Is 4K In Your Future?

featured-tiners-tkeIt has been about 18 months since the AV world was officially introduced to 4K. Many of us in the AV industry take major changes like 4K with a grain of salt. I think it tends to be because we have seen technologies (think 3D) have a groundswell, and then fall flat. So, we are cautious of “new” and “groundbreaking” technology. Especially when that technology has a major disruptive capability for our systems. As an integrator or designer, you need to walk a very careful line when deciding how and when to introduce these new technologies. Your clients probably don’t want the $15,000 4K projector proposed to them quite yet. However, they also do not want to find out in the next couple of years that their infrastructure won’t support 4K. So, what do you do?

I think there are two things you can do in situations like this. First, you need to educate yourself and your client.  Second, take an educated guess as to what the future will bring and share that with your clients.

4K is a new higher resolution format for video sources and displays. As you would expect in our industry, there is almost a standard for these resolutions and almost a common terminology. However, the various terms of Ultra HD, 4K and Quad HD promise to confuse people. In a nutshell, a resolution of at least 3840×2160 is considered 4K. Of course, if you really want to get out there and confuse yourself, just Google 4K. Your head will soon be spinning.   Crestron has a new white paper out titled “Challenges of Distributing 4K Video.” It is excellent and I highly recommend it. There is a little bit of sales that happens in the paper, but a lot of important information.

4K-0214We have all been working with computers for years, and are aware that resolutions exist that are higher than the 1080p available for consumer devices. Apple has the “Retina” display on several of its products today. The current MacBook Pro has a resolution of 2,880×1,800. Crestron refers to these resolutions as “tweener” resolutions, somewhere between 2K and 4K.

My take on 4K is that it will have value for higher education. The two things I have recently learned that have driven me to this conclusion is that 4K is higher than the resolution of today’s x-ray, and comparable to that of the 35 millimeter slide projector. The x-ray comparison is important for those people who work in the sciences, in particular the medical field. The ability to transition from film-based technologies to all digital has a host of benefits, both from the practitioner’s point of view and from the teacher’s. The slide projector comparison may be the thing that pushes our very detailed faculty to make the move to digital. Let me be clear about both of these examples: People were not simply “slow” to make the transition, rather, the technology did not serve their needs. Now, that may change.

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The other real potential for 4K is in the digital signage world. I can see 4K monitors being very useful for those applications that require a user to be very close to the monitor, such as interactive digital signs. Even with 1080p, large screens tend to be pixelated when viewed close up.

Clearly, I think there is a value and need for 4K in higher education. So, my concern about the future of 4K comes from the consumer applications. It is the consumer side, TV and movies, that often drives vendors to make technologies and drives the prices to drop. I don’t see a huge wave of consumers moving towards 4K. There is very little consumer content available in this format, and I don’t see that changing in the next 18 months or so. I also find it interesting that manufacturers are looking at 4K as the future, while consumers are content with YouTube quality video, and Netflix on their tablets. Despite the fact that Netflix is putting out Season 2 of House of Cards in 4K, I am not sure how the two trends collide. For consumers, content is more valuable than quality.

So, what is the takeaway for those of us working in and around higher ed? You need to stay abreast of the 4K technologies. You need to pay attention to sites like rAVe and their coverage of trade shows. As I write this Gary and team are in Amsterdam covering ISE. Pay attention to that coverage. Are more content providers coming out and announcing a shift to 4K? How about device manufacturers, particularly computer and tablet manufacturers — are they shifting towards higher native resolutions? As you begin to watch and learn more about 4K, think about the locations of where it would be of particular value in your installs, or where your customers could benefit from it. Then, in those locations, you should pay careful attention to putting equipment in that will support 4K in two or three years.  Otherwise, it is my guess that 4K will move at a pace that allows us to gradually grow into it.

What are thoughts about 4K and the future? Tweet me, leave a comment below or email me and let me know your thoughts. I look forward to hearing from you.