/ Technology

The Ultra HD revolution will be televised

LG ultra HD LM960

Much of the television buzz at the CES 2013 trade show was about Ultra HD, also known as 4K. So… you know that new high-definition TV you just bought? Well…

Have you ever had that sinking feeling when you buy the latest product and then some heartless soul says, ‘you know that’ll be out of date within six months, right?’

So what is this 4K TV business? Well, a 4K panel (3840 x 2160 pixels) has a resolution of over eight million pixels, around four times that of full HD (1920 x 1080 pixels). This means the sets can show sharper details and crisper pictures.

Sony and LG both unleashed 4K TVs on to the market last year, but they were 84-inch monsters with price tags north of £20,000 (they didn’t put off popstar George Michael, though, who snapped up three of them in an eye-watering shopping spree at Harrods). But behind the headlines, I believe we are genuinely seeing the early days of the next generation of TV that could herald the biggest leap forward since HD.

At a TV trade show in Cannes this week, the BBC showed off sequences from its new Survival wildlife series shot with 4K cameras. The film features meerkats, and was shown using a Sony 4K digital cinema projector. The Beeb is understood to have been looking at 4K technology for several years, and it also ran trials of 8K UHD, up to 16 times sharper than HD, during the Olympics last year.

NHK – Japan’s public service broadcaster that worked with the BBC on the 8K trial – intends to start satellite transmission of 4K in Japan by July 2014, in time for the next football World Cup. Satellite TV provider Eutelsat recently demonstrated a dedicated Ultra HD TV channel in Europe. And Sky Deutschland has already run tests of 4K, including the taping of a Bundesliga match between Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund using the technology at the end of 2012.

4K goes to the movies

Movies are also upgrading. Sony Pictures is now shooting most new films in 4K, as well as remastering old titles, such as Lawrence of Arabia, in the higher resolution for special edition Blu-rays.

The TV industry certainly has high hopes for Ultra HD. The big manufacturers are looking to it as a saviour, after the expected 3D boom failed to materialise, and Smart TV proved a slow burner at best.

Organic light emitting diode (OLED) – a technology that creates super-slim TVs with high quality displays – is another key TV growth area, but the proliferation of HD broadcasting (particularly in sport) triggered the last major TV market boom. Manufacturers hope that the upgrade to 4K can be four times the money spinner.

So should you be worried that your brand spanking new HD TV is about to become redundant? Well, no, not really.

Realistically, I don’t think the market for 4K TVs will move beyond the super-rich, early adopters before 2015. Today Sony announced prices for it’s new 55-inch and 65-inch 4K LED TVs – in the US they’ll cost a hefty $4,999 and $6,999 respectively. There are also still huge challenges to overcome in delivering 4K content to your home, either as TV channels or streamed over the internet. But rest assured that this technology is coming and George Michael may just be blazing a trail for the next TV revolution.

Are you interested in Ultra high definition 4K TVs?

Maybe - if they get cheaper (41%, 169 Votes)

No (38%, 154 Votes)

Yes (21%, 86 Votes)

Total Voters: 409

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Well, my CRT is still going strong. So no plans to upgrade (yet).

So who are they planning to flog this one to? Aliens? They’d better make sure their visual sensors respond in the same way to flickering 30fps images and the RGB colour gamut – and there is life on other planets – otherwise this will be another technology flop.

The average human eye has about 7 million colour receptors (a.k.a. cones) spread across three response peaks (red, green, and blue), so let’s call it 2 million receptors per colour. My HD television has around 2 million pixels (capable of producing red, green and blue) so it’s pretty well matched to my (colour) visual acuity, at least.

Do I need more pixels? Yes, if I want more bragging rights. Can I use them? Not unless I have my Martian friends around for the weekend and they promise to stop complaining about the black-and-white “slide show” on BBC 1 HD.

Too right Em, the manufacturers have become obsessed with display resolutions, whilst the data streams have had to be heavily compressed in order for the transmission technology to deal with the ever escalating bandwidth requirements. 4K TV will effectively make current high speed broadband obsolete before most of us have it. I doubt if engineers will find a way of cramming 1-2Gb/s down copper wires (even if it is only from the cabinet to your home, current high speed broadband only took off for most with the advent of FTTC ) to make this tech work. Blu Ray does not have anything like the capacity for 4K, so we need a successor to that technology before it has achieved a market majority in comparison with “low fi” DVD, always a recipe for a flop if a new technology is superseded by another new standard (I gather that there is no agreed standard yet for TV transmission) when ordinary people have only just got over the financial shock of investing in full HD TV and BluRay kit that will last for at least 10 years.

I thought Sony was planning to close its loss-making TV business and concentrate on their products that generate revenue. They did close some of their factories.

