Is 4K the new standard for 2017?

CEO and Team Leader Xenio Gubbels looks at new TV’s as we start a brand new New Year.4Y3A4828

Following the failure of 3D television to gain a foothold (yet again), screen manufacturers are putting more and more marketing effort into what is called Ultra High Definition, or 4K. We saw a lot of them in January 2017 at the US consumer electronics show in Las Vegas and then again at the ISE-Europe trade show in Amsterdam in February.  By the time IBC came round in September 2016, most stands had a 4K display. But although the displays at these shows are fabulous, it is worth remembering that most are showing demo footage created especially to show off the specs of the screen. Film provider Netflix is offering 4K content in some markets, but most over-the-air broadcasters in Europe have only just finished upgrading from standard definition to high-definition. Bandwidth constraints mean that some platforms like Freeview or Digitenne are having enough challenge with squeezing in HD, let alone Ultra HD.

4K Ultra High Definition, or 4K Ultra HD, is being pushed as the next generation of resolution in televisions.  It delivers a more detailed, immersive and realistic entertainment experience, without the need for glasses. Before 4K Ultra HD arrived, the highest-definition resolution on the TV market was Full HD 1080p, which consisted of 1920 x 1080 pixels, thus giving it its “1080p” name.

4K Ultra HD has four times the number of pixels as Full HD (3840 x 2160 pixels), resulting in its “4K Ultra HD” title. The increased resolution made possible by 4K Ultra HD’s works out at 8.3 million pixels versus Full HD’s 2.2 million. Picture quality is enhanced by reducing gaps between pixels which sharpens detail and shows smoother lines so that even up-close images seem clearer, more realistic and less pixelated. Quantumdot-TVKorean company LG has already revealed it will introduce quantum dot tech to its 4K ultra high-definition line-up. This involves using tiny crystals to create images – some of which are 50,000 times smaller than the width of a human hair. LG  says results in 30% better colour accuracy than conventional LCD TVs.

But putting screens side by side, as we do at our testing facilities in Amersfoort, we have to say that there are four factors which are so far holding us back from recommending such 4K screens for our clients.

1. Whilst technology giants such as Samsung and LG have clearer the technology in-house to build big beautiful screens, we think a lot could be improved when it comes to software that drives them. Many come with all kinds of features and apps which make it look as though the manufacturers think you’ll use the giant screen in your living room rather like a tablet. We disagree. Large screen TV’s are usually used for selecting and consuming high-quality films or sports events. We rarely see people trying to do their email or shop. We hope manufacturers will simplify interfaces, focusing on outstanding picture quality. The rest is simply bloatware – and it is not very “smart”.

2. We hope manufacturers retain flat TV alternatives. In 2014, the gimmick of the year was the introduction of curved screens, with the argument that this is a more immersive experience. This may be true if you able to sit in the one “sweet spot” a few metres away from the screen. But for viewers sitting next to them, the experience off-centre is definitely not as good. We prefer the flat screens – and they are much easier to integrate.

3. Cost. 4K TV’s are coming down in price, but they are definitely a factor of 5-10 times the price of a equivalent quality Full-HD screen. With companies like Dolby starting to introduce new encoding software that vastly improves picture contrast and dynamic range, there is also a danger that buying a screen too early will mean a first-mover disadvantage. And if you do not have space for the larger screen, the difference between Full-HD and 4K will be less noticeable.

4. Software. Sony is reportedly thinking about a path to upgrade its Blu-Ray discs to handle 4K. In the meantime, some US streaming providers like Netflix are experimenting with the delivery of 4K material via the web. But there is not much around.

Conclusion: 4K is coming. It’s already in cinemas, but we think it’s a bit early to invest in a 4K TV.  If you’re looking for a display for your very high-quality photos, then consider an Apple iMac with the 5K Retina computer rather than a TV.

appleimac5kRemember, we’re always happy to discuss market trends and share what’s happening in screen technology. We hope our paths cross soon. We’re just a phone call or email away.

Next time we’ll look at high-end audio as Dolby launches ATMOS for the home.