Blog Lab

4K video – is this the future? Pt. 1

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Every so often we get invited to take a peek into the future, to see what technology is on the horizon before it gets launched to the mainstream. Last month was one of those times with the official Australian launch event for Sony’s brand new, flagship ‘4K’ projector.

Before I go on to explain why this is a fairly exciting prospect for home theatre enthusiasts everywhere, let’s talk a little bit about this 4K thing: what does ‘K’ refer to, why are there 4 of them and why should we care?

You’ve all heard of 1080p, right? Your brand new 65”, monster flat screen TV has ‘1080p High Definition’ plastered all over it. The ‘p’ stands for progressive-scan (which I won’t go into here) and the 1080 refers to the number of horizontal lines of resolution it’s capable of displaying. The equivalent vertical lines of resolution is 1920 (which gives you your 16:9 ratio HDTV picture – do the maths, it works!) and if you multiply them together, you get the total number of pixels – just over 2 million! Bit like a 2 mega-pixel camera really, if that means more to you.

So 4K refers to vertical lines of resolution where K represents the binary version of a thousand pixels (4096). The horizontal equivalent is 2160, which is not quite the same16:9 ratio as HDTV. Confused yet? I’m not surprised. How they expect consumers to understand these concepts, I don’t know!?

All you really need to know is that 4K has more than 4 times the number of pixels of 1080p, or 4 times the resolution. 4 times as sharp as high definition, 4 times as clear – that’s ultra-high definition to you and me!

So why does this all matter? Well, have you ever looked at one of your favourite photos taken on your brand new 16 mega-pixel camera on a 130” projector screen? Looks pretty ordinary doesn’t it. Seeing the equivalent photo presented through a 4K projector, you can really see the difference. What was blurry becomes sharp. Previously hidden details are suddenly revealed. And with detail comes depth, colour and a sense of realism, which is what we’re all working towards – making that picture look as realistic as possible. We want to trick the mind so you’re no longer watching a motion picture, you’re actually in the picture, experiencing every visible detail like you were actually there. That’s why movies seem so much better at the cinema. Cynical views aside, that’s also why Hollywood movie directors are pushing the 3D format so extensively, (incidentally, did you know that 4K is meant to be the equivalent resolution as 35mm film, visible to the human eye? And that some movie theatres are already showing movies shot on 4K cameras, using 4K digital projectors?).

I’ll talk more about Sony’s 4K demonstration in a future blog, but for now let me leave you with this thought: if video technology is improving at such a rate, how long will it be before we are experiencing movies displayed in the same quality as we see in real life, in true 3 dimensional parallax, on 360 degree, all enveloping, panoramic screens? How long before we’re no longer able to tell the difference between image projection and reality? Probably not as long as you think….

Technobabble by Mark Nettleton [rarely living life in reality].