Ultra High-Definition television is here, bringing four times the resolution of today’s FullHD 1080p sets and promising high-quality images tailor-made for today’s big-screen sizes.
At a time when flat-panel TVs are trending dangerously close to commoditization, Ultra HD is expected to offer manufacturers and retailers an opportunity to boost profit margins and deliver consumers what they seek most from a new television purchase — maximum picture quality.
At the same time, Ultra HD product deployments should eventually incentivize a new market for native high-resolution content, which will lead to Ultra HD delivery over cable and satellite systems, new home playback formats like Ultra HD Blu-ray Discs, and next-generation Ultra HD Internet streaming.
Even future Ultra HD over-the-air TV broadcasts are not out of the realm of possibility.
With the arrival of larger and larger TV screen sizes, Ultra HD TVs and video projectors will produce much more detail and less visible pixels than 1080p TVs. They will also allow sitting closer to the screen, which is important for big-screen lovers with small viewing spaces.
Viewers will see images with even smoother edges and greater depth, and for sets with fast screen-refresh rates, pictures can appear to be almost 3D, without the need for glasses.
While Ultra HD offers significant advantages for very large-screen TV viewing, it also offers benefits for smaller screen sizes.
“When all content sources are considered, there is really no limit to how small the screen can be in order to derive benefits from the higher resolution and the ability to be much closer to the screen, such as the immersive experience on new gaming platforms or pixel peeping during editing of high-megapixel RAW image files,” offered Rey Roque, Westinghouse Digital marketing VP.
Another benefit is that Ultra HD 3DTVs using passive polarized glasses will be able to display 1080p (1,920 by 1,080) images to each eye, instead of cutting the resolution in half as passive 1080p 3D displays do.
According the Consumer Electronics Association’s (CEA) definition, the minimum resolution for Ultra HD displays is 3,840 by 2,160 progressively displayed horizontal and vertical pixel lines, or four times the resolution of a 1,920 by 1,080 image.
The resolution level is also informally referred to as “4K,” because it has roughly 4,000 horizontal pixels, but technically speaking, 4K denotes a very specific display resolution of 4,096 by 2,160.
In its “U.S. Consumer Electronics Sales and Forecast July 2013” report, CEA projected Ultra HD shipments to reach 57,000 units, and shipment revenue to earn $314 million in 2013. Ultra HD shipments are expected by the association to go on to surpass the 1 million unit mark in 2015, when more native Ultra HD content should be available.
Simply put: “Ultra HD promises to be the next big video product driving change in content, cameras, security, retailing, displays and even audio. It will drive growth across the entire consumer technology ecosystem,” stated CEA president and CEO Gary Shapiro.
Next-generation broadcast standards are already being drawn up to support Ultra HD signals, and archives of Ultra HD movies and television programs are ready and waiting in Hollywood vaults for home release.
Still, as in the early days of high-definition TV, widespread availability of native Ultra HD content is a couple of years away. Therefore, many TV manufacturers have designed today’s Ultra HD products to include advanced up-scaling and picture-processing systems that multiply the number of lines in 1080p and 720p (or lower) images to fit the extra pixel lines of an Ultra HD screens.
But will that be enough to drive sales where recent attempts to drive 3DTVs failed?
Unlike 3D, as more and more high-value 4K content is produced over time, applications outside of consumers’ homes will make them a staple in the commercial, industrial, medical and command/control industries.
And with prices for Ultra HD TVs already dropping below $999, it seems likely that over time consumer displays will migrate to 4K just as they did to 1080p.
“Much of the content being shot today is being done in 4K,” said Pablo Espinosa, Sony Electronics TV products engineer. “Only 4K delivers the real picture originally intended by the director of the film. That’s important to us, because Sony provides the whole end-to-end 4K solution from capturing to the screen.”