The 4K TV future

Is it just about resolution?

4K brings another advantage that goes beyond an 8MP moving image: passive 3D. On a 1080p display, passive 3D (that uses polarised light and much more lightweight glasses, or even glasses-free technology) essentially halves the 1920 horizontal resolution, flashing only 540 lines to each eye alternately. This obviously has a huge impact on image quality.

But on a 4K TV, a passive 3D image can still have the same horizontal resolution as traditional Full HD. What’s more, this tech can be used to display two completely different images at once: imagine multiplayer gaming where both players watch the same display, but neither can see the other’s actions.

Sony is ditching active 3D technology in its 84 inch 4K TV, replacing it with passive 3D.

4K will also support the upscaling of existing 1080p material, and the advanced image processing circuitry of a 4K TV will improve the quality of all images. And with 8MP of display space, you’ll be able to view your digital photos with much less scaling than you would on a normal TV – and that means incredible levels of detail.

Can I get a 4K plasma?

It’s very likely that 4K will sound the death knell for that dependable technology called plasma. Plasma relies on little reservoirs of gas, one for each sub-pixel, and with the sheer number of pixels on a 4K display, it’s just not possible to make reservoirs small enough.

The first generation of 4K TVs will be LED-backlit LCD displays.

What will it cost me?

There’s no easy way to break this: a 4K setup will cost somewhere in excess of $16,000 depending on which TV you choose. LG has priced it’s model at $15,999 and cited mid-November 2013 for availability, while Sony is venturing ‘end of the year’ for its model, and given no pricing (thoughts are it will be more than $20,000). The 4K TVs are top-end smart-enabled models, with all the attendant bells and whistles that go far beyond ultra-high resolution.

The biggest problem with jumping in to 4K right now is the lack of content. Sure, increasing numbers of mainstream movies are being either shot on 4K cameras or post-processed from 35mm film (essentially, scanned) to 4K resolution, but you won’t pick them up at your local DVD shop.

If you’ve a cynical nature, you might also note that many older classics are being remastered in 4K, and so you could be forgiven for thinking that this is just another way to restart the cycle of having us buy all the same stuff again. DVD, Blu-ray, 3D, 4K… how many version of ‘Taxi Driver’ do we really need?

Upscaling can only achieve so much, so while Blu-ray video looks the business on a 4K screen, standard definition DVD content doesn't stand up so well.


OK, seriously. When can I get it?

We can expect 4K to experience a similar development pathway to the original flatscreens. First, we need the ultra-rich to fund the next round of product development by buying the first generation of 4K displays for bragging rights.

Next, the screens will come down in size, and that will make them more affordable. By this stage, there should be more 4K content and more effective compression algorithms which will allow it to be transported to us over the internet or via an affordable medium – perhaps super-cheap flash memory.

Over the next few years, more and more high end TVs will become 4K compatible, and since a 4K display will of course support 1080p, and will improve the image quality of your 1080p content, there’ll be a good reason to buy one.

You don't have to sit as far back as you'd think with an 84 inch 4K TV.

4K is definitely the ultimate, though. Right?

Um… well, about that. Don’t think running out and buying a 4K TV will bring you all the way up to date.

There’s another standard out there, called 8K. It offers 16 times the resolution of full HD and the kinds of detail levels you only see at IMAX.

Plus, it has an attendent surround sound standard called 22.2. Yep – 22 speakers and two subwoofers. It’s just in theatres for now, but who knows!

Overkill? Nothing is too superlative in the quest for audiovisual awesomeness!