You may be sitting in front of your HDTV quite content with the 1080p (or near 2K) picture resolution. Manufacturers, however, are hard at work on the next big thing, with both Sony and Toshiba announcing 4K sets that will be available by the end of the year. Here are some reasons why super-high resolution 4K and 8K technologies in development won't matter in the near future…
This is an age of technological advancement on the video front, with manufacturers and researchers exploring the next frontier in digital resolution with 4K and even 8K formats. Your standard 1080p HDTV set has a resolution of 1920 x 1080 — near 2K pixel resolution. 4K contains over twice that resolution with 4096x2160 pixels, and similarly 8K is twice that with resolutions of (7680x4320).
Directors and movie studios are excited about 4K because the upgraded resolution meets the quality of film scans (typically at 2000 horizontal lines). 4K cameras and projectors are already used in the industry, and even 4K movies have been released to limited markets. Just like the 3D technology before it, 4K is starting to trickle into the home space via projectors and dedicated sets. 8K is still in its infancy, and may be one of those technologies that the public won't fully adopt until it's available and interesting applications are designed for it.
I've had the chance to view a few of these technologies at the last CES, and although there clearly was a surprising amount of detail and sharpness, the picture didn't 'pop' like some 1080p counterparts. Sharp's 8K set (shown above) had a persistent pink color cast and the overall brightness and contrast were lacking as well. Like an old military shirt or hoodie, the color itself was muted and washed out. 4K HDTVs at the Toshiba and Samsung booths also lacked the depth of OLED sets at lower 1080p resolutions.
At a typical viewing distance our standard 1080p HD is very near Retina display quality
Another big factor, and why 4K and 8K sets may have a hard time gaining traction in the home space, is viewing distance. You'll notice in a lot of press images for 4K and 8K sets, that the viewer is standing right in front of the screen. You really need to be that close to notice the extra pixel density. For most consumers that is just not a feasible viewing distance for the living room.
Some 4K booths had ropes in front of them, not allowing you to get close, and for those the difference between 4K and standard HD was barely noticeable. That's because at a typical viewing distance our standard 1080p HD set is very near Retina display quality, "Retina display" being a term coined by Apple to define a resolution where the human eye cannot resolve individual pixels at a typical viewing distance.
Resolution isn't everything. You need to consider brightness, contrast, the quality of the screen panel, and viewing distance.
When these technologies start making their way to market this year, hold your breath. Just like when choosing an HDTV set, resolution isn't everything. You need to consider brightness, contrast, the quality of the screen panel (which affects viewing angles and color shift), and viewing distance.
I saw dozens of TVs at CES all with the same 1080p resolution but vastly different overall picture quality. Again, brightness, contrast, and panel technology were the key differentiators. Unfortunately, we can't line up and choose a set from the specs either, because manufacturers often exaggerate their numbers. You really have to rely on reviews and in-person demo — you really have to see these things for yourself to believe it and make the best choice.