It seems that over the last year a new buzzword has reared it’s head in HD television technology. 4K! Vive la resolution! Compare this to earlier resolutions 576i/p, 720p and 1080i/p, one would be forgiven for thinking that it meant 4000p but this isn’t the case… why?
4K originates from cinema where the 35mm camera film has 4000 vertical lines and requires a 4k scan to get the most detail from the film. Likewise the 16mm film has 2000 and Imax has 8000+ which both require a 2K and 8K scan respectively. These scans can then pick up the fine detail present in the film ready to be archived.
Its important to clarify that 4K is seen as the cinema standard (DCI 4K) of 4096 × 2160 whereas UHD (Ultra High Definition) is the standard for televisions which oddly enough has 3840 × 2160. Not the 4000 you might expect.
So as can be seen above, the consumer resolution is actually 3.84K and also for some reason the resolution is marketed using the vertical resolution. This bucks the trend and by all accounts if the name name did follow the original system then 4K would actually be called 2160p HD (2.16K).
So we’ve gone from 4K to 3.84k to 2.16k in a matter of minutes…..but don’t let that ruin everything. 4K UHD has still got a huge resolution and great potential including higher frame rates, greater textures and a larger colour gamut leading ultimately to better colour reproduction.
The horizontal and the vertical resolutions have essentially been doubled which in total gives four times the amount of pixels compared to the original 1080p resolution (2 megapixels).To put this in perspective, you could fit 4 Full HD images on a UHD screen in the same resolution you would get on a standard Full HD screen, all at the same time.
What do you do when there really isn’t anything to watch on tv?
Its worth knowing that right now there is no Full HD broadcasting in the UK, even after 10 years the industry is still broadcasting at 1080i or below. This leaves only streaming services, Blu-ray and games utilising the Full HD resolution. Something to think about right?
So picture this, you have your nice new 4K UHD television and like anyone you want to hook it up and see what your hard earned cash has got you. The hardware is all there and its aching to spit out some gorgeous detailed content, however currently there is little to no native 4K UHD content to be had.
That said, Sony has released a 4K player that gives access to over 100 4K titles at $699.99 with each film costing $7.99 for rental and $30.00 for purchase …. available in the US only, OUCH. This leaves the Netflix 4K service which so far has promised amazing things. High resolution, high frame rate and all at a maximum of 15 mbps download speed. Currently the second season of House of Cards is available in 4K on the service as long as your TV has hardware built in that can decode HEVC H.265 but the TV’s coming out now should all has this capability.
Apart from both Netflix and the American Sony 4K Streaming service there doesn’t appear to be much else out there although television networks are doing research and testing for the future as we speak. There is talk that the World Cup 2014 final will be broadcast in 4K.
You can show a full size and full resolution 8 megapixel photo or some home shot 4K video content from the upcoming release of Acer’s Liquid S2 phone and Sony’s FDR-AX100 Handycam both of which are aimed at the consumer market.
There have also been a release of a limited number of films dubbed “mastered in 4K” where a selection of films have been mastered using content from a 4K source. This content is still presented in 1080p but has been optimised for the upscaling process that will dominate the use of UHD TV’s until an extensive native 4K content source can be created.
How to watch HD content at UHD Resolution?
Upscaling is the process of increasing a lower resolution to a higher resolution by interpolating or estimating the extra pixels with regards to the lower resolution pixels.
Have you ever zoomed in too much on a photo that it becomes blocky and jagged? Well if a 1080p video was just blown up on to a 4k screen the same effect would be apparent. Using upscaling technology this effect is smoothed out.
To view a 1080p video at 4K resolution on a 4K UHD screen there is an 400% increase in pixels so for each pixel in the lower quality video four will be used unless these extra pixels can be given extra information to create the more detail. i.e. 4K native signal or using an upscaler. This can lead to degradation in quality leaving the image soft or blurred. Native 4K video has pixel information for each of the individual pixels instead of estimating 4 pixels using the ones already present.
Television manufacturers claim to have highly complex upscaling technologies that can increase HD and even SD to 4K resolution. In reality the upscaling technologies will make HD and SD look better on a UHD screen and will reduce blockiness but what they can’t do well is create the fine detail like you would see in native 4K content. For more detailed explanation on upscaling check out: http://www.red.com/learn/red-101/upscaled-1080P-vs-4K
So lets say for a moment you have a UHD TV connected via some medium to an extensive library of 4K content. Will you see a difference ? an upgrade in performance or increased colour?
Its pretty obvious that UHD screens will provide four times the resolution of their predecessors which will benefit televisions of a certain size. There is debate on the perceivable difference between HD and UHD on screen sizes sub 80 inches which doesn’t promote confidence when parting with upwards of £2500. On screen sizes above 80 inches the individual pixels will be visible on a Full HD 1080p screen so the UHD resolution will greatly benefit the screen size and sitting position. Images will be bigger with more detail which screams for large panoramic shots that the viewer can explore with their eyes leaving them feeling immersed in the content
Disc Formats and Mediums
Space. That is the real advancement in disc technology we need.
Sony and panasonic have both announced that they are working on discs that can hold up to 300GB of data although these have not been confirmed as a new consumer disc format. However, the BDA (Blu-ray Disc Association) have recently announced that the next generation Blu-ray discs are being worked on by the likes of Sony, Disney and Dolby which will likely become the medium for 4K video. This disc is rumoured to have up to twice the capacity of traditional Blu-ray discs but professionals seem confident that they can fit a 4K video in to this amount of space comfortably. This is a big win as the possibility of backwards compatibility arises. There will hopefully be no format war and a simple firmware upgrade may be the answer to getting 4K in your home.
Even with quick internet speeds it seems the humble disc may still be the simplest and easiest way to watch 4K content.
What else can 4K do?
Currently 4K may not be the best option for normal television viewing however there could be some other possible uses for the UHD screens. With standard 3D screens using passive 3d the image is made up of 1920 x 540 pixels: 540 for the left eye and 540 for the right. This can cause noticeable scan lines, softness and its half the vertical resolution of full HD. Using a 4K screen a full 1080p image can be displayed to each eye.
With regards to gaming a person could have 4-player split screen with each quadrant displaying Full HD resolution for each player. The new increased resolution enables the viewing distance to be reduced. The pixels on a UHD TV are four times smaller than an HDTV of the same size, meaning you can typically sit 50% closer whilst still getting great detail.
Should you buy into 4K UHD
The technology is there and the price has come down tremendously over the past year. With broadcast still so far behind and even content only just rearing its head it seems an Ultra High Definition TV may be left under-utilised until other areas of the industry have caught up.
The benefits of a UHD screen are clear to see for people who have an 80 inch screen, they can sit closer than before with greater detail in the display but for some people this seems a very small upgrade for the money.
For people with smaller screens 4K is still a viable option, especially if you are upgrading from an old Tv, perhaps even from a pre HD screen.
A 4K UHDTV will make sure you are future ready in terms of resolution and will even give your current films a nice picture upgrade enabling 1080p content to be viewed like never before.
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