4K: The Bigger Picture

November 14, 2016
4K: The Bigger Picture
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4k display

Display technology has greatly advanced over the last decade. The 2K-to-4K UHD transition represents a huge advancement in video realism and has triggered a lot of buzz in the industry.

The industry’s demand for higher image fidelity and an immersive cinematic experience has catalyzed the technological advances required for true 4K experience. When viewed at 3.5 to 5 feet away, 4K images on a 50 inch 4K TV are lifelike, with more depth and color.

Desktop displays at only 18 to 36 inches away display sharper and significantly more detailed images. Alongside these display advances is the need to develop software that supports and leverages 4K technology for the best possible user experience.

What is 4K?

4K resolution refers to a display device or content with the number of horizontal pixels comprising each line in the order of 4,000. These are the pixels that make up the picture.

With four times more pixels than the resolution of a 1080p (2K) display, 4K makes images clearer, sharper and more realistic. In the movie projection industry, the cinematic standard for 4K is 4096 x 2160. It is referred to as 4K DCI and has an aspect ratio of 1.9. In consumer displays and the media broadcast industry, the standard used for 4K has a resolution of 3840 x 2160 and is commonly referred to as 4K Ultra HD. It has an aspect ratio of 16:9.

4K Resolution

4K technology opens a world of possibilities for content creation and consumption. 4K UHD augments the viewing experience in applications like entertainment, digital signage, education, sports, surveillance, games and medical applications.

Native 4K resolution is significantly better in resolving detail, allowing closer, more immersive viewing and scales down to 2K output with a higher quality picture than if originally created in 2K. An entire industry has emerged to enable a truly end-to-end 4K ecosystem, from capture, production, primary distribution, and secondary distribution to consumers.

Consumer electronics equipment manufacturers, in particular, are embracing this revolutionary display technology and are the driving force behind making 4K mainstream. These advancements have led to the proliferation of 4K consumer devices but have left broadcasters and content creators playing catch-up.

Challenges to 4K Adoption

Creating end-to-end 4K content repositories to sustain consumer demands is costly. 4K video infrastructure, workflow management and delivery require huge bandwidth for successful distribution. Due to its high threshold for resolution, frame rates, color depth, and chroma subsampling, it can stress the infrastructure serving media networks; this will eventually drive costly and disruptive upgrades.

Capturing 4K-ready content is an important variable in creating a complete 4K experience. Cameras and sensors used to capture content have to support very high frame rates, while image file formats must be suited to processing and integration into post-production workflows. These images can generate huge amounts of data which needs to be accessed, manipulated and stored, in real time.

Another challenge is that the quality of display output could be compromised by the number and quality of interconnecting devices between the signal source and the display. This signal degradation could be due to cable length restrictions, interference and compatibility issues. In a shared environment, this requires high-speed, low-latency connections for signal integrity. The solution to successfully switch between streaming or hard-wired interconnections in these networks requires use of high-quality splitters, matrix switches, extenders and converters to route and extend these signals to longer distances.

The future of 4K

Mixed 4K and non-4K sources and displays dominate available integrated systems for now. We will see accelerated adoption as the costs associated with 4K content creation come down.

However, how close are we to a true 4K ecosystem? 4K UHD forecasts promise great opportunities and an exciting future for video ecosystems and industry experts from content creators to equipment manufacturers, alike. Increasing collaboration in the 4K value chain coupled with elevated consumer awareness and enthusiasm is evidence of positive momentum already. Advances in HDMI, DisplayPort, and Thunderbolt technologies are set to play a huge in alleviating associated challenges with 4K adoption.

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