Though technically inaccurate, the term ‘4K’ is being used loud and wide at this year’s CES in regards to the next generation of TV sets that boast a ‘Ultra HD’ (UHD) resolution of 2160p, making it four times as detailed as the current 1080p standard.
As 3D has failed to take off in the home TV market, manufacturers are falling back on what they should be focusing on – improving sets via a combination of both higher resolution, and better quality images that boast stronger contrast ratios and wider color ranges.
The move to 4K is an issue at the moment because, frankly, there’s little to no content available at that resolution. There’s also the debate about perceptual differences – beyond better colors, a TV screen needs to be at least 60 inches before one sees a noticeable difference from an average living room viewing distance.
Netflix is testing the standard this year, broadcasting high-profile titles like its second season of “House of Cards” at the standard, and other VOD services are expected to follow suit in 2014. Even so, bandwidth issues relating to speed, overall cap limits, and compression artifacts mean streaming the amount of data required for a 4K broadcast remains an issue – especially in areas outside of major U.S. metropolitan areas. Even with the much more efficient video codecs in place, the data rate is still too much for a big chunk of potential viewers out there for at least a few years anyway.
That leaves discs. The catch with Blu-ray? Current dual-layered Blu-rays are 50Gb – not enough for a 4K film. This week though, Samsung Australia Philip Newton revealed to The Australian that Samsung had the technology in place to produce high-capacity four-layer Blu-ray discs with 100Gb capacity which should be large enough.
Newton expects these discs to become available “by the end of the year,” and Samsung would make 4K players available. In fact, the optical technology has already been available “for years”.
What’s the hold up? At present it’s manufacturers settling on a compression standard – either HEVC (H.265) which Netflix is about to employ, or Google’s rival VP9 which is currently in use on select clips on YouTube. The industry doesn’t want another format war, so four-layer discs will appear “once everyone is on the same page… except for the standard, it’s good to go.”