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Opinion: Has 4K's time arrived?

Opinion: Has 4K's time arrived...
A wall of 4K TVs at CES 2014
A wall of 4K TVs at CES 2014
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Upping the ante beyond 4K, LG's 105-inch 5K display at CES 2014
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Upping the ante beyond 4K, LG's 105-inch 5K display at CES 2014
Curved Ultra HD displays were also popular at CES
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Curved Ultra HD displays were also popular at CES
A 5K TV from LG at CES 2014
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A 5K TV from LG at CES 2014
A 77-inch curved OLED 4K display from LG
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A 77-inch curved OLED 4K display from LG
A 77-inch curved OLED 4K display from LG
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A 77-inch curved OLED 4K display from LG
A 55-inch curved OLED 4K display from LG
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A 55-inch curved OLED 4K display from LG
A huge 4K panel from China's TCL
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A huge 4K panel from China's TCL
Sharp showed off this 8K TV with glasses-free 3D capability
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Sharp showed off this 8K TV with glasses-free 3D capability
Sharp showed off this 8K TV with glasses-free 3D capability
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Sharp showed off this 8K TV with glasses-free 3D capability
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Samsung has its own 8K display
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Samsung has its own 8K display
This 110-inch model from Samsung was one of the many 4K displays on show at CES 2014,
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This 110-inch model from Samsung was one of the many 4K displays on show at CES 2014,
Up close in 4K
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Up close in 4K
Up close in 4K
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Up close in 4K
Still relatively thin
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Still relatively thin
Still relatively thin
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Still relatively thin
A wall of 4K TVs at CES 2014
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A wall of 4K TVs at CES 2014

Ultra HD 4K displays were everywhere at CES 2014, with super high resolution displays measuring up to 110 inches in size. But the question remains, do we need displays with such high resolution, given that the human eye isn't likely to be able to tell the difference between 4K and 2K in most viewing environments? And who is making content in 4K anyway?

It's now a month since CES, and after making jokes about the ubiquity of 4K screens at the Las Vegas Convention Center last month, it now seems to me that 4K is an inevitable part of our future. While the hype around 3D TVs from a few years ago didn't really strike a chord with consumers, it seems as though 4K could be different. Here's why:

More is more

First off, there's the truism that specs matter, even when they shouldn't. Consumers who care about video quality will soon be boasting about their 4K displays, and it will become a key part of marketing televisions in the months and years to come. Furthermore, I think that shoppers will fall in line.

Don't believe me? Do you pay attention to how many megapixels your digital camera or smartphone camera can capture? Many people do and it continues to be the key shorthand spec for comparing cameras, even though it's just a small part of determining image quality.

4K is much the same. Surely it must be better than not-4K, right?

Research firm NPD DisplaySearch predicts that two million 4K desktop monitors will ship in 2014, even as the overall desktop monitor market is expected to contract. Keep in mind most desktop monitors are relatively small screens compared to the wall-filling 4K displays seen at CES. On a screen that size, whether or not you're looking at 4,000 lines of pixels or 2,000 will be practically impossible to determine with the naked eye, and yet they're expected to sell.

A 55-inch curved OLED 4K display from LG
A 55-inch curved OLED 4K display from LG

If you build it, so will everyone else

Perhaps most important, 4K seems to have achieved the momentum and critical mass necessary for it to gain mainstream adoption. Fearing being left behind, all the major manufacturers have boarded the 4K train as it leaves the station.

As I mentioned, every big tech company at CES made sure to have their take on Ultra HD. A few, like Samsung, even went a step further, offering an 8K display concept.

Samsung has its own 8K display
Samsung has its own 8K display

But these companies aren't just out to show what they can do, they're also looking to offer a real consumer product at a competitive price. Both Polaroid and Vizio showed 4K 50-inch displays that sell for less than US$1,000.

Along the same consumer-friendly lines, Sony has sought to make 4K tech more portable and practical, showing off a 4K short throw projector.

Just this month, Google also announced that its Chrome mini-PC, meant to capture the lower end of the market with a price tag of only $179, will offer support for high-end 4K displays. Hardware makers see the 4K tide building and don't want to miss catching the Ultra HD wave as it crashes on shores around the world.

If you build it, they will create the content

For many months, the big punchline about 4K was that no one was creating content at such high resolution, making the need for an Ultra HD display moot. The processing power alone needed to edit and render video of such high resolution seemed like a significant enough barrier to torpedo 4K.

That all seems to be changing very quickly this year.

Google has announced a new 4K streaming format, VP9, to reduce the required bandwith needed to stream 4K from YouTube or elsewhere. And Netflix CEO Reed Hastings popped up at multiple CES press conferences to tout upcoming 4K content on the streaming service, starting with the second season of House of Cards.

