It’s time to get excited about 4K

Posted: 10.22.14

The days of being a denier are over

There are three things needed to get a market going: demand, supply, and affordability. When a new market segment is opened, the world pretty much splits into two main camps: naysayers and enthusiasts. Within each camp are the curious and the fearful.

When 4K was introduced, the naysayers were quick to announce it was too expensive, there was no content, and there was no content delivery system. They also might have said there was limited supply, and a lot of them said you can’t see the difference, or why do we need this when we just got a HD TV?, and they all said, it’s just another novelty like 3D. Yep—wrong on all accounts, stupid and shortsighted. You can’t stop the march of technology, and it was obvious the moment the technology was announced that 4K was/is the next thing.

What about the content?
There’s plenty. Netflix, DirectTV, Amazon Prime, AT&T U-verse, Nanotech Entertainment, Comcast 4K/UHD, and Blu-ray discs mastered in 4K by Sony. And the biggest source of them all is YouTube’s 4K channel, which will outnumber all of the above. And you can use a Blu-ray DVD player with up-scalers, such as Marseille’s 4K upscaler, and there are others. 

Picture credit Philips PFL9708


The TVs
If you’re in the neighborhood, come on over and see the new 55-inch 4K TV I just got, my birthday present to me, which we’ll be writing about in Mt. Tiburon Testing Labs soon. It’s a Vizio, and it set me back $1,300—not $5K or $8K. If you don’t have quite that much cash lying around, you can get a slightly smaller Vizio, at 50 inches, for $999. I paid that much for a 50-inch Vizio HD TV two years ago—just two years ago! The household penetration of 4K TVs is the fastest ramp-up in the history of consumer electronics.

The bandwidth
As William Gibson famously said in The Economist in 2003, “The future is already here—it’s just not evenly distributed.” The bandwidth is here for 4K delivery, it’s just not evenly distributed. But that’s another one of those march-of-technology things— you can’t stop it, and in a year or two we’ll forget we didn’t have such bandwidth. It takes 15 to 50 Mbps to deliver UHD TV (compared to the 3 to 10 Mbps for HDTV). As mentioned, Netflix and others are already offering 4K service in many areas.

Home videos?
You can also send 4K video from your smartphone to the UHD TV. Over 150 million of us have smartphones that are capable of capturing an honest 4K video. In three to five years, more than a half billion people will have smartphones that can capture 4K video.

Even if you don’t have a 4K TV yet, now is the time to capture the videos of your new baby, your elderly grandmother, and any other memorable, cherished, moment that’s going on in your life right now. SoCs like Nvidia’s Tegra and Qualcomm’s 800 series Snapdragon have dedicated DSPs (Qualcomm actually has two), and that’s what it takes to grab 4K video fast. Sandisk can give you a 512-GB micro SDxC for your phone, and that will give you about an hour of video. An hour of cat videos is way more than enough, thank you. And you know 1 TB is on its way.

Seeing is believing
In the last issue of TechWatch (October 7), and now on our website, are examples of what you can see in a 4K image. The undeniable fact is you can see MORE. But think about this. Our brains are so good at making stuff up, that when we watched VHS videos we thought they looked fine. Then when we saw DVD, we couldn’t imagine ever watching VHS again; that was SD TV— 480 interlaced lines. When we got real HD (the marketers like to call it “full” HD) with 1080P lines, we could never go back to SD. But, we had to see HD to appreciate it. The same is true with 4K. So when someone says you can’t see the difference, all he/she just told you is either they haven’t seen 4K or they have really bad eyesight.

NHK in Japan has shown an 8K TV at IBC and elsewhere. The folks we met with at NHK a couple of weeks ago told us Japan will likely skip 4K and go straight to 8K. I kinda’ don’t think that is going to happen, but it’s a bold and exciting statement, and a peek at the future. In four or five years, if you’re still reading my drivel I’ll be beating the drum about 8K—it’s the future, Jake, you can’t stop it, and you can’t (or shouldn’t) ignore it.