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4K TV: fad or future?

Post Author Take1 / June 20th 2014

4K is probably a concept you’re more familiar with than you think. This is because the term 4K is often passed over for the more generic term ‘Ultra High Definition’. In any case 4K Ultra HD refers to a method of broadcasting that delivers a picture resolution of 3840 x 2160. This is only slightly lower than the resolution of cinema broadcasts (4096 x2160).

Sony announced a partnership with Fifa that will see them shoot 3 of the World cup matches in 4K. However getting to see one of these matches in 4K here in the UK is highly unlikely as 4K TVs aren’t yet commonplace in our homes. The BBC is trialling broadcasting 4K with these matches but only within their own Research and Development centres.

The question we’re asking is ‘Is 4K realistically going to take off in the consumer market or is there more hype than substance?’

Superior quality VS consumer demands

You might compare 4K with 3D TV offerings which enjoyed a very short-lived moment in the lime light. While 3D is gimmicky and doesn’t always add to the viewers’ enjoyment 4K undeniably delivers better image quality. This should mean that 4K will take over from other formats then right? Well not necessarily.

If you look back at the battle between Betamax and VHS you’ll see a prime example of superior image quality losing out to a poorer substitute. Why did that happen? Although the design of VHS players was less elegant and the tape itself produced poorer image quality than that of Betamax, VHS tapes carried more film time on its reels while the player was lighter and cheaper. (Watch ‘How Sony’s Betamax lost to JVC’s VHS Cassette Recorder’ for more info). Ultimately Betamax faded into out distant past.

Jump forward to today’s 4K technology and it’s easy to see how it could face the same barriers to success. The price (the cheapest come in at around £2,000 and rise to £13,000) and the minimum screen size of 55 inches mean this format is likely to appeal more to wealthy consumers looking for a status TV rather than the average TV watcher. 4K TVs lend themselves to home cinema settings or sports fans with disposable cash.

Overwhelming superiority

If the only advantage of 4K television was the sharper image quality consumers might satisfy themselves with plain old HD. After all it hasn’t been that long since we all started cooing over how realistic David Attenborough’s Planet Earth series looked (the first BBC wildlife series to be shot in high definition).

However it isn’t just picture resolution that recommends 4K:

  • 4K can deliver faster frame rates, further improving picture quality
  • Older (aka current) programmes not broadcast in 4K will still look better on a 4K ready screen
  • 4K screens are great for photographers as it shows far more detail than other screens
  • Consumer level recording technology is also adopting 4K
  • The clarity of 4K inevitably appeals to gamers and sports fans
  • Internet browsing, particularly maps, dramatically improves in 4K

All these features will ensure that 4K becomes the dominant TV format in the future as long as the price for the consumer starts to come down.

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