Did you see James Cameron’s Avatar in 3D at the theatre? Then you’ve seen 4K in action. Cameron’s movie about “giant blue dudes” helped drive high-resolution 4K Sony projectors into theatres around the world and made a lot of money in the process. Movie studios keen to maintain that momentum have released a slew of 3D films — mostly converted from 2D — and continued the expansion of 3D into cinemas.
However, this forward motion hasn’t translated to a success for 3D TV in the home
“Manufacturers would have wanted 3D to be bigger than it was; they wanted it to be the next LED, but it didn’t work out,” Lamb says.
Given a so-far-mediocre response to 3D, and the expense and bulk of active glasses, manufacturers have begun to search for an alternative and 4K offers a way to increase the quality of the 3D image with passive glasses or get rid of them altogether.
In-home 4K now and the future
4K TVs will be big and expensive for the next couple of years.
In the US, LG and Toshiba will release 4K displays in 2012, but in the absence of 4K media to watch, the main benefit would seem to be the enhancement of 3D quality. The resolution disadvantages of LG’s passive 3D system can, in theory, be overcome by doubling the number of horizontal and vertical pixels, allowing 4K passive displays to deliver 1080p to both eyes.
The first consumer-grade 4K panel to hit the American market will likely be a 55-inch Toshiba LCD that features autostereoscopic 3D or “glasses-less 3D” as it’s more commonly known. It uses the Quad HD specification, which is four times HD at 3840×2160 pixels.
No other 4K flat-panel displays have been announced yet. Sony US announced its 4K home theatre projector, the VPL-VW1000ES, in September, but does not make the product available through its website or stores and instead sells it directly to custom installers. Meanwhile, JVC in North America announced four projectors in 2011 that upscale 1080p content to 4K, but currently are unable to display native 4K content.
In the absence of 4K content, players and displays will need to upscale 1080p or even standard-definition content. To this end, Sony announced a new Blu-ray player at CES 2012, the BDP-S790, which will upscale to 4K.
Looking to the future, Sony is reportedly keen to have the forthcoming Spider-Man reboot become one of the first 4K Blu-ray movies and is apparently in talks with the Blu-ray Disc Association to finalise the specification.
Tim Alessi, director of home electronics development at LG, says he believes that such a development was not only inevitable but also potentially valuable.
“I do expect that at some point [4K] will be added [to the Blu-ray specification]. Having that content in the home is what the average consumer will want,” Alessi says.
Just when we thought we had it all covered, 4K may not even be the final word in resolution. Japanese broadcaster NHK was the first to demonstrate 8K in 2008 and at CES 2012 there were industry murmurings, and at least one prototype, devoted to higher-than-4K resolution.
Will the extra resolution offered by 4K make movies better? You could argue that it depends on the format of the original film. For example, The Blair Witch Project and 28 Days Later were both shot with standard-definition camcorders and there would arguably be little extra benefit to buying either movie in a 4K native format over a DVD — depending on the quality of the scaler in your brand-new 4K screen, of course.
Even with reference-quality native 4K material, however, a 4K-resolution TV or projector won’t provide nearly the level of visible improvement over a standard 1080p model that going from standard-def to high-def did. To appreciate it you’ll have to have sit quite close to a large screen — approximating the experience of being in the front few rows of a movie theatre.
But whether it’s 4K or 8K, you can bet that manufacturers haven’t run out of cards when it comes to trying out the next “must-have” feature in the coming crops of televisions.