Whether you’re a casual consumer, an enthusiast, or a journalist, you’d really like this to be true: audio quality improves with Hi-Res (from “high definition”) audio format, which picture enhances with 8K resolution. , which speeds up mobile connection thanks to 5G. Advertising repeats, these technologies force us to make a leap forward. The past strengthens us in this belief: the Internet on a 4G smartphone is undoubtedly faster than 3G. So why doubt the progress brought about by these recent innovations?
first because that you can’t completely trust your feelings. When consumers buy a compatible product and unpack it, they immediately notice the difference… sometimes even when it doesn’t exist. Researchers in Bordeaux have indeed identified a cognitive bias that leads us to prefer foods that are presented as the best. In 2019, oenology students gave an 8 out of 20 to a bottle labeled “table wine” and gave it a 13 out of 20 when covered with a “grand cru” label.
First of all, some technologies seem to have crossed the threshold of uselessness, beyond which improvements no longer bring much to the consumer. The human eye and ear have physiological limitations that these technologies overcome – the improvements made become impossible to perceive.
This applies, for example, to 8K video. They certainly improve the picture by displaying four times more pixels than 4K video and sixteen times more than HD video. But according to the various experts we interviewed, the difference between 4K and 8K is imperceptible, even on a huge 88-inch TV, unless you’re sitting unnecessarily close to the screen. “8K makes no sense” Judge Commer Klein, director of photography in the film industry, teacher and visual perception specialist.
You can also cite Hi-Res music as an example, which undoubtedly contains more musical information in volumetric nuances and overtones. But even here the difference with music in CD quality is imperceptible, except for exceptional hearing, well-born and trained. And once again: for them, the difference is manifested only in certain names and at the cost of high concentration. In 2015, we invited a sound engineer, jazzman, composer and classical pianist to a blind test: none of them could distinguish the tracks broadcast in Hi-Res from their CD-quality equivalent.
5G is a special case. If the long-term usefulness of this speed is already debatable, this new technology is disappointing so far anyway. According to our measurements at the opening of the network in Ile-de-France, almost all smartphone applications were as fast on 4G as they were on 5G. Therefore, we do not recommend it yet, since it is more expensive and less reliable: the connection often breaks in the city center. Criticism we also hear from foreign 5G users, even in South Korea, a country where the network is nonetheless the most developed. It will probably have to wait until 2023 to form a final opinion: by that date, 5G should have stopped relying on 4G network infrastructure to run its own, which should improve response times. Even if no consumer application today is in dire need of it.
If these technologies have reached their peak, this does not mean that TVs and smartphones have ceased to develop. The light peak of televisions, for example, is steadily progressing, and in some cases, images will look more natural. But this progress is slow and hard to explain to the general public, so there are fewer sales than a clear jump from 4K to 8K.
Investments to be profitable
Why do manufacturers persistently advertise technological breakthroughs that do not bring any benefit to consumers? In the mouths of their representatives, the argument often sounds: these technologies are preparing the future. If today their usefulness is doubtful, tomorrow they will allow new applications to emerge. They free the imagination and horizon of inventors.
For example, if 5G improves, it could enable new uses for augmented reality glasses. As for 8K images, “We could use it for interactive video walls: you would have to get very close to them to manipulate them, in which case the sophistication of 8K images would make sense.” ,” says Christopher Nelson, video trainer at the National Audiovisual Institute.
However, these innovations seem decidedly hypothetical. However, to benefit in the very distant horizon, the equipment they need, a 5G subscription or an 8K screen, is very expensive for the current consumer. In the case of Hi-Res music, the discovery is even more stunning: it’s hard to find any futuristic use for it.
Therefore, are consumers victims of a mirage fabricated from scratch by manufacturers’ marketing teams? The accusation makes François Laurent, co-president of the National Association of Marketing Professionals (Adetem) and former head of French manufacturer Thomson, jump:
“The causal relationship is rather the following: the R&D department [recherche et développement] makes very large investments to maintain its technological leadership. The finance department decides to make them profitable by marketing them, and so asks the marketing department to promote a new technology created in the lab. The marketing department is only an executor. »
In addition, the electronics giants are most afraid of a decline in consumer interest: this will lead to a drop in their sales, prices and margins. Even if, as Gartner analyst Ranjit Atwal points out, “There often comes a time when innovation slows down and the market. This is when the product matures. This is what has happened to televisions, which have seen a decline in sales lately.”
As a piece of advice, our recommendation is simple: ignore these technologies. Extending the life of your TV or smartphone will save you valuable dollars that you may be able to invest elsewhere.