Just when you thought it was safe to have a large flat screen HDTV, here comes 4K Ultra HDTV technology. But is this something you need to worry about? If you are buying a new HDTV should you get one now or at least wait for it? How different is it? Let me try to provide some perspective on this up and coming TV technology.
What is Ultra HD TV?
Ultra HDTV is a big step up in picture resolution and technically includes both 4K HDTV and 8K HDTV. To compare it to the picture resolution of 1080p HDTV, which is what we are all used to now, here are the relative resolutions of each:
HDTV = 1920 X 1080 pixel resolution (2,073,600 total pixels)
4K UHDTV = 3840 X 2160 pixel resolution (8,294,400 total pixels)
8K UHDTV = 7680 X 4320 pixel resolution (33,177,600 total pixels)
So you can see that 4K HDTV has over 4 times the resolution of regular HDTV and 8K HDTV is over 16 times the resolution (this is very close to the resolution of 70mm IMAX films). You will definitely notice the improvement in clarity that 4K brings.
Now I am not going to talk about 8K Ultra HDTV (also known as Super Hi-Vision) because although it has been defined it is not really available except in very specialized applications. However, 4K Ultra HD TV has been launched into the consumer market and has the biggest potential for growth, as you will see.
More pixels on the same size screen means you will see a lot more detail and a much smoother and clearer images. Clearer picture resolution is all about the viewing distance to the screen. The better the resolution, the closer you can be and not see the pixel grid. This means with 4K UHDTV you can have a very big screen in a small room, which makes a much more immersive movie experience – the closest thing to being at the cinema in your living room. I have always believed that the best feature for the money in buying an HDTV is “size” (see “what size TV is right"), and 4K will make even bigger screens possible.
So why should you care about 4K Ultra HD?
Another way to ask this question is should I rush to buy a 4K UHDTV right now? Or if I am in the market for a new HDTV should I wait until more 4K UHDTV’s are available at a more reasonable price? Let's see if we can answer these questions.
LG, Samsung, Sony, and Toshiba have all launched 4K Ultra HD sets this year, most of them are very big sets at around 85.” But they are also at very high prices of $20,000 and even more. Smaller sets are starting to come out at more reasonable prices, but compared to 1080p HDTV’s they are still very expensive. Both Sony and Samsung have come out with some somewhat more affordable smaller 4K TV's that are 55" and 65."
But what about Content?
In order to view the clarity of 4K, the content needs to be filmed with a 4K camera or converted to 4K, and there isn’t much of that content available yet. In addition, Blu-ray discs don’t have the capacity to store the data required for a 4K movie. Another problem is that the current HDMI 1.4 cable cannot reliably handle 4K video – especially for 4K TV broadcasts and 4K gaming.
The good news is there is a lot happening to solve these problems in order to provide a lot more 4K content. The Blu-Ray disc manufacturers will agree on a compression standard later this year so 4K Blu-Ray discs will hit the market some time next year. A newer HDMI 2.0 cable will also be available later this year that will work with 4K Ultra HDTV’s. Broadcasters are also starting to gear up with 4K. Some channels in Europe are broadcasting in 4K as well as there are limited trials in the US. The 2014 World Cup Final has already agreed to broadcast in 4K, as are some BBC documentaries.
Sony is also committed to producing a lot more 4K content and has announced launching a 4K streaming device soon. They have come out with a media player that is loaded with 4K movies, and they are committed to converting and producing a lot more. Netflix has also announced it plans to stream 4K content as early as next year with shows like House of Cards and Breaking Bad.
In the cinema world, 4K is already a reality. About 40% of all US movie theatres use 4K Ultra HD digital projectors – that’s 20,000 projectors! This means most new films are either being converted into 4K or being shot with 4K movie cameras. Those cameras are becoming more common for not only movies, but also for TV broadcasters. Some content is here today, and much more is on its way. The bigger issue is distribution - getting it to the consumer.
The current problem with streaming 4K content is the amount of bandwidth required so providers are looking to compress the content without losing quality. The technology is there to do that but no standard has been agree to yet. To some degree it is the same issue with Blu-Ray – the discs today cannot hold a 4K movie without compression and until a standard is established they aren’t being produced. But it is coming!
The Bottom Line
Ultra HD 4K is here to stay, and will become mainstream. LG has already announced that it will be pushing 4K Ultra HDTV as a mainstream product next year, and you will see all the manufacturers moving in that same direction. They are moving that way because there is consumer demand for it, and of course they a new technology to replace HDTV as it brings sales volumes and profits up.
Consumers want it because it creates a noticeably improved cinema-like immersive experience in your living room! A bigger screen with a clearer picture that you can sit closer to is a fantastic improvement! Gaming will look even more realistic and home movies and photos on the big screen will be awesome.
If you are in the market for a new HDTV right now, what should you do? I think buying a 1080p is still a great choice. The prices of Ultra HDTV’s are still very high, and you will see them coming down as more are produced. Content is on it’s way but it will take at least a couple of years before you can take good advantage of the true 4K picture, plus the HDMI 2.0 cables and 4K Blu-Ray discs won’t be available for a little while. The current 1080p HDTV’s are very good value today and will do well for you over the next few years while 4K starts to settle in.
For those early adopters that are willing to pay the premium prices that 4K UHDTV’s command these days, don’t be discouraged if you feel you aren’t necessarily getting the value you expected right away. A lot more 4K content is on its way, and the world is going to catch up with you. Most 4K Ultra HDTV’s come with upscaling which essentially enhances a 1080p image to make it display even clearer on the 4K screen – so you still will be getting a better quality picture with HD content. You guys are ahead of the curve and will have a lot of great viewing enjoyment ahead of you.