What Is 4K HDTV?
4K gets its name directly from its horizontal resolution, which delivers approximately 4000 pixels from one end of the HDTV screen to the other horizontally (the long way). With a vertical resolution of approximately 2000 pixels and a grand total of about 8 million pixels, sitting in front of a 4K HDTV is roughly the equivalent of combining four standard HDTVs into a single screen, as they typically have 1920 pixels horizontal and 1080 pixel vertical (hence the common term 1080p).
One thing you’ll discover is the fact that there is not one concrete standard that defines 4K – at least not yet. Up to this point, there are a number of different resolutions that all fall under the decidedly vast 4K umbrella, including 3840 x 2160 (called Quad HD) and 4096 x 2160 (alternately called 4K/2K and 4Kx2K) for HDTVs (there are other standards for cameras and projectors as well). In other words, as long as the pixel resolution is close, it counts.
Of Movie Moguls and Digital Dreams
Originally envisioned as a way to bring to fruition the high-def dreams of Hollywood big shots like James Cameron, George Lucas, and David Fincher. 4K has become the standard for big screen digital flicks like The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo remake. High resolution makes sense for movie theaters, because the screen is so large.
But now, HDTV manufacturers are poised to bring that crisp 4K image right into your living room. There’s just one problem with that idea, though. As of this moment, with the exception of a very limited YouTube playlist of short videos shot in 4K, there really doesn’t exist any other 4K content for home consumption yet – although there is a bit of interesting buzz about what’s to come and what’s already arrived on the market.
The Present and Future of 4K Content
In the latter category, you’ve got a handful of camcorder manufacturers who have made it possible for you to create your own content. Of course, this comes at an incredibly high price: the JVC GY-HMQ10 camcorder retails for a hair under $5,000 at the time of this writing. Not exactly chump change and really more along the lines of something that a professional videographer or indie filmmaker would want to get their hands on.
On a more practical note, there are also plans afoot to incorporate 4K resolution into Blu-Ray discs in 2013, and Sony is already offering a 4K capable player that will automatically upscale existing discs for optimum quality on 4K “Super HD” televisions.
All that aside, there’s also the concern over bandwidth consumption and requirements. Currently, there are enough challenges with networks simply streaming 1080p HD content. But a single uncompressed 20-minute broadcast in 4K? That racks up a stunning 4TB of data – talk about an epic bandwidth crunch.
Remember the first time you saw a DVD? It looked incredible, especially when compared to the old and tired VHS standard. Remember the first time you saw a Blu-Ray disk? It looked good, but not nearly as good compared to DVD as DVD looked compared to VHS. This is because of the law of diminishing returns. Basically, the human eye is only so sensitive, and at a certain point, it can’t distinguish one super high resolution from another super higher resolution. So don’t expect 4K Super HD to impress as much as the now standard 1080 HD did when it first launched.
What Will it Cost?
While there’s little doubt that 4K will capture the imagination of eagle-eyed home theater enthusiasts the way that standard HDTV technology did, there’s plenty of doubt as to whether it will be worth the expected asking cost of $22,000. That’s the price tag (in US dollars) placed by LG on its 3D-capable 84LM9600 84-incher, which offers 3840 x 2160 resolution and is set to make its debut in South Korea in August of this year.
There are also 4K projectors available or hitting the market soon, and smaller 4K monitors on the market, but all cost in the five-figure range.
Get Ready to Make Room
Those ready, willing and financially well off enough to afford eventually getting their hands on a 4K HDTV should also heed this warning: you’re probably going to need to make room at home. Lots. Maybe knock down a few walls here, take down a few ceiling fans there. The reason? 4K resolution is only detectable on big, big screens. The aforementioned 84-inch LG should give some indication as to just how big. According to experts in the know, the ideal screen size necessary to really experience the magic of 4K is 25 feet. Yes, feet. As in 300 inches. Welcome to the millionaire’s club.
The Final Verdict
If you’ve got an extra 25 grand burning a hole in your wallet and you’re chomping at the bit to be the first on your block to own a monster-sized 4K HDTV, you may want to cool your jets – unless you’re willing to fly to the other side of the world to pick one up, that is. 4K HDTVs won’t be available at your local big box retailer for the next Holiday shopping season. While this may sound like a major bummer, it’s actually a blessing in disguise: with prices that high, even a rock solid Black Friday deal wouldn’t lessen the financial impact of ownership for the average Joe.
On the bright side, if you can hold out for about a decade – roughly the amount of time it took for standard HDTV to drop to easily affordable levels – you might be able to score your own “Super HD” for spare change.