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4K: TV's Next Revolution?

July 18, 2012 | Comments

The transition from analog to digital TV opened our eyes to a world of vivid high-definition images that we now take for granted but technology marches on, with the promise of something bigger and better always just around the corner. The groundwork is already being laid for a spectacular next-generation TV/video format called 4K, which is capable of delivering 8 million pixels of luscious detail, or four times the resolution of today's best 1080p HDTVs. But when will you be able to enjoy the fruits of 4K?

4K in Theaters

Actually, if you go out to the movies from time to time, there's a pretty good chance you've already seen 4K in action, especially if your local cineplex is run by AMC or Regal. The 2009 blockbuster Avatar was shown in 4K and Sony Pictures has released around 50 movies in the 4K format since 2004, including Inception, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and Men In Black III. All in all, some 8,000 theaters have 4K digital projectors, so the format is making headway on the commercial front.

Building a 4K Ecosystem

You can't go out and buy a 4K TV just yet, but Sony and JVC sell high-end 4K video projectors that upconvert standard HD images to 4K resolution. At $25,000, the Sony model qualifies as ultra high-end, and the JVC models aren't exactly cheap at $12,000 and $8,000. TVs are on the way with Toshiba and Sharp planning to offer 55-inch LED-based LCD models in 2012, while LG prepares to deliver a gargantuan 84-inch 4K LED model. The Toshiba TV, which will be the first to offer glasses-free 3D viewing, is expected to sell for more than $10,000. As with any new technology, the price of hardware will remain high until the format catches on with consumers, which, of course, is not guaranteed.

Okay, so once you have a 4K TV, what do you watch? Although "native" 4K content doesn't exist in any consumer format, and likely won't for some time, Sony sells a "4K upscaling" Blu-ray player that converts HD movies to 4K resolution. Upscaling can produce impressive results when high-quality video processing is employed.

Big-Screen Benefits

The move from standard-definition TV and DVD to high-definition TV and Blu-ray discs brought a leap in picture quality that is obvious on any size screen. Going from HD to 4K can be equally stunning, but since there's a limit to the level of detail our eyes can resolve, you need a very large screen to appreciate 4K's incredibly fine resolution, which is one reason why it is gaining momentum in movie theaters. In a typical home setting with a 40- or 50-inch TV, you would have to sit pretty close to appreciate the extra detail - but that would be like sitting in the first few rows in a theater, which isn't necessarily practical or comfortable. 4K's super resolution could be a boon to 3D, potentially enabling a better experience using simple "passive" glasses (like the ones used in movie theaters) instead of the more expensive "active" glasses required for many 3D-compatible TVs. We'll have to wait and see.

To learn more about the latest in TV technology and options that might make sense for your home, consult a CEDIA professional. Click here for a list of CEDIA-member electronic systems integrators in your area.