The Olympics are just barely over, and you're still probably nursing your sport-scorched eyeballs. Give your mind a break after all that TV. But in just four short years, we'll be at it again. So how will we watch the Olympiad next time?
Visually, the London games didn't change much at all from Beijing four years before, with the exception of 3D—still more a gimmick than a quantum leap (a hilariously small number of Brits cared to watch the BBC's 3D broadcasts). But today, there's some serious TV tech around the corner; the question is whether you'll be able to pay for and feast your nerves upon it when the Rio games begin. Here are our best bets:
You'll still be watching in regular ol' HD
Although we've peeped 4k and 8k super ultra hi-def displays that cram the equivalent of 10 modern TVs into one, there's a big jump between CES and your living room. Basically, don't count on watching the Rio games in all those millions and millions of new pixels.
8k is out of the question entirely—you won't even be able to buy a TV that supports it by then. 4k sets, however, will slowly trickle out over the next several years, available only to the mega-mega-rich that can afford to early adopt a TV that you can't watch anything on. You see, content is the problem. And content is the only reason to own a 4k set—just like it's only worth having a 1080p display if you can watch 1080p movies and shows. And given how few people will be able to pony up for 4k sets even by 2016, it doesn't make sense for a lurching content monolith like NBC to upgrade all of its equipment and overhaul its entire broadcasting system to pipe 4k television into your house. The network doesn't have the most progressive track record, after all—you know which Olympic games were the first to be broadcast in full HD? The last time around, in Beijing.
HD will look better than it ever has before
OLED. Unlike 4k, TV makers have concrete plans to bring the mega-vibrant new display technology into reality. Samsung plans to sell a 55-inch OLED set in South Korea later this year, and Sony's teaming up with Panasonic to manufacture "affordable" OLED sets by 2014. These will almost certainly still be mega-unaffordable at first, but a couple years of lead time could make OLED a feasible purchase for you in time for the 2016 games. And in a city like Rio, you're going to love all that extra popping color.
Streaming online will be fast as hell at home
Around the Beijing games, Verizon was teasing everyone with announcements for 100 MBit/sec download speeds, which seemed insane at the time. Four years later, that's still insane, and the company's not slowing down—300 MBit/sec service is the new hotness. It's not available in most places yet, but in four years it's safe to assume we'll be using an Internet service significantly faster than what we're on now—gigabit, maybe?—which will make things like multiple 1080p YouTube streams of McKayla Maroney's scowl possible on your MacBook Pro Air Touch and iPad 7.
One caveat? Superabundant bandwidth means a crush of people (and all their streaming boxes and tablets) all trying to watch the same stuff at once. NBC clearly underestimated the online demand this year; if it lowballs again in 2016, we could be looking at the same jitter and lag problems we faced this year due to NBC's overloaded servers no matter how fast our broadband is.
And fast as hell on your phone
The plan, as sketched by the telecom powers that be, is to deploy "LTE Advanced" within the next year or two. These will be extremely limited trials to make sure the technology actually works before carriers sell plans and Apple plugs it into the next-next-next-next(-next?) iPhone. But by the time the tech is fully baked, you're looking at 100 MBit/sec download speeds on your phone or tablet, anywhere. Anywhere. Well, anywhere with service—and that's plenty of speed for near-instant tablet 1080p. Four years is plenty of time to make that a reality, although no promises you'll be able to afford the data plan.
You might be watching on Apple HDTV
The only thing that'll make us more certain that an Apple HDTV is in the works is actually sitting down in front of it. And four years is plenty of time for that to become a reality. All rumor-y signs point to a release far before that, meaning we'll be using what's sure to be the best TV interface in history. Siri, which will be your new remote, will work much better by then. Add that to a predictably gorgeous screen, and picture this: you talk to your TV to flip through your favorite events of the Rio games.
What's most exciting though is that if Apple has its way with NBC—which historically, it does—you might be able to ditch your BS cable plan and stream the entire Olympiad through a dedicated NBC app, HBO Go style. This kind of beautiful streamlined ease could be the event that proves just how amazing an Apple HDTV could be.
You'll watch in real-time (but still on NBC)
Ah, yes, here's the rub—NBC has exclusive rights to the Olympics until 2020. So, yeah, that part will still suck, no matter how fast and vivid and pixel-packed our broadcasts will be. But hey, four years is plenty of time to realize you sucked and to fix it. And because Rio shares a time zone with the eastern seaboard, we won't have to deal with those awfully aggravating tape delays.