So I’ve been reading a lot about the new 4k format for televisions and I’ve seen a few 4k displays, both out in the retail space and here in our shop. I’ve read numerous 4k tweets, posts, and blogs, like this one by John Sciacca. I’ve even watched an hour long video starring video guru Joe Kane discussing the subject. So after all this 4k exposure, I have come to the conclusion that there is just “not enough” packed into this new consumer product to make it relevant yet for most applications.
#1 Not enough power in HDMI- Yes, thank HDMI again for swooping in and ruining the day. When developing the new consumer4k format, HDMI actually played an important role. Because of the limitations of HDMI 1.4, the final 4k consumer product actually turned out to be 3840×2160, which leads to point #2.
#2 Not enough lines- 3840×2160 is NOT 4k to begin with. All 4k formats are 4096 pixels wide, and the heights vary based on aspect ratio. This may seem nit picky, but as Joe Kane points out, this mean every 4k native source either needs to be scaled down 6% and made soft, or cropped at the sides to fit these displays without affecting clarity. In fact Joe Kane says we should be using the term 2160p and not 4k,(as we do for HD as that is 1080p and not 2k, as again 1920 is not the same as cinemas 2048 wide).
#3 Not enough content– Even if the above were not an issue, (which it inevitably will be), there is currently not enough 4k content anyway. Even if broadcast wanted to, they don’t have infrastructure to carry 4k currently on a wide scale, (nor 1080p or 3D for that matter). Broadcast still heavily leverages 720 , Blu-Ray Leverages 1080p, and for those of us with 240i and 480p line sources like VHS and Standard DVD or SD Cable, there will inevitably be some scaling going on, which brings me to point #4.
#4 Not enough Off! for the Mosquitos- The mosquitos are back! I remember seeing my first scaling nightmare on a Knoll DLP projector, back in the early 2000’s. We were watching The Fifth Element and it was mosquito season! Scaling around objects in motion can leave clouds of fuzzy pixels swarming like mosquitos in their wake. Watching soccer at the Sony Style store in Costa Mesa, I quickly grabbed my can of Deep Woods Off!, as they were in full effect on the new $25,000 85” UHD display. To be fair, they were smaller mosquitos, more like gnats now I guess.
Intermission- Even if HDMI actually carried 4k to these sets (it doesn’t), the displays actually delivered 4k (they don’t), there was a plethora of 4k content (there isn’t), and didn’t rely on scaling for other content (they do), there would still be a few problems. Which brings us to. . .
#5 Not enough difference at normal sizes- At normal seating distances of 8-10 feet on an 85” display, there just isn’t enough difference in resolution to pick up with your eyes. Sure you may be able to see the pixel pitch, but Joe Kane argues that you wouldn’t see poor quality or errors in the pixels until you get to a screen of a minimum of 10feet wide.
#6 Not enough bit depth – So let’s say, you DO have an application for a screen over 10 feet wide. Now the new 4k format is a homerun right? Not quite. The DCI spec for theaters dictated 12 bit color, because test audiences could see a drop in quality at 11 bits. Currently, all of our consumer content is 8 bit but, and the promise od “deep” 10 bit color, hasn’t been realized. Kane again argues that in a 4k format, at 10 feet wide, a minimum of 16bit color would be needed for smooth color transitions within the new enhanced color space that the 4k format gives.
#7 Not enough applications- So given all this, the home viewing scenario is not the right fit for this new 4k format yet. However there are some great applications for 4k in niche markets for displaying digital photography, in engineering, in radiology, oil and gas, or aerospace and satellite imagery. These are markets that have already been leveraging 4k in some instances, and the displays will be welcomed with open arms. They will however be fed with highly specialized, user defined content to maximize the resolution capabilities and eliminate scaling artifacts. There is some talk about passive 3D being able to benefit from these 4k displays giving 1080 lines of vertical resolution to the eyes through the FPR, but I have my reservations there too, bringing us full circle to . . .
#8 Not enough frame rate- It’s BAAACCCKK! Just when we may have found a reason for 4k displays to be used in smaller screen sizes in a consumer environment, leave it to HDMI to swoop back in. This little buddy limits 4k transmissions to 30 frames per second. That is fine for 24P movie content, and will cause some extra frame generation in the set itself for 60Hz broadcast signals, but it is my estimation that this little fact may cause some pains in 3D. Asking the TV processor to again step in and generate frames out of this air so that there is enough frame rate to eliminate breakup of the 3D image.
So again, like the players in Saturday Night Live, I’m not sure that 4k is quite ready for prime time. It will go through many reiterations and changes in cast that make it loved some weeks and hated the next. I think it will proliferate as price drops, but more because there will not be enough premium between the 1080p and “4k” sets to make a consumer choose the other format, just like most take 3D on a new set as a giveaway, but wouldn’t replace a working TV just to get it.
Am I not seeing the bigger picture of 4k clearly (puns intended)? I’m open to discussion, use the comments below!