Sharp showed off this 8K TV with glasses-free 3D capability
Sharp showed off this 8K TV with glasses-free 3D capability

There were also 4K cameras spotted on the sidelines of this year's Super Bowl, even though the big game wasn't yet able to be broadcast in Ultra HD.

Refusing to be left behind, Amazon and cable TV king Comcast have both announced partnerships with Samsung to bring 4K television content to all the Ultra HD TVs Samsung plans to sell in the US this year.

While many may have thought all those glitzy screens at CES last month were all specs and no substance, it seems as though 4K is more about progress than punchlines. What remains to be seen, however, is if enough consumers agree.

With the obvious exception of early adopters, who may already be reading this on the latest 4K monitor, many people will have purchased a HDTV in the not too distant past. It's unlikely the move to 4K will be enough to convince many of these to upgrade again so soon, but anyone in the market for a new TV will have a tougher choice.

31 comments
Anne Ominous
4K monitor? Sure. I'd love one. 4K TV? No thanks.
exodous
I feel the same way as Anne, I can't wait for a higher rez 27" display. 1080p for on a monitor larger than 24" just doesn't look good. When sitting this close to a display it needs to be higher resolution. I will pick up a 4K TV eventually, when my 1080p TV dies and 4K is all I can get. Not before that.
Nairda
Saw a 4K TV at the local Mart. Expensive but absolutely amazing. Can you see that difference to a 1920? Sure can Over the air content has to catch up that's for sure, but these days people also use their TVs to plug into computers and consoles. And display port 1.2 can output it just fine (which most laptops and video card have) Plus what most people don't know is that video post processing power has also scaled with new TVs. I saw a 1920 movie scaled to 4k on a Sony, and unless you paused the video you would think it was native. Sony of course pulled the same trick for scaling 720p up tot 1920. Something to keep in mind. Glad they are taking 4k seriously because the jump will really be like VHF to Bluray
Frandango
Saw a 4K at the local shop and it looked amazing for panoramic shots but the movement of even small boats in the background was totally pixellated and looked truly horrendous. It reminded me of the first HD screens that were rubbish for sports as they couldn't keep up, only 100 times worse. The problem probably is the difference in quality is now more pronounced rather than necessarily worse. I am guessing that for sports or anything with significant movement , waiting is definitely the best policy , though I have only seen one so far so I could be wrong.
MG127
dpp1.2 isn't a good solution for 4k monitors, to have 60Hz at 4k you need to split the monitor in 2 virtual displays. i'd rather have a monitor UHD>res>FHD with 16:10 and 144 or 120Hz
Robert Walther
So... you can buy a $100,000 Mercedes AMG coupe for the same price as a $25,000 Chevy Cruze. It is unlikely that you will ever be driving on professional Race Tracks, and pushing the limits of the AMG; but just the idea of power and control and the option makes this deal a no brainer. It should also be obvious that the manufacturing costs of 4K are rapidly approaching the levels of HD. Even if you claim that you cannot see or need the 400% quality improvement, no manufacturer in the 21st Century is going to continue to make and market lower quality products that cost the same to produce. Consumer tech is surfing its own less extreme variation of Moore's Law. The advancements are slower, but the rush is no less exhilarating; and only the recalcitrant Luddites will want the better for less to go away.
Mike T
" given that the human eye isn't likely to be able to tell the difference between 4K and 2K in most viewing environments?" 1) Unless it's a placebo effect, and my eyesight is not even that good, I was amazed at how 4k resolution looked, compared to blu ray. 2) Was at the Sony center in NYC and the rep said the current TVs they had on display did not upscale to 4K, but only up to 2K, so forget about watching regular HD cable (1080i where I live) as 4K.
Brian M
Actually the analogy of number of pixels with cameras is not totally valid. With cameras higher pixel resolution allows cropping of the image or zooming in depending on what you are trying to do and still end up with a usable resolution (provided the lens is good enough etc. For viewing then the argument becomes less convincing, as the eye does have limitations but the again I remember the argument that you didn't need HD resolution on a 24" TV - you do!
singularity
" given that the human eye isn't likely to be able to tell the difference between 4K and 2K in most viewing environments?" I don't know why this rubbish seems to continue to be pushed around. It is absolutely possible to tell the difference between 4k and 2k in most viewing environments. The only people who say this are people who have bad eyesight or who have never seen a 4K tv. It is EASY to notice the difference between 4k and 2k and everyone I know that has seen one agrees that it is significantly noticeable.
Buellrider
I saw a couple of 4K 80 inch screens and I sure could tell the difference. In fact I was amazed because it was so much better than the other HD tvs on display. When you say that people can't tell the difference then I've got to think that they need to clean their glasses or get a new prescription.