This is a still image grabbed directly from a YouTube video showing off the 4K resolution of the new Sony A7s DSLR camera which was announced yesterday in the US. In case you’re not sure what 4K is, it’s simply a higher resolution than the typical 1080p HD (and 2K) we have now. We’re starting to feel a little sorry for the mainstream camera companies (and tech firms in general), because it’s clear they’re beginning to run out of headroom on new tech, which could cause a problem for their continued ‘growth’.
The first warning shot was the abject failure of 3D, which was supposed to storm the TV and camera market and spark a new frenzied round of consumer purchases. This rejection must have caused quite a few sleepless nights in ConTech Inc head offices, because as we know businesses and profits must grow, and the way tech ensures that is by introducing new stuff.
Which brings us to the now. We currently have probably 3 main contenders for the ‘next great thing‘, including ‘wearables‘, ‘virtual‘ or ‘augmented‘ reality (again) and 4K. Of these, 4K is the probably the best bet for short term success, because it doesn’t need a lot of explaining or hardware upheaval. But it still needs quite a bit of consumer investment, which could still be a bit of a problem.
Lots of reasons were given for the failure of 3D (like headaches, glasses aversion etc) but at the end of the day, the real reason is consumers just didn’t really rate the experience as compelling enough to shell out yet more money to upgrade their kit. This inertia is a real problem when it comes to visual tech, and it’s something which may yet bite the manufacturers.
We recently attended a Sony product showcase at its UK headquarters, and a couple of times during the evening we were approached by Sony execs keen to find out what we thought of the company’s range of new 4K televisions, and we had to be honest and suggest that maybe people wouldn’t be so keen to upgrade their flat screens again so soon, for what looked to be very little content available in 4K format.
That may not have been the story they wanted to hear, but it’s probably likely to play out somewhere like that. The last great consumer tech goldrush was the update to flat screen HD and HD Ready tech (coincidentally also during a World Cup soccer year…do we spot a trend here?), but the transition from clunky old CRT low res was so significant that who could resist the excuse? No-one. Especially when governments started turning off the analog signals anyway.
But this time, as with 3D, we’re back with a situation where there’s almost no television programming available in 4K, the equipment is still very expensive relative to standard HD, and in any case, is 4K resolution really that compelling over 1080p? We would suggest it’s not.
Which takes us back to the new Sony A7s launch, and the launch of other similar products from Nikon et al. One backdoor way to try and encourage consumer uptake of a new format is of course to give them tools to make the content themselves, rather than rely on programming content from the majors. There was a limited attempt to do this with 3D, but the cameras were in the main too exotic for day to day use, so they never took off either. But with 4K, and in particular this kind of mid-range camera launch (the A7s is predicted to be around $1700 retail), the company is probably hoping to start the ball rolling with 4K pro-sumer content in earnest.
Eventually, of course, this resolution will trickle down to low end budget equipment, at which point the sheer momentum of consumer purchases will probably drive adoption, but until that time, and it could be a fairly long time coming, ConTech Inc is going to have to cross fingers and toes that they can survive without the revenues that come with a tech gold rush coming in the door. As we’ve seen recently with Sony’s financial results, this could be a very testing, if not terminally painful period.
[NB Oh..and now the tablet market is reaching commodity/saturation, and the smartphone sector is also similarly almost completely saturated, what next for the tech golden child? Where's the next technology star coming from? Wearables? Probably not.]