Ultra High Definition

The Advent of Ultra High Definition TV

[Note: The original article was authored by Catherine Wallace and edited by Ken Pyle for the Viodi View]

A new generation of television is here. Designed to leave current HD TVs in the dust, 4K televisions showed up in force at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas this year and the associated production equipment was demonstrated at April’s National Association of Broadcasters’ Convention. As amazing as these televisions are, some question whether consumers will be able to afford them and how many will even be interested after only recently upgrading to HD. So what is 4K and is the product worthy of the hype?

What is 4K TV? #

4K refers to the resolution that the television will display. There is a slight difference between the technical definition of 4K — which refers to a 4096 x 2160 resolution — and an Ultra HD TV, which displays a marginally lower 3840 x 2160 resolution, according to TechRadar. For the average consumer, though, 4K and Ultra HD are the same. When a person buys an Ultra HD television, he or she will get a display capable of delivering quadruple the resolution of current HD.

The TVs #

Ultra HD televisions have started to trickle out to consumers, but so far they have not been cheap. One of the most notable is Sony’s XBR-84X900, an 84 inch behemoth with a price tag over $20,000. Consumers can go even further if they desire by purchasing Samsung’s 85-inch Ultra HD TV for $39,999, as Mashable notes.

An example of a 4K television on sale in May 2013; they are real.
4K TVs are already showing up at retailers. This picture provides an example of a Sony 4k television on display in a kiosk at a major retailer. Customer education is a central aspect to this display, as the demo graphically shows the difference between HD and 4K . Whether the average customer can tell the difference will be the $6k question and may be a huge factor regarding the uptake of 4k televisions.

Prices like this had many people wondering if 4K would even be an option for more modest consumers. Sony recently announced two televisions to meet this need, with a 55-inch version for $4,999 and a 65-inch model for $6,999. The most interesting deal thus far, however, is Seiki’s 50-inch 4K TV. The company plans on selling it for the relatively meager sum of $1,500, according to Engadget.

The Transition to 4K — A Question of Content #

Currently, there is little to no content available in the 4K format. Aside from the price tag, this is one of the main hurdles for early adoption of the technology. No television shows or films are released in 4K at the moment. Movies are increasingly shot with 4K-capable cameras, but none are released to the public in 4K. Sony aims to change that.

Sony plans on releasing a 4K media player over the summer, Forbes points out. The player (FMP-X1), loaded with 10 movies from Sony Pictures, will run $699. Ten movies may not sound like a lot, but the player will also connect online to a new service offered by Sony that allows users to download 4K movies.

Another potential content source could be the consumer, as the cost of 4k professional camcorders are already in the $4 to $5k and at least one consumer camera, the GoPro Hero3, Black Edition, for well under $500.

Intel is also releasing its own media box. Intel’s box is 4K-compatible, and the company hopes to break into the television market with the new device, according to Wired. Netflix has also stated that it is watching the developments in 4K, and that streaming will be the best way to access such content.

DirectTV has recently acquired several trademarks for terms related to 4K television, but actual services, such as and other providers do not currently support 4K TVs.

Potential Problems for 4K #

4K television faces several major hurdles before it becomes mainstream. Price is often listed as an obstacle, but companies like Seiki and Sony are demonstrating that they can make it affordable. Content has also been listed as an issue, but with demand, the content will come.

Getting the content to the home via distribution is another challenge, as, even with the latest HEVC/h.265 codecs, the 4k video streams will require an estimated 10 Mb/s per stream.

One of the biggest questions surrounding 4K is whether anyone can tell the difference? The format undoubtedly produces a higher resolution, but can the average viewer even discern it? Some engineers, say TechRadar, claim that the average person cannot tell the difference on anything less than a 100-inch screen.

Sony claims that in more interactive situations, such as gaming, that those sitting closer to a 4K TV will appreciate the increased detail. Whether this will be enough to convince people to buy TVs, however, is questionable.

It is Coming #

For all the questions surrounding 4K adoption by the general public, it appears that Ultra HD televisions are on their way. They are becoming more affordable. Content is being developed as well. How popular will they become? Only time will tell.

Author Ken Pyle, Managing Editor

By Ken Pyle, Managing Editor

Ken Pyle is co-founder of Viodi, LLC and Managing Editor of the Viodi View, a publication focused on independent telcos’ efforts to offer video to their customers. He has edited and produced numerous multimedia projects for NTCA, US Telecom and Viodi. Pyle is the producer of Viodi’s Local Content Workshop, the Video Production Crash Course at NAB, as well as ViodiTV. He has been intimately involved in Viodi’s consulting projects and has created processes for clients to use for their PPV and VOD operations, as well authored reports on the independent telco market.

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