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4K/UltraHD TVs: You’re looking at it the wrong way

by Roy Choi | May 2, 2015May 2, 2015 9:00 am PDT

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If you think 4K TV of Ultra HD is all about screen resolution, you are wrong. So very wrong. In fact if you sit in front of a 4K TV and proclaim that the clarity is absolutely amazing, you’re probably more than likely falling prey to some placebo effect.

Isn’t 4K about improved clarity?

During IFA’s Global Press Conference in Malta, Paul Gray, Principal Analyst for IHS presented some interesting findings about 4K and what it means for the industry. Think 4K is still all about resolution? Gray stated that in order for anyone to really notice a “wow” effect in image clarity you would need an 84-inch 4K display and sit approximately 1.6 meters (or about 5 feet) away to notice anything worth differentiating between 1080 and 4K. Which is probably why the marketing engine behind TV sets and mobile devices has been pushing the term “Ultra HD” quite so heavily. So when you walk into your local store and the salesperson wants to sell you a 4K set because of its amazing clarity, just brush it off to ignorance. Certainly the resolution is improved, it really is not worth the upgrade. More on 4K in a moment, as it pertains to mobile devices later.

Where does 4K work?

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4K, or UHD, does however have its advantages and while 4K/UHD refers to resolution, yes, there are other technological improvements that have been lumped in with these sets, according to IHS’s studies the proof is in color and higher frame rates. At least that is what consumers are saying are most important. And for it to be absolutely stunning, it has to be catered to the right content. WhSports for example, at 120Hz native, improves coverage of gameplay, displaying real life effects. How so? When it comes to seeing where a ball is struck, or how/where it is kicked, the game becomes much more predictable or more real. As for color, HDR comes to mind, the color spectrum is far more expansive and the colors just “pop.”  Though Gray warns, as advertisers today tend to utilize louder volume levels during commercials, they will likely do the same by making commercials much more visually colorful, to a point where it may become painful to watch. That’s why Gray suggests the industry needs standardization to keep TV watching from becoming painful.

But the deeper colors will make some content just absolutely amazing, like darker cinema abilities or more vibrant and natural wildlife shots. In this sense content is key. Gray also goes on to explain how “Hollywood” has found the cinematography tricks it has been using for decades to make up for shortcomings, by using depth of field or motion blur. For example, films have forever used the 24FPS format, filmmakers use this frame rate to better put emphasis on the subject while blurring what is in the foreground and it can be more quickly processed and why most Netflix original shows are already using the 4K resolution. If your depth of field is not as shallow it opens up an entire new set of issues that aren’t masked by the help of camera work. But this format is perfectly fitting for some type of live broadcasts such as sporting events, where you typically see wider shots and more things can be in focus in one frame. So while UHD has some benefits, broadcast TV has not figured out all the tricks to make 4K work. Live TV in fact has many numerous amounts of data, with very short processing time and power to make it all work, at least in the time being. At to that the infrastructure with broadcast TV has its limitations. Though broadband, especially slow broadband, can limit UHD streaming.

 What about UHD for mobile devices?

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Here’s what it gets interesting, clarity and resolution in mobile devices makes more sense. We will see 700ppi resolution devices (6.2-inch 3840×2160) this year and in the next 5 to 6 years over half of all devices around the world will sport resolution better than 400ppi (for reference the current iPhone 6 Plus sports a 401ppi display). But why the push for higher resolution on phones? According to Gray, not only do you see all the benefits in video like you see in TV, but it also lives in the text. Especially important for particular Asian language text and as it gains legibility with clearer, more print-like text. Especially important for manufacturers as the emerging APAC markets become larger bases.

4K TVs, though will be the future, in fact in some regions, you can’t even find a 1080 TV for sale. For consumers it has become more appealing to buy a 4K set because prices have dropped sharply. Will you be buying one in the near future? It seems, soon you won’t have a choice.


Roy Choi

Roy Choi is a Southern California native. He has been infatuated with technology reviews ever since he bought his first crummy laptop in the summer...

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