The next step for HDTVs, following a poor consumer response to 3D technology, is the ultra-high resolution known as 4K. Roughly four times the resolution of a 1080p television, 4K is on the cusp of becoming mainstream.
4K offers a hyper-realistic resolution that, unlike 3D, actually makes entertainment more immersive for everyone. It is here to stay, and ready to break through in 2014. Here are five things you need to know about the next step in home theater technology.
At this point, many of us fully understand the difference between an older, standard resolution television set and an HDTV. Even those of us who don't are aware that older CRT screens, or “tube TVs” are no longer for sale in retail stores. They offered a resolution of 480p, which equated to 704x480 in a 4:3 aspect ratio, meaning there were 480 vertical lines of resolution that created a TV image.
1.) Ultra HD (UHD) vs. 4K Resolution: What is the difference?
HDTV brought 720p and 1080p to the masses, in the more theatrical, widescreen aspect ratio of 16:9. There is also a small difference between certain next-generation HDTVs, with complicated terminology as well – Ultra HD or UHD, and 4K resolution.
4K resolution refers to a standard of 4096 x 2304 pixels. However, many of the TVs we will see advertised offer a slightly lower resolution, or what is known as Ultra HD (UHD 4K). Ultra HD offers 3840 x 2160 resolution – still dwarfing 1080p, and making Blu-ray look a bit like Betamax in comparison.
Eventually, consumers will see a lot of 4K UHD in addition to 8K UHD, offering 7680 x 4320 which is very close to the level of detail found on an IMAX screen.
2.) Ultra HD 4K TVs will slowly but surely come down in price
Manufacturers like Samsung and LG will be showing off 105-inch curved 4K LED-LCD displays in January at CES. Meanwhile, the price of a 55-inch 4K TV from larger manufacturers like Samsung, LG and Sony currently retails for about $3,000, while relatively unknown manufacturers like Seiki are now offering 65-inch models for the same price, and a 50-inch 4K TV.
Much like with high-definition technologies like plasma and LED-LCD, consumers will see Ultra HD 4K television prices head in one direction – down. Ultra HD is only going to get cheaper, with larger sets going for less and less every year. That said, be sure to go big when you buy an Ultra HD TV – the smaller the TV, the less you are going to notice higher resolution like 4K.
3.) Advancements in streaming technology will make Ultra HD content possible
The key to content providers being able to offer Ultra HD 4K content is a new codec that is about twice as efficient as its predecessor. A codec is an app capable of encoding and decoding video and audio signals.
This new codec, known as H.265 or HEVC, which stands for High Efficiency Video Coding, can provide the same resolution as H.264, or AVC, while taking about half as long to download, or stream in Ultra HD 4K resolution without requiring a great leap forward in internet technology.
In an interview with Stuff, Netflix’s Neil Hunt said that Netflix is pressing forward with HEVC, and in doing so will even allow consumers without Ultra HD 4K TVs to enjoy higher quality movies and TV shows.
“The benefits trickle down; we're pioneering HEVC, which is about twice as efficient as AVC. And so, when we start to see those HEVC decoders get real, and the encoders get more efficient, we're going to be able to recode all the HD content – and the standard-def content, for that matter – in HEVC,” he told Stuff, explaining that Netflix users with lower-speed internet, like DSL, will be able to see a higher resolution than they do today.
4.) 4K Ultra HD content is slowly, but steadily become more widely available
4K Ultra HD is a great idea and all, but what is the point when most broadcast signals are in 720p/1080i and nobody is streaming UHD content? Amazon and Netflix are both working on shooting their next round of original content in 4K resolution.
That means the next season of “House of Cards” will premiere in 4K Ultra HD, as will the upcoming “Daredevil” and “Luke Cage” series from Marvel and Netflix. And streaming is not the only place where Ultra HD TV owners will be able to view content.
Amazon, not content and sit back without taking part in the 4K Ultra HD revolution, has announced that it will also shoot its originals in the format. Chris Carter, creator of “The X-Files”, is working on an “apocalyptic thriller” for the retail giant set to debut early in 2014, along with three comedy pilots and a police procedural.
5.) Most physical media might be on its way out, but Blu-ray is here to stay
Sony Electronics, despite being one of the founding companies behind Blu-ray, has abandoned physical media in favor of a networked solution for its first line of consumer-ready 4K Ultra HD models. But that does not mean the disc is dead.
4K-mastered Blu-ray is possible, and likely to come to market at some point as the physical standard of choice. One Blu-ray disc manufacturer announced in Sept. that it was able to produce a triple-layer Blur-ray disc capable of storing 100GB – twice the capacity of current discs and capable of storing a 4K Ultra HD film.
Lowering costs, increasing content
As manufacturers make 4K Ultra HD sets that are lower in price – an inevitable transition that may take a few years, and content providers like Netflix and television studios start shooting more content in 4K Ultra HD, it is only a matter of time before every set offers an extremely high level of detail on par with a large-screen theater.