The Reality of 4K

Ed Lee
Apr 22, 2014

Once again, the major theme of the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) show was 4K — from capture to workflow to transmit and display. With each passing year, 4K gets a little closer to becoming reality.

I was asked many times at the show “Is 4K for real?” and “Will it become mainstream?”

My answer has been “Absolutely!” With the amount of effort being put behind 4K from CE vendors to content producers, I am confident that 4K is the wave of the future.

Some people remain skeptical about 4K, especially with the failure of 3D to thrive. They felt that they were burned with 3D and are hesitant to jump back into the game.

Their reaction reminds me of how retail photo processors were slow to respond to digital photography. Back in 1996, the Advanced Photo System (APS) film was introduced. It was supposed to be the next major advancement in film photography and serve as a bridge between film and digital. Many retailers were persuaded to buy new and expensive APS processors for developing and printing the APS film. Unfortunately, APS did not gain widespread adoption before digital came along. As a result, retailers who invested in APS early were burned and did not see a return on their investment. Therefore, when it came to upgrading to digital minilabs in preparation of digital camera adoption, most hesitated and, thus, were late to digital photo printing. Consumers found it hard to print their digital photos at retail and turned to home printers or printed a small percentage of the photos they captured. Retailers thus missed an early opportunity to keep people in the habit of printing their digital photos.

The benefit of 4K and its explanation to consumers is an easy message. “4K delivers higher resolution screens and content and, therefore, a higher quality viewing experience.” This is a straightforward and easy to understand message that any consumer can appreciate.

Anyone involved in capture, workflow, transmission, and display of 4K content would be wise to get on the bandwagon and complete this ride.

Overcoming Challenges

The immediate challenges for 4K are reducing the cost of devices, as well as the generation of content. I expect that these will be solved over the next few years. TVs and monitors, like any other CE products, will see steep price declines as production ramps up. Amazon already offers a Seiki 39-inch 4K Ultra HD (UHD) TV for $499, well below the thousands of dollars for larger 4K Ultra HD TVs. Obviously, there are limitations, like the inability to handle native 4K content. Most content today will be upscaled from HD to 4K resolution, until new 4K content is developed. The TV can still be used for gaming or as a 4K monitor, which will deliver a higher resolution/quality experience. For photographers, viewing images in 8 MP resolution on screen means photos will have extra clarity and a much wider color gamut. For those people who are into numbers, a spreadsheet on a 4K monitor is worth checking out. The amount of data that fits on the screen and the clarity of the fonts are impressive. It is possible that 4K monitors may lead the way into the home, ahead of UHD TVs. Samsung this month is launching a 28-inch 4K monitor (U28590D) for $699.

The 4K content issue is being addressed. New TV shows and movies are being captured in 4K resolution, which will “future proof” them for when 4K UHD TVs become more popular. This month, Netflix began streaming 4K content, like its original series “House of Cards.” Other content providers like Amazon, Sony, Comcast, and Fox have announced plans to deliver 4K content. 4K videos can already be found on YouTube. Thus, the library of 4K content will grow throughout the coming years. The most significant challenge ahead for 4K is over-the-air broadcasts, which will require several years, bandwidth improvements, technology advances, and money to solve.

4K is coming and so is the next wave of imaging innovations. Now is the time to prepare.



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