Is 4K the new 3D?

At the CES 2012 in Las Vegas, it was very clear that manufacturers of TVs are evolving the once-simple screen into a myriad of connected applications: Skype chat, connected video and audio services, weather, news and even visualizing the connected home.

What particularly interested me this year was the next evolution of TV screen resolution. Consumer screens and video content have mostly moved from Standard Definition (SD) to High Definition (HD) in the US, and is moving quickly in the rest of the world. The extra resolution and quality of HD is hard to ignore, especially as screen sizes increase. However, just around the corner is the next evolution, called Ultra HD, or 4K, having four times the resolution of HD. To understand some of the terminology, we need to talk numbers.

4K, or 4K2K to be more precise, is the industry abbreviation for a screen resolution using a multiple of K, where K is a scientific measurement of ‘ two to the tenth power’ or 1,024 to be simpler. Hence 4K2K is 4096 pixels wide by 2160 pixels high.

To understand just how much more information will be available to the eye (assuming appropriate video content), let’s compare:

Standard Definition (SD) is 576 x 720 or 480 x 720 pixels depending on the country; High Definition (HD) is 1920 x 1080; Ultra High Definition (UHD), or 4K, is 4096 x 2160.

Simply put, 4K has sufficient detail to be used for digital cinema projection for a normal film. On a large TV (or home cinema projection) screen, the image is stunningly close to our natural world, and no longer appears to be just a representation of what we would have seen had we been there.

You are probably already asking what this all means. In a nutshell, it is the natural evolution of the TV screen. The issue will be having high-quality content to show. As I mentioned, 4K is already being used for digital cinema and studio masters of content are being produced already. Cameras are ready to capture and produce the video, and the prices will start to fall. Finally the up-scaling (smart video processing that creates information) is already being shown in TVs and Blu-ray players to convert HD into 4K with pretty good results.

We know from Ericsson ConsumerLab studies into what consumers want from TV services that quality remains one of the top priorities and matches their willingness to pay. It seems natural to assume that when prices are right and the content exists, 4K TVs will sell, and will yet again advance consumer expectations, as the industry always has done, enabled by technology.

The other trend for TVs at CES was 3D display without any glasses, seen as the answer to mass adoption of this format. The effect in my eyes was not particularly great and the seating position needed to be perfect.

What I found remarkable was how “3D” the normal 2D image was when shown at 4K resolution. The immaculate fine detail was so close to our real world that all the depth cues were present for my brain. Just as the real world is already in 3D, this digital representation seemed to have the same effect. Amazing, and while not a replacement for 3D with its cinematic presentation of depth (mostly exaggerated to impress), perhaps it will provide all the 3D most people will ever need, by bringing a truly real-world image to our eyes.

Written by Simon Frost

Simon Frost is Head of TV Marketing at Ericsson, driving all aspects of communications and marketing for TV. He has more than 15 years TV experience spanning strategy, business development, pre-sales, solution design and technical selling for operators in all TV market segments, and a worldwide focus.

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