The 4K TV push is about to crank up

With the market for large 1080p HD TVs basically saturated, manufacturers and retailers have been trying for the last two to three years to find the ‘next big thing’ that will get people to go out and buy new TVs like they were eight to ten years ago.

They have tried 3D TVs. This basically had zero impact. Nobody cares much for the idea of 3D movies in the first place, and even less for 3D TVs in the home where you have to sit within a 15 degree angle in front of the TV within 2.5 to 3.5 the width of the TV back from the TV and wear glasses of some kind. Hmmmm.

Then they tried the various ‘smart’ TVs. A smart TV is basically a TV with an operating system built in; usually Andriod.

Then they tried TVs that can connect to your in-house data network, either via cable connect or WiFi.

Then they tried combinations and variations of all three.

But nothing really moved the needle. What they want are big sales akin to the move from 576i CRT TVs to 1080p LCD/Plasma TVs.

So now they are about to focus on their Ace card—the 2160p UHD (Ultra-high definition) 4K TV. A 4K TV has four times the pixel density of a 1080p HD TV.

UDHTVLet’s just take a look at this 4K thing. What does the 4K mean? It basically means that there are supposed to be about 4,000 or 4K columns of pixels. On a true 4K screen the x,y pixel counts are 4,096 x 2,160. But this is actually a true 4K 16:10 computer monitor. This is NOT what you get in a 4K TV screen. Firstly TV screens are 16:9 and not 16:10. Secondly the TV industry decided to simply double the current 1,920 pixel columns from the 1080p HD screen and get 3,840 pixel columns. So a 4K TV screen is actually more like 3.9375K.

Based on this line of thinking then the current 1080p HD TV (which has 1,920 pixel columns) is a 2K TV and the original 720p HD TV (which has 1,368 pixel columns) would be a 1.3K TV.

Now I have no doubt that a 4K TV showing 4K media input is amazing.

The problem? Apart from demonstration input there is no 4K media input. None. Zip. Zero.

Even worse, at this stage about 90 percent of all free-to-air and ‘cable’ TV is not even 1080p; it is 720p or lower and your TV has to ‘up-scale’ it to 1080p—which in many cases actually makes it look slightly fuzzier than if you watched it on an actual 720p TV.

Also, depending which Web site numbers you elect to believe, only about 15 to 30 percent of Blu-ray movies are 1080p. The other 70 to 85 percent are 720p (or lower). So even if you play Blu-ray the odds are that either the TV or the Blu-ray player is still probably having to up-scale from 720p to 1080p.

On the upside most movies shot on 35mm film could be re-digitised to a more-or-less genuine 4K, but that does involve studios paying for this to be done and then transferred to Blu-ray. This costs 100s of thousands of dollars per movie to do and takes time to post-process. Then we will have a whole new slew of Blu-ray disks coming out tagged as 4K and we will have to buy our disks again for the movies we love.

In order for TV stations to broadcast anything ‘live’ in 4K they are going to have to buy new 4K cameras. So while most live sports broadcasts are currently in 1080p all their video cameras will need replacing with 4K units before they can start broadcasting sports or the morning news in 4K.

For those into downloading or streaming, once real 4K media starts to turn up—as opposed to 1080p media up-scaled to 4K—for the same quality compression the file size going to be about 4 times the size. So an episode of Game of Thrones with good quality compression will go from about 1.2GB to around 4GB. Also we know that Season 5 of Game of Thrones is going to be shot in 4K although sadly seasons 1 through 4 were only shot in 2,880 x 1,620, which in the “K” notation would be maybe 3K.

From what I can find on the Web there is no TV series currently being shot in 4K, although, as is the case for the movies, the older TV series that were shot on 35mm film could—in theory—be digitised to 4K standard.

So? To buy 4K or not?

I think the marketing of 4K TVs is going to be a lot more successful than for 3D and smart TVs. Manufacturers and retailers are desperate to sell big numbers of TVs again. People do like crisper more vibrant TVs.

The almost complete lack of actual 4K media is an issue, but the vast bulk of people will not understand or realise this, and this will work in favour of the manufacturers and retailers. And you can be sure the demonstration 4K media that they will have in the stores will look frigging awesome.

There are some 4K demonstration videos available from YouTube. You can have a look at one here although without an actual 4K TV you will not really see anything different. True 4K (4,096 x 2,160) has been available to computer users for a couple of years so if you have such a computer screen and card capable of this you could watch this YouTube demo in 4K.

Unlike with 1080p I don’t think the TV stations and media creators are going to get into creating 4K media until after they see how 4K sales go to see if the demand is really there. So it is going to be a lot more chicken-and-egg than the change over to 1080p was where the TV stations were marketing HD ahead of TV sales.

Another consideration these days is that a significant percentage of TV and movies are viewed on ‘portable’ devices such as tablets, mobile phones, and other computers. This media—from downloads or streaming services—is typically highly-compressed 1K video. If people are happy with this then there is totally no reason to even consider 4K.

I certainly won’t be rushing to upgrade to 4K. Maybe in five years if it takes off and 4K media does start to appear. Maybe.