4k-not-yet

The best argument for picking up an Xbox One S right now is that it’s the best deal you can get on an Ultra HD Blu-ray player at the moment. It’s a little bit faster than the original Xbox One, a little bit sexier, but it’s still largely the same system. The 4K video playback and HDR color are really the standout features.

And while I did really enjoy those features, they also highlighted that 4K isn’t quite here yet. The rollercoaster is almost to the top of the hill and about to come hurtling down, but it’s still creaking up those last few feet. Here are a couple of anecdotal stories about the trials of getting the Xbox One S’ biggest new features working

I coupled my Xbox One S with a Samsung KS8000 4K television. At first, when I connected the S to the television and checked out the screen that let me know what 4K features were supported, I came to a line of red X marks. UHD video: Not supported. 10-bit color: Not supported. UHD gaming: Not supported. Did I somehow get the wrong TV? I sat to down to do some troubleshooting and found out that I had to do two things. First, I had to have the Xbox One S plugged into the first HDMI port on the television. This isn’t specific to the KS8000 or Samsung televisions. Often only one HDMI port has full support for HDR and 10-bit color. After that, I had to update the television’s firmware. Finally, I had to specifically enable the Ultra HD feature on the port. Only then did I get a screen full of green check marks.

A friend across the country picked up the system on release day and experienced the same initial problem I was experiencing – that column of red X marks suggesting that his television wasn’t going to support the features. Even when you know your television should work, it can be a bit of a sinking feeling, wondering for a moment if this device isn’t going to play nice for some reason, with no way around it.

For him, it was a matter of cabling. In an effort to reduce cable clutter in his house, he’d run cable through the walls. The cable behind the walls was the correct high-speed cable, but the hardware that coupled the HDMI cable in the wall to the HDMI cable plugging into the Xbox One S wreaked havoc on the signal, first telling him that 4K wouldn’t work, then that 4K would work, but without 10-bit color. A direct connection took care of the issue.

Then there’s the HDR feature itself. The Xbox One S supports the HDR10 standard of High Dynamic Range color. There’s another standard out there called Dolby Vision. It’s ostensibly better, but it requires its own licensed chip. While it’s the stronger standard, the cost has kept many manufacturers, including big ones like Sony and Samsung, from supporting it. If you read up ahead of time, you might know going in if your television is going to accept HDR color from the One S. The specifics of this aren’t something most people are going to see as obvious. Many Dolby Vision televisions will have their firmware updated to include HDR 10 – compatible Vizio televisions will be updated this year sometime – but there’s no guarantee that all will get it.

In a few years, this will all be moot. 4K televisions will have all but pushed 1080p out of the market. A firm HDR standard will be ubiquitous. High-end video support will feed to all the ports on those televisions instead of just a single port. Cable bandwidth will improve and older HDMI cables will likely disappear from the market just like 1080p televisions.

But right now? We’re not quite there. Simply ordering the right cable is confusing enough for someone who doesn’t know there are different kinds, and complications like limited compatible ports, firmware updates, and settings make the whole thing a track packed with hurdles.

If you’ve already upgraded to 4K, you probably don’t have to worry about some huge overhaul turning your set obsolete anytime soon. But if you haven’t upgraded yet, you might want to wait just a little bit longer; we’re not quite there yet.

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