The last decade has seen the rise of 1080p or high definition as marketing people like to call it. Yet recently 4k televisions have started to appear at conventions such as CES earlier this year. However, the questions that seem to arise by the arrival of 4k are whether broadcasters are ready and more importantly will the average consumer be able to discern the difference between 4k and 1080p.
What is 4K?
4K is set to be the next resolution leap that our televisions take and is named as such because there are nearly four thousand horizontal pixels across the screen. In fact the resolution of 4K images is 3840 pixels by 2160 pixels (3840×2160). For those of us whose mental arithmetic has declined over the years that amounts over 8million pixels which is four times as many that we now find in our 1080p flat screen televisions. This certainly sounds like a huge step forward, however, it is debatable whether 4K will have as big an impact as the upgrade to high definition has had on the way we consume media.
An Unnecessary Step
There is little doubt that the move from standard definition TVs to high definition ones could be called revolutionary. The clarity of high definition images is so superior that going back to watch a programme in standard definition only serves to emphasise the softness of the image and can even be little jarring. Indeed the richness of colour and clarity in a Blu-ray movie is at times breathtaking. Yet surely this raises the question of whether we actually need 4K. If 1080p Blu-ray movies can cause such amazement do we really need another bump in resolution.
Looking at the state of broadcasting in the UK it certainly doesn’t look like it. Earlier this year the UK’s television signal went completely digital. While this may have brought with it added content in the form of more channels it didn’t bring with it any added clarity. Indeed in order to get HD images on your HDTV your either have to have Freeview HD, Freesat or a subscription service, such as Sky HD. As of February 2012 4million Freeview HD boxes and TVs had been sold with a further 2million Freesat boxes also sold. This amounts to a rather meagre 6million households with access to live, subscription free broadcasts in HD in the UK. Don’t be fooled into thinking this means all channels are HD either. Only five channels are available for free in HD on Freesat and Freeview HD. All in all this looks like pretty conclusive evidence that broadcasters still have a long way to go before people can make use of their HDTVs let alone 4K ones.
Not only does the adoption of broadcasts in HD as well as HD capable set-top boxes need to improve before the implementation of 4K but it would also seem that such a resolution on our TVs may be redundant. The average size of a UK television is, according to Recombu, 30.8 inches yet Sharp predicts that by 2015 the average size of a TV will be 60inches. Even if this were the case, which seems doubtful, it is unlikely we would be able to tell the difference in picture quality between a 1080p and 4K television. When LG showed off its 4K television at CES it was a rather magnificent 84inches big. Even for the largest of sitting rooms 84inches is absolutely huge and begs the question of whether the continued growth of televisions can be sustained. Indeed if that is the size that a television needs to be in order to experience 4K in all its glory then it looks like it may be a resolution too far for the average consumer.
Hope for the Future
While this may look like there really is no point in 4K televisions it is important to note that 4K is still a long, long way off. Indeed LG’s 4K television was as much a proof of concept as it was an example of what to expect in the coming years. It would therefore seem that we are already on the path to 4K but unless broadcasters are more prepared for its arrival than they were with the current 1080p resolution TVs we have today then it seems like a rather needless path to tread. Who knows maybe by 2020 we will be watching 4K television on our wall sized televisions.