.

Next resolution

Wowed by Ultra HD? Don't be – it's a mere stepping stone to an even bigger resolution, according to Japanese broadcaster NHK. Super Hi-Vision (also known as 8K Ultra HD and Quad Ultra HD) takes the resolution up to a staggering 32 megapixels, and its creators want to begin broadcasting it in time for the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo. In Japan, the hype has already begun, with the launch in late 2015 of Sharp's 80-inch Aquos LC-80XU30, an Ultra HD TV that can upscale to Super Hi-Vision, and all for just £9,000! However, even that's just a taster; Sharp has also put on sale a native Super Hi-Vision TV – the 85-inch LV-85001 – for a staggering £86,000. For those who can afford it, the future of TV is already here; but does everyone want – or even know where to put – an 85-inch telly? There are many people in the TV industry and in Hollywood who think the future of television isn't pixels, but colour.

New dynamic

As well as streaming in Ultra HD quality, Netflix and Amazon now offer some content produced in High Dynamic Range (HDR). HDR – something smartphone cameras have offered for years – is about expanding and exaggerating the range of colours on TVs, deepening black levels and contrast, and making objects on the screen more pronounced. The effect is stunning – so much so that HDR will likely become at least as important a selling point for new TVs as Ultra HD resolution. For now, few TVs exist that can handle it (those that do include LG's EF950V and UF9500, and Samsung's JS9500 – all Ultra HD TVs), but spring 2016 will see mass compatibility across all the major brands. As well as being compatible with HDR content from Netflix and Amazon (and from Ultra HD Blu-ray discs, which are due in 2016), these three tellies represent a new attempt at creating a colourful future for TV. But with plasma dead and LED technology rapidly ageing, how will TVs of the future actually work?

Quantum mechanics

You've heard it all before, but OLED TVs are, in our estimation, a gazillion times better than LED TVs. LG's OLED TVs use an entirely different tech to LED; an organic semi-conductor layer lights up when electricity is passed through. Inky black, rich in colour and with not a judder or blur to be seen, OLED's only problem is its high production costs; LG's 55-inch 55EG920V is about as entry-level as OLED gets, at £2,250. The search is on for an alternative TV tech that's just as good as OLED but is cheaper to produce. One option is quantum-dot LED TVs (QLED), LED panels with a thin film of nano-crystals (quantum dots) in between the backlight and the display that increases colour depth. Both LG's UF9500 and Samsung's JS9500 HDR-compatible TVs use quantum-dot panels. What could be more desirable than a TV that sounds like it has something to do with quantum physics? Such is the saleability of quantum-dot TVs in marketing terms that OLED, though awesome, may have to take a back seat to this new breed.

Shape-shifting

If there's one thing about TVs that won't change, it's their rectangular shape, right? Well, while you shouldn't expect sci-fi hologram, circular or olfactory (smell-o-vision) screens just yet, the curved products now being sold by Samsung and LG suggest that TVs are changing shape. The superwide TV is the current front-runner. Philips has experimented with stretched TVs for watching CinemaScope movies (filmed in a 21:9 aspect ratio, rather than the 16:9 we're used to now), with Toshiba offering a similarly sized 'Twitter TV' concept in 2014 that used the bigger screen's extra space to display a social-media feed. Samsung's prototype, a 105-inch CinemaScope LED TV, added a part-time curve (press a button and the screen reverts to being flat), while LG's equally large prototype comes with a 7.2-channel, 150W-rated ULTRA Surround system from Harman Kardon.

Front runners

However, for film aficionados and gamers, there are two brand-new TVs whose tech innovations will be difficult to resist. If you're after the fi nest picture quality possible, the Panasonic TX-65CZ950, a curved 65-inch OLED telly with Ultra HD resolution, is the current front-runner. Though it'll set you back a walloping £8,000, it's the perfect panel to accompany the new Ultra HD Blu-ray players. Gamers looking for the optimum immersive experience might be tempted to opt instead for the Philips 65PUS8901 Razor Slim AmbiLux TV, a 65-inch Ultra HD LED TV that uses nine rear projectors to put a soft-focus extension on the wall of your living room of what's on the screen. In doing so, the image, light and colour flood the room and make the skinny bezel of the TV almost invisible. With innovations like these, the future of TV is bright, colourful and colossal. Just don't expect it to come cheap for a while yet.

How to watch Ultra HD

Who says 4K content is thin on the ground? There's a lot more out there than you think.

Netflix

With TV dramas including House Of Cards, Breaking Bad, Orange Is The New Black and Marco Polo available in Ultra HD quality, Netflix is the front-runner for owners of compatible TVs. It also offers Ultra HD films including World War Z, Star Trek: Into Darkness, The Avengers and Skyfall. As well as paying an extra £2 per month, you'll need to toggle the picture quality to the 'high' setting.

Amazon Prime instant Video

Unlike on Netflix, subscribers can watch all of Amazon's Ultra HD streams at no extra cost, though there is a year's lock-in. Anything available in Ultra HD has a blue stripe in the corner that says so, and that includes TV dramas like Transparent, Alpha House, Mozart In The Jungle, Orphan Black, Bosch and Red Oaks, and films such as Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, Hitch and Philadelphia. As with Netflix, to watch in Ultra HD quality on Amazon you'll need a steady internet connection speed of 25 megabits per second (you can check your speed at speedtest.net).

Ultra HD Blu-ray discs

Who buys discs any more? If you care about availability and picture quality, you should. Netflix and Amazon are far from being the web's ultimate fi lm archive, offering just a few thousand each, while the Ultra HD libraries are small. There's also an issue with quality. Both Netflix and Amazon stream with compression of between 8-15 megabits per second, whereas upcoming Ultra HD Blu-ray discs – due in spring 2016 – promise 82 megabits per second, as well as HDR. For those after the very best film experience, discs certainly aren't dead yet.

BT Sport Ultra HD channel

Broadcasting UEFA Champions League, Barclays Premier League and FA Cup football, Aviva Premiership rugby and MotoGP, the UK's first live Ultra HD 4K TV channel is only available to subscribers to BT's top TV package, Total Entertainment Ultra HD (£15 a month). That means getting the BT YouView+ Ultra HD set-top box, which costs £49 to buy (plus £44 for an engineer to install)

What is Sky Q's fluid viewing?

Although it's centred upon a new set-top box (the high-end version is called Sky Q Silver), Sky Q is something of a home hub for the multi-channel, mobile era. It promises truly fluid viewing; Silver can provide live TV for up to five tellies in the same house, with 12 tuners enabling multiple recordings. You can pause viewing on one TV screen and pick up where you left off in another room, or on a phone or tablet; all your recordings are available via apps to take away. There's a Bluetooth-powered touchpad remote control, and a mini-box that doesn't even need to be connected to a satellite feed.

At launch, it'll be possible to watch your favourite videos from YouTube and stream music wirelessly to a TV using Bluetooth or Apple AirPlay; though it's what's coming next that could make Sky Q irresistible – Ultra HD TV channels for sports, films and more are promised for later in 2016. “We wanted to re-imagine TV so that it's flexible and seamless across different screens, and to put a huge choice of entertainment at people's fingertips,” says Jeremy Darroch, Sky's Chief Executive. Just don't expect a Netflix app.

Liked this? Check out our Hands on: Sky Q review