4K Video Coming To A Home Theater Near You

2/5/2013 3:15:49 PM

THINK YOU’RE SEEING it all? Not when it comes to current digital video technology, whose resolution still falls short of that of 35mm film. To get closet to film quality, equipment makers have to pack in more pixels.

Roughly quadrupling the number of pixels found in current HDTVs, 4K technology gets its name from the width of the picture: approximately 4000 pixels. (Note that with 1080p, the “1080” refers to the vertical number of pixels; 4K video has about 2000 pixels vertically.)

Description: 4K Video Coming To A Home Theater Near You

The 4K standards are still developing. One standard, also called Quad Full high Definition or 2160p, maintains the 16:9 aspect ratio of HDTVs at 3840 by 2160 pixels; another standard, which expands to 4096 by 2160, is intended for the cinema. Either way, 4K or Ultra HD, as the Consumer Electronics Association has dubbed it boasts more than 8 million pixels, while a 1080p TV set has about 2 million.

You may have already seen 4K at the theater. Films such as The Amazing Spider Man and Prometheus were shot with cameras capable of 4K resolution, so if you saw a digital projection, you might have encountered 4K video.

Thanks to 4K video technology, movies such as Prometheus can offer stunning detail and clarity

Bringing 4K home

Can you even perceive the extra resolution? In most cases, probably not. You really notice the difference between 720p and 1080p on 42-inch HDTV only if you are no more than 6 feet from it. With 4K, you’ll need to be even closer than 6 feet with a TV over 55 inches. Anything smaller, or farther, and your eyes can’t see the pixels on 1080p, so all that extra resolution essentially goes to waste.

Even so, manufacturers are rolling out 4K displays. For example, Sharp will start selling the industry’s thinnest 4K monitor, a 32-inch LCD screen that measures just 3.5mm thick, in February. The monitor, based on Sharp’s new IGZO technology, will sell for about ¥450,000 ($5500) in Japan. The screen will have two HDMI connectors (allowing users to connect a PC and home video equipment), as well as two small speakers.

TVs that can handle 4K content, or can upgrade existing content to 4K, are still very expensive. In October, LG started selling its $20,000 Ultra HD television through a single retailer in California, while Sony has been taking phone orders for its $25,000; 84-inch XBR-84X900 4K Ultra High Definition set. At press time, 4K TVs were set to be on view at the CES trade show held in January.

Description: Ultra HD television

Ultra HD television

The biggest question for the new TVs is what sort of content will be available for them. Consumers who invest in Sony’s set will have at least a handful of movies to watch on it: Sony announced that the LED TV will include a hard disk server for pulling in movies in the new video format. The server will come preloaded with ten movies, including The Amazing Spider-Man, The Bridge on the River Kwai, Taxi Driver, and Total Recall (2012). A selection of short videos in 4K resolution is also included.

However, that’s more of a temporary solution for the handful of big spenders who own Ultra HD sets. Hard-disk servers won’t be practical for mainstream buyers; eventually the 4K format will need support from cable and satellite TV providers or from streaming video services and that seems unlikely until more content creators start producing video in 4K.

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