What is 4K HDTV – and Should I Care?

What is 4K HDTV -- and Should I Care?Watch out! The aliens are about to attack, and this time in a never-before-witnessed format. “No way,” you say. “I have already committed my hard-earned dollars to the latest and greatest HDTV technology available. In fact, it was just this last spring that I spent my entire tax refund to purchase a new 1080p, 3D-enabled TV with a fast, 240 MHz output. I thought that this, with a Blu-ray player, would more than satisfy my needs and should continue to do so for the next decade. Now, however, I hear that this wonderful technology that I struggled so hard to buy is already on its way out and that there is allegedly a new and better way to watch TV that improves the quality of the video.”

Frustrating? Maybe. But before you run out and get the limit on your credit card increased or start to save for the new 4K HDTV, let’s examine this new technology and see if it will succeed. Remember, don’t underestimate the power that the consumer has over items that are introduced into the marketplace.

This fact has been proven over and over again as the latest and greatest technologies have been introduced. I must admit that even I have fallen prey to some of these great claims to originality only to find out that the majority of the public chose a cheaper alternative, resulting in my purchase being confined to the trash bin. Remember Beta? That was one example of my wanton spending. And then there was four signal radio broadcasting. This technology promised that the receiver I purchased was ready to go and that the quad signal was destined to eventually replace stereo. Needless to say, the technology needed for the quad signal radio to work never materialized.

So, what will happen with 4K HDTV, which promises to increase video quality up to two times the current resolution? In one article, the difference between the standard HDTV and 4K HDTV was said to be an upgrade from the quality of an Apple iPad 1 to Apple’s newest Retina display. For anyone who has seen a Retina-equipped device, you will immediately notice the clarity and color enhancements that it offers.

If, in fact, the 4K HDTV can provide this type of imagery, will it be worth the cost? Let’s take a look. A 4K HDTV would have 4,000 lines across with a resolution of 3,840 pixels by 2,160 pixels. For the average consumer, this means that a 4K HDTV will be similar to viewing a movie on the big screen at a movie theater that supports a digital format. But this is where the best part of 4K ends and the problems for viewing 4K HDTV content begins.

The first problem is going to be for those of us who enjoy watching movies at home since one 4K HDTV movie could require up to 200 Blu-ray discs. For the life of me, I can’t see any home owner storing or agreeing to change that many discs during the course of one movie. While I agree that 200 discs is probably an exaggeration, it has been suggested that even if compression software were used in an attempt to decrease the number of discs needed, the movie would still require somewhere in the vicinity of 50 discs, which is still not a satisfactory delivery system. Over all, this means that discs will not work as a storage medium for this new technology and, until someone devises one that will be more compatible, movie watching is not an option.

Another issue is that, while 4K HDTV would appear to be superior to our current offering of HDTVs, there is no content currently available that is geared to this type of technology. So why do you want something that you can’t watch movies on or that enhances your TV viewing experience? Additionally, one can only imagine the cost of purchasing this new technology which, like any new product, is destined to be cost prohibitive until it is accepted by the masses.

In my opinion, then, despite its better image and superior clarity, most of us would be hard-pressed to justify a 4K HDTV in our living rooms. This means that, if you have recently purchased a new HDTV with 3D content, you can rest secure in the knowledge that your current HDTV will not be obsolete for many more years. However, one can always keep in the back of their mind that this new technology is on the horizon, and will be coming after the money in your wallet once developers can overcome the hurdles and sand traps that are currently keeping it at bay.

After initially publishing this article, Ken Goldstein emailed us this feedback on the 4K HDTV:

Your article today gave me a chuckle. My wife & I were admiring an 80-inch 4K HDTV the other day, when I noticed something peculiar. The feed was standard HDTV (1920 X 1080), but the up-res (upconverting the resolution from 1920 X 1080 to 3840 X 2160) was giving some truly weird on-screen artifacts. In fact, the video was really quite uncomfortable for me to watch for any length of time.

So let me give you some info from a long-time video producer/director/systems integrator standpoint.

First, yes, 4K HDTV will almost certainly be here within a few years. But, second, there is nothing you will want to see anytime in the near future unless you’re a dedicated sports fanatic. Why, you ask? Well, it was just a few years ago when all TV stations were mandated to upgrade their entire studios from analog standard definition (720 X 480) to digital HDTV. I helped with the design of the very first station that got upgraded, KITV here in Honolulu, & let me tell you that it was not an insignificant job!! I won’t go into details, Chris, but just changing out the in-studio & ENG (electronic news-gathering or field) cameras & installing a brand new digital workflow took a ton of time & money – I think something just over $5 million was involved on that part of the project. Do you think that these same stations are now going to jump at the chance to upgrade everything again?

Right now, only Sony, JVC, & Red are building 4K video cameras that are available to the public, & at one hell of a price premium. The amount of available 4K HDTV material is close to zero, with exactly one (1) full 4K move, April Showers. Nothing at all is available for news, movies, or even sports. I give it a 90% chance that professional sports will be the first venue to start production in 4K, Chris, as their audiences are by far the most fanatical viewers. Everything else is likely to be 5-10 years away from being viewable in full 4K resolution. By then, your investment in “a new 1080p, 3D-enabled TV with a fast, 240 MHz output” will have more than paid for itself.

Oh, but don’t forget about the upcoming 8K UHDTV (7680 X 4320) that’s already being shown by NHK in Japan…

Your comments, as always, are welcome.

Source: Digital Times

CC licensed Flickr photo above shared by kire

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I have been writing for Lockergnome for eight years.