When 4K TVs were released ten years ago, they were out of the price range of most people. But these days, 4K TVs are affordable enough that, as of last year, they were in 44% of TV-owning homes.
In new technology, that rate of adoption is accelerating, and Hollywood seems to be having trouble catching up.
The special effects and computer-generated imagery that big-budget films often use are designed with high-definition movies and television in mind. Now that the screens are four times sharper, those same results depend on the level of scrutiny they were not aimed at.
Lane Brown, a columnist for New York magazine, joined Marketplace’s Kai Ryssdal to talk about his new TV and what it will take for Hollywood to step up its game. The following is an edited transcript of their conversation.
Lane Brown: My old HDTV was dead, and I bought a new ultrahigh-definition, 4K TV, four times sharper, and – perhaps irrationally, I expected every film to appear four times. And it wasn’t exactly like that. You know, some things seemed unbelievable. You know, movies like “2001: A Space Odyssey,” “Blade Runner.” Then I watched movies like “The Revenant” and “Godzilla vs. Kong” and Marvel movies like “Avengers: Endgame.” And I found that anything with CGI was not very good.
Kai Ryssdal: All is well. Well, not to pick Leo and “The Revenant,” but let’s pick “The Revenant.” You specifically mention the bear area, right? So, No. 1, establish that very quickly – remind people what the bear scene was for those who, blessed be they, never saw that movie. And so, what happened when you saw it on your new whiz-bang TV?
Brown: Okay, so in the movie, Leonardo DiCaprio plays an explorer named Hugh Glass, who’s kind of, you know, traveling through the modern Dakotas. But it’s the 1800s, and, unfortunately for him, he crosses paths with a group of bears and an angry mother. The bear devoured him. The bear is actually computer generated. It would have been impossible, perhaps, to have a real bear maul Leonardo DiCaprio on camera. And so, in movie theaters—and on my old television—the bear looks photorealistic, perfect. And that sight was absolutely terrifying. On my new TV, however, I expected it to look as good as ever. But I saw that the bear looked soft, a little fuzzy. As it looked, I would say, strangely out of place.
Ryssdal: Okay, so here’s the business model question: Now we have, on the consumer end, 4K televisions, which can be very affordable, especially compared to where they were, you know, 10 years ago, right? One has to think that Hollywood now realizes that we can see things better than they do things, if that makes sense. So how do you make that circle?
Brown: Well, you would think so. Like, suddenly, we have televisions that are four times sharper. And, as you said, they are very cheap. I bought my 4K TV for about $600, which is half of what I paid for my HDTV 13 years ago. But, you know, unusually, Hollywood offers special movie effects in a resolution that is designed to look good on your HDTV. I think eventually Hollywood will find that it will have to provide special effects in high resolution, but it will cost a lot of money. But, you know, they might realize that maybe it’s better to use special effects a little bit more than they have. And, you know, movies that use subtle effects, this problem is not explained.
Ryssdal: It seems that we have raised our own technology.
Brown: More or less, yes. It’s crazy. It’s almost as if Apple’s new earbuds came out, and they cost a quarter as much as they used to, and they let you hear the sound better. And then all the music recorded digitally in the last 20 years didn’t sound good, but all the music recorded on tape and analog equipment – which is kind of designed to match up to this level of review – will sound better.
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