The next television standard will deliver content on our screens in far greater detail than what is currently available. The official name for the standard is Ultra high-definition (UHD), but its pervasive nickname ‘4K’ is still commonly used by companies behind leading televisions.
What is 4K/UHD
UHD is a new display standard that is four times clearer than the current Full HD standard. Ultra high definition doubles both the horizontal and the vertical resolution of Full HD, from 1920x1080 to 3840x2160, and this results in the number of pixels quadrupling from 2.1 million to 8.3 million.
Stand within a metre of a Full HD television and you can spot the individual pixels that make up the image. Do the same thing with an UHD television and you will be blown away by the endless detail. The feeling is similar to trying on glasses for the very first time.
Is there a difference between 4K and UHD?
Most people will treat 4K and UHD as the same. When Samsung, LG or Sony use the terms 4K or UHD on their televisions, they are referring to a TV with a resolution of 3840x2160.
The term 4K is used in the film industry to denote a wider resolution better suited to cinema screens. The resolution is slightly larger on the horizontal plane at 4096 pixels. Unfortunately this resolution wouldn’t accommodate household televisions because they adopt the less-wide 16:9 aspect ratio than cinema screens.
The consumer electronics association announced Ultra High Definition would be the official name for the next generation of high definition content in 2012. At the time, CEA president and chief executive Gary Shapiro said in a statement:
“Ultra HD is the next natural step forward in display technologies...This new terminology and the recommended attributes will help consumers navigate the marketplace to find the TV that best meets their needs.”
Do I have to upgrade my television
Yes. Yes you do. Ultra high definition will support lower resolution content, but there’s no other way to improve the screen resolution of a Full HD television without changing the display.
The good news is UHD televisions are dropping in price. Sony and LG’s first generation of UHD televisions, which were released in 2012, hovered around the $20,000 mark, while Samsung’s 85in UHD television costs $40,000.
But—and it is a big, full bodied but—UHD televisions are becoming affordable. Sony now offers an exquisite 55in UHD television for $3,099. Rampant discounter Kogan went one further just this month by launching a 55in UHD Agora television for $999.
Pricing of UHD televisions will continue to drop as time elapses, and that’s great news for consumers.
Why isn’t UHD the common standard yet?
Holding back the new standard is the development and support of content. The increase in clarity results in file sizes that are significantly greater than the current Blu-ray standard. The first movie that supported the standard was a 52 minute documentary called TimeScapes (2012); however, it supported the cinematic 2160x4096 resolution. TimeScapes had a file size of 160GB and was priced at $299 for the native 4K version.
Two years later and the same 4K movie has dropped significantly in file size and price, to 25GB and $99 respectively.
The high price and the large file size prevents UHD from becoming the prevalent standard. UHD movies will have to be sold on a hard drive or downloaded over an internet connection. Downloading just a few could cause you to exceed your data plan too.
Then there’s the real kicker: the price. Spending $99 on each movie is a privilege not reserved for the masses.
Are there any content hacks? Legal, of course
UHD televisions have screens populated with 8.29 million pixels. Cameras that have 8 megapixels or more support this, and easily make it possible for most people enjoy their home-made videos with no-compromise clarity.
Propelling the standard forward is a range of smartphones being released with the ability to record UHD videos. Currently Samsung’s Galaxy S5, LG’s G Flex and Sony’s Xperia Z2 all support UHD recording. It is no coincidence that these three smartphones are from the big TV brands.
Television companies also want to give people a reason to buy a new set. Boffins from Samsung, LG and Sony, to name a few, have developed intelligent software that upscales common content to UHD levels. Upscaling doesn’t achieve the same ‘wow’ factor, but it does make content look better on screens larger than 55 inches.
Read more: Buying guide: Panasonic's 2014 TVs