8 reasons why you should be excited about Ultra HD
13th May 2013 | 10:00
4K is coming and you'll have no choice but to love it
Like it or not, 2013 is the year of 4K and Ultra HD. The movies are already here, the TVs are coming and the disc format is on its way.
There's more reason to be excited about all this than most advances in display tech, too, even if you were unimpressed by the so-called 3D revolution.
This year, the sizes and the prices of 4K TVs are entering the realms of us mere mortals, and we reckon that Ultra HD will sooner or later persuade you to buy a new TV. Here's why...
1. It looks amazing
Believe us - 4K is not the new 3D. 3D didn't take off for many reasons: the glasses are uncomfortable, it's headache-tastic, the experience just isn't relaxing for the majority. It's also just an extra feature which you either do or (mostly) don't use depending on the content. But 4K is different - the step from HD to Ultra HD is just like the step was from SD to HD.
It's a permanent feature of the screen that gets used every time you watch it. Sharper images, more detail. Amazing eye candy, essentially, offering a more pleasant watching experience. Upscaling on some (but not all) of the Ultra HD TVs we've seen so far has been very impressive, with HD movies looking amazing on big 4K TVs from trusted brands. Native 4K movies are simply mesmerising.
2. You can sit closer to the screen
With a full HD picture, conventional wisdom says that you need to sit three screen heights (3H) away from the display in order to enjoy optimum picture quality: any closer and you'll be able to see the individual pixels, you'll get a headache, and your eyeballs will dissolve.
However, with a far sharper picture, 4K videos can be enjoyed optimally from just 1.5H. This makes large screen sizes far more sensible than they were in the past, you can sit a lot closer which doubles your field of view from just 30 degrees to 60 – giving you a far more cinematic, immersive experience.
3. It makes passive 3D more tolerable
In many ways, passive 3D offers a more comfortable way of watching a 3D picture compared to active 3D. But because the light is split, 3D Blu-rays effectively have their resolution halved. It's much worse when watching a boradcasted 720p sports match - the picture ends up not even being HD.
But with a 4K TV, the resolution is four times higher than full HD which means passive 3D still looks nice and sharp. It's not as sharp as native 4K pictures (just wait, 4K 3D is the next feature on the production line), but still far better than what we've become used to. Of course, you might still hate 3D. But for anyone who really wants to like it but has yet to be convinced, this might be a reason to get involved.
4. 4K OLED is coming
One exciting thing for consumers thinking about upgrading is that 4K and OLED tech is arriving at roughly the same time. LG predicts OLED prices will be at current high-end LED prices in the next two years. What's more, Panasonic and Sony are both completely ignoring HD OLED tech and going straight to 4K OLED.
So for many people, waiting for a 4K OLED 3D TV might be a good option - they're not far away. If you can't wait, of course, Sony's 55 and 65-inch 4K LED TVs are already around here somewhere (reviews coming soon!) and there'll be lots more from other brands launching at IFA in August/September.
5. There are already hundreds of movies out there
If you think there will only be a few 4K movies available to watch at home, you're mistaken. There isn't yet an agreed format or standard for 4K movies on disc, but it's not far off. And when the players start coming out, there will be literally hundreds of movies and TV shows available from the off. Many have been filmed natively in 4K (or above) over the last few years, but even films shot on 35mm film 50 years ago can be rescanned and remastered in 4K.
Sony Pictures alone has already remastered over 100 movies in this way. It's worthwhile, too - the 4K remaster of classics such as Laurence of Arabia will be the first versions of the movie to use and display all of the picture information captured on the original film. So in some respect, 4K remasters will be the definitive editions.
6. TV shows are now shot in 4K by default
It's not just movies that are getting the 4K love, either. If you want to make a new TV show at Sony Pictures, 4K is now the default format. It's the same elsewhere. It's a little more expensive to make shows this way, but the increased value when it comes to syndication later down the line makes it a no brainer for many of the leading US studios. And of course, older shows shot on film can be remastered in 4K just like older movies. Below you can see Breaking Bad being remastered in 4K, one painstaking frame at a time.
7. 4K TV broadcasts aren't far away
A compressed 4K movie stored on a server at a cinema takes up around 200GB of storage space. Sony's market-leading F65 8K camera (Sony shoots in 8K and downsamples to 4K or 2K) can squeeze only around 1 hour of footage onto a 1TB Sony SR memory card. So you'd be forgiven for assuming that 4K TV broadcasts are a long way off, but that's not actually true thanks to advances in compression technology.
The newly ratified HEVC compression format for 4K can deliver a brilliant Ultra HD broadcast picture with a bitrate of just 20Mbit/s. When compared to the 12Mbit/s currently employed for HD, that's not such a huge leap. FIFA will be filming the World Cup in 4K in 2016, and as we found out recently, the BBC is planning to trial 4K broadcasting at Wimbledon this very year. As an aside, YouTube is already serving up 4K video, and Netflix says it's not far behind.
8. Glasses-free 3D is coming
The final reason to be enthusiastic about higher resolution TVs is that they are opening the door for the definitive form of 3D - glasses free - to become a reality. Current glasses-free tech, which is already impressive but not quite ready yet, uses a lenticular-style lens over the screen to separate the light from the panel into two channels - one for each eye. This division of the light effectively halves the resolution which is why glasses free 3D requires at least a 4K panel to be effective.