The 4K TV future

You know what sucks about current high definition TV technology? 1080p. It’s just so… blurry and low-resolution. I mean, you barely get a 1920 x 1080 grid of pixels to watch an entire movie on. Doubling that resolution wouldn’t fix the issue either. No, I think we need to demand four times the details of today’s HD. We need a new standard that’s the equivalent of a 2 x 2 grid of 1080p screens.

Okay, so we’re being sarcastic. But the fact is, major manufacturers are beginning to tout a new generation of ultra high resolution displays. Samsung, LG and Sony have all announced massive (80-inch plus) TVs which will cost the price of a hatchback… but display four times as many pixels as your current TV.

Indeed, 4K TV – or ultra definition television – marks a return to the beginning of the flat screen cycle, when the screens were big, insanely expensive, and there was hardly any programming available for their native resolutions.

So what’s it all about, why would we want it? And most importantly, what are we going to watch in this amazing new world of beyond-ultra detail?

An 84 inch 4K television set is equal in size and resolution to four conventional 42 inch Full HD televisions stacked two-up and two-across.

What is 4K?

Unlike 1080p – which simply refers to 1080 vertical lines of resolution – the definition of ‘4K’ as a resolution is a little less clear-cut. There are actually several different resolutions called 4K, used in cinema, and these are slightly different to the 4K that you’ll find on a consumer TV.

In all cases though, 4K refers to the approximate number of horizontal pixels. That’s right – while 1080p refers to vertical pixels, 4K refers to horizontal. And in this case, we mean 4000 horizontal pixels. Thus, 4K!

Common resolution standards, presented as the number of pixels along the vertical axis by the number or pixels on the horizontal axis. ('DV' references the US NTSC standard definition resolution; the Australian PAL standard is 576 x 720).

On a TV, the actual resolution is 3840 x 2160. That’s double 1920 horizontal, and double 1080 vertical. Or, the equivalent of four 1080p screens stacked in a 2 x 2 grid. Yes, it’s slightly fewer pixels than a 4K cinema projector, but on an LED backlit LCD TV in your living room, it will look every bit as intense.

Interestingly, a 4K TV image is, in still-camera speak, an 8.3 megapixel image.

What’s it’s like?

The easiest way to experience 4K right now is to find a nearby cinema with a digital 4K projector. This isn’t as hard as you might think, because cinemas with 4K projectors like to boast about it, and they’ll show special remastered prints of old movies or specially selected new releases.

The next Bond movie "Skyfall" was shot in digital and could be shown in 4K at select theatres.

At the movies, watching on 4K is immediately noticeable. The image is much brighter, the contrast is better, and of course the crisp detail really stands out. If you were to sit through a showing in a complex’s state-of-the-art 4K cinema – especially where the film is shot natively with a 4K camera – and then immediately go and see an old-school 35mm flick shone through a standard old-school projector…. Well, the second film would seem very dim, blurry and flat by comparison.

On a TV, you’re talking a very bright, very detailed image on a display size of 84 inches (213 cm). We’ve seen it… it’s almost as immersive as watching a 3D movie. Nearly overpowering in its detail and intensity, in fact.