One of the most exciting recent developments in the entertainment market is 4K Ultra-HD television technology. In basic terms, these devices cram huge numbers of pixels into their screens.  That means images are rendered with stunning clarity and precision.

 

When resolutions reach this level, the human eye starts to perceive the television images as if they are real world objects.  High definition screens not only have wide-ranging implications for watching television or movies, but also for computer gaming, cameras and many other entertainment technologies.  


There are an astonishing number of 4K Ultra-HD televisions launching this year including a range of models from Samsung, Sharp, LG and Sony.  4K Ultra-HD televisions dominated this year’s CES technology convention as manufacturers aggressively pushed them towards eager consumers.  

But what do you need to know about this technology before you buy-in?  Here is all of the information you need to understand about 4K Ultra-HD television to make a smart purchasing decision.

What are 4K Televisions?
The term “4K” can be used to describe any screen that has a horizontal resolution above 4000 pixels.  There a number of competing standards being used to define the term, but the digital cinema initiative (DCI) describes 4K devices as having a resolution of 4096 x 2160 (256:135 aspect ratio).  That is an astonishing four times more pixels than a 1080p television (8 million vs 2 million).

In the UK, a television standards group has been working on a more comprehensive definition which included refresh rates, colours and contrast.  Some of the bigger manufacturers decided that it was better for them to create their own definition of what 4K is, so they created the “UHD Alliance”.  Arguably that is so they can lower the technical standards required for a product to still be called 4K.

From this we can say that 4K does not have a particularly strict set of definitions.  So when purchasing a 4K television, be aware that you cannot trust the 4K sticker to give you a minimum standard of quality.  You will need to check the specs!

How Does 4K Differ to Ultra HD?
For televisions with horizontal resolutions just below 4000, the term “Ultra-HD Television” has been used.  There are many models that have a resolution around the 3840 x 2160 mark and fit into this category.  These televisions shouldn’t be discarded as inferior in all cases though, because some of them have superior contrast and overall image quality compared to 4K sets.

Why is This Technology a Game Changer?
When an image is viewed at this resolution from a distance of a few meters, it is as good as being there.  The clarity and nuance of a 4K television must be seen to be believed!  3D television was seen by many as a gimmick in the entertainment market, but in comparison 4K gives a real and very apparent improvement.  

Because the resolution is so much higher, you can also have a larger television set and not notice the pixels.  This is one of the reasons why the smallest available 4K television set is 50 inches.

It’s important to note that while the screen technology has rapidly improved and is being pushed onto consumers, the technology has not improved as rapidly for projectors.  There is currently only one 4K projector screen on the market, but this may change later this year with the advent of a new 4K DLC chipset.

Will 4K Be Available on Small Screens Also?
Analysts expect 4K televisions to commonly be 55-inches or higher.  This is due to the fact that large screens take full advantage of the technology, while it is less useful on a smaller screen.

Typically a 55-inch 4K television will be the perfect replacement for a 40-inch 1080p television.  4K televisions are also built to run on high frame rates, which will be important as television stations improve their broadcasting technology.

What is The Best Placement For a 4K Television?
One benefit of the vastly improved picture is that you can sit closer to the screen and it still looks fantastic.  Think about sitting in front of a 4K television as you would sitting in front of a movie theatre screen!  

One rule of thumb is to use the height of the screen to determine how far back you should sit.  If you sit 1.5 times the height of the screen away from the television, you should be able to comfortably scan the entire device without moving your head.  For most 4K televisions that will be 2 or 3 meters away from the screen.  

What About OLED?
Organic Light Emitting Diodes (OLED) are another exciting technology being used in modern televisions.  OLED screens have more vibrant colours and better contrast.  Unfortunately, the technology is very expensive and due to the size of 4k Ultra-HD televisions, we won’t see OLED 4K any time soon.  Like most technologies it is expected to come down in price eventually, but at this stage it is not worth waiting for.

Is There Enough Content?
The biggest problem for 4K Ultra-HD television is a lack of content.  These screens require a lot of data to push their incredibly high-resolution images.   There are currently no television stations in Europe broadcasting at full 4K resolution.

Thankfully that will be changing soon, with the DVB-UHDTV Phase 1 specification released in 2014.  The specification allows transmission of images up to 3840x2160 resolution with a colour depth of 10 bits per pixel.  Once the standard is approved, Ultra HD channels will begin to appear.

Unfortunately, you may need to buy a new set top box to receive broadcast Ultra-HD television signals!

For streaming content, Netflix has already started providing 4K television content.  Of course to stream 4K you need a very fast Internet connection and large data allowance.  Netflix also plan to start streaming content with “high dynamic range” or HDR in the near future.  This technique uses three images with varying contrast to create a single image with more detailed contrast overall.  4K televisions are perfectly suited to take advantage of the increase in picture quality.

Youtube has also started offering a 4K channel, you will require a PC with a very powerful graphics card.

A lot of 1080p content looks remarkably good on 4K televisions.  So there are thousands of Blu-ray movies which will look fantastic on your screen. 4K televisions use advanced interpolation techniques to scale up the quality of the 1080p signal.  An Ultra-HD version of the Blu-ray format is also on its way in the near future.

If you own a Sony 4K television and live in the United States, you can also access their download service.

How Does 4K Work With HDMI 2.0?
HDMI 2.0 is the most recent version of the HDMI specification and has some capabilities which are useful for 4K televisions.  While HDMI 1.4 can stream content to 4K televisions, it is limited to 30 fps.  HDMI 2.0 can support 4K Ultra-HD up to 60 frames per second because of increased the bandwidth it provides.

Unfortunately, some 4K televisions do not support HDMI 2.0 directly.  They use separate connection boxes and tuners which must be upgraded to take advantage of HDMI 2.0.  The response to HDMI 2.0 varies between manufacturers, so it is one aspect to check before you purchase your television.

You Will NOT need new cables to support HDMI 2.0. Existing HDMI cables will work just fine.

 

What Are Quantum Dots?

Another technical term which you may have heard is “quantum dots”.  While it sounds like something from a Star Trek episode, quantum dots are LED panels that feature a thin film of nano-crystals between the backlight of the television and the display.  Manufacturers claim that it can greatly increase colour-depth on a device.

Reviews are mixed on the technology, with some reviewers claiming it leads to an oversaturated image.  You should examine the television sets your self and decide if a quantum dot is something you need or something better left in the space age.

How Much Does it Cost?
As with most new television technologies, the devices were very expensive when first released.  Perhaps a Saudi prince could afford a £200,000 television, but it was slightly too expensive for most of us.

Thankfully the price continues to drop and competitors battle to dominate the market.  You can now obtain and truly massive 65-inch 4K television for as little as £3,000.  That is a huge television screen with spectacular image quality.  The cheapest 4K televisions have crept below the £1,000 mark and will continue to go lower.  As with most technology, the longer you wait the cheaper it gets, but the price point is looking good enough for most consumers to jump in right now.

Should I Just Wait for 8K?
Manufacturers are already working on the next big thing in entertainment technology — the 8K television.  It will deliver a massive 33 million pixels and 16 times the definition of a 4K television.

To benefit from pixel density this high, you would have to use a television above the 84-inch mark, so we are talking about humungous televisions.  These kinds of televisions might be in the consumer market within 6-8 years, but don’t expect full support to come from broadcasters and online streaming companies for quite a while!