I was going to make the same comment as Em. The Apple iPad 3 has what Apple calls a Retina screen ie the human eye cannot detect the separate pixels.

See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Retina_Display for Wikipedia’s explanation of a Retina screen. Note that ‘Retina’ now has a US patent.

Most modern cinemas project films using 4K technology and it’s as good if not better than 35mm film to view. 4K Video images feel real but are designed for viewing on big screens rather than the “small” 42 inch TV in your living room! The problem is the same as when HDTV was first developed – no reasonably priced method of viewing and not much source material (apart from 35mm films!) That has progressed but you will never see as many HD channels on terrestrial TV as it is possible to accommodate via satellite unless technology changes quickly. That means more money for PAYTV operators like SKY v Freeview/Freesat. The source material is huge in data terms and there are hardly any cameras that can produce the images yet. I say keep your HD television even buy a new one (there will be bargains to be had if Broadcast Ultra TV ever comes to a home near you!) Ten years minimum?

george says:
17 August 2013

“Most modern cinemas project films using 4K technology and it’s as good if not better than 35mm film to view”. ..as good as but no better… Check this out because
You are somehow definitely right :
On January 9, 2013, AU Optronics announced that they had jointly developed the 4K Ultra HD OLED panel that Sony was showing at the 2013 International CES.[85][125] AU Optronics also announced 4K Ultra HD LCD TV panels in sizes of 55 in (140 cm) and 65 in (170 cm).[85][125] The panels have a resolution of 3840 × 2160 and the 55 in (140 cm) panel supports a wide color gamut that covers 96% of the NTSC color space. AND MORE
8K UHDTV (4320p) has a resolution of 7680 × 4320 (33.2 megapixels), 16 times the pixels of current 1080p HDTV, which brings it closer to the detail level of 15/70mm IMAX.[2][11][12] NHK advocates the 8K UHDTV format with 22.2 surround sound as Super Hi-Vision.

conor says:
30 April 2013

freeview will not get ultra hd to much band with only sky and freesat can deliver this cable is also looking dodgy also company’s like bt and virgin need to start doing full fiber products fttp 2gb per second dload speed 1gb upload speed to keep up and that is guess from me

I would not notice the difference in picture with my eyesight, just as I was not interested in 3D TV due to my binocular vision. I am just as happy to watch an old black and white film as a super up to date HD film. Some improvements are just not worth paying extra for and I would place 3D and 4K in that category.

OO says:
1 June 2013

The upgrade from 415 to 625 lines made no improvement, since transmitted quality was unchanged for most programmes. That applies to HD, and probably to 4KTV. So no advantage, unless one wishes to show one is stupidly rich.

I’m sorry, but this assertion is nonsense.
I was working at the BBC when 625 was introduced. All source equipment (cameras, telecine machines, VTR etc) originated and transmitted 625 50fps pictures. It was also the precursor. of colour transmission in 1967. The improvement in definition with he advent of 625 was significant and put European broadcasters ahead of the USA for decades
The old analogue standard, incidentally was 405 lines, not 415.

The thing I find odd about this latest revolution in TV experience is this, your review mentioned 7.5 hours to download a COMPRESSED movie on a 50Mb broadband connection and that Blu Ray will not have enough space for anything but a massively compressed version of a film. So my question would be this Is there any point in having an Ultra High Definition picture if you are only going to be able to watch a massively compressed version of the material? Is the compression used not the limiting factor rather than the resolution of the screen? It would be rather like using a £20k HiFi system to listen to MP3 music, in my mind pointless. I was always taught that the best quality audio or video is gained by having the highest quality source material, and yet heavy compression is a daily fact of life in both media types, surely the effort should be going into providing uncompressed sources? If as I suspect the human eye struggles to differentiate compressed from uncompressed source material, then is there any point in higher definition display equipment? Em made a very astute observation about the optical capabilities of the Mk1 Eyeball as well, and what about the majority of people who don’t have 20/20 vision and have to use glasses or contacts to correct their vision, as a wearer of glasses for 50 years or so I’m very aware of opticians ability to correct vision defects and I would suspect that certainly the compromises made for spectacles would further reduce one’s ability to appreciate the difference between HD and 4K

Llebpmac says:
17 December 2013

I have not yet seen a tv anywhere as good as my Beovision MX4000, a CRT produced over 20yrs ago. The picture is sharp, the colour true, there are no movement or resolution issues. And the sound first class. Are theses issues completely beyond the current bunch of manufacturers. The current range of TVs only look good switched off, or showing cartoons.

John says:
17 June 2014

live in France and recently went to have a look at a couple of 4K TV’s at our local store. One was priced at €1499 and the other at €950. OK, more expensive than HD sets but hardly in the “super rich” bracket.

but beforee considering 4K I would need to know that all Astra channels are in 4K otherwise what’s the point?