Can 4K ever become a household technology?

About The Author

CNET Editor

Nic Healey can usually be found on a couch muttering about aspect ratios and 7.1 channel sound - which is helpful given that he's the home entertainment guy at CNET.

Commentary Having experienced Sony's 4K TV firsthand, we look at what the tech needs to become the next home entertainment standard.

Will 4K make it in the home?
(Credit: Sony)

There's no doubt that 4K video is stunning. In fact, subjectively speaking, the difference between HD to 4K seems like a wildly larger shift in quality than that of SD to HD. Seeing the Sony Bravia 4K TV in action out at Sony Australia HQ yesterday was a genuine revelation in terms of just what level of quality we're talking about. On paper — and, more pertinently, on screen — 4K should be the next evolution of video. But there are a few practical hurdles that need to be cleared first.

Square eyes

Bizarrely, 4K works better the closer you sit. Even on Sony's 84-inch monster. Sony group manager Paul Colley told us that to get the best viewing experience, they recommend a seating distance of 1.5 metres for 4K video, 3 metres for HD and 6 metres for SD. It's a lovely theory, but the average user — even the above-average user, who can afford a 4K TV right off the bat — isn't likely to be rearranging a lounge room any time they want to watch something. Nor is anyone likely to have a couch sitting a metre and a half away from a wall-sized TV as a default position.

Big is beautiful

While it may be smaller than some of the drive-in-sized screens available, the 84-inch Bravia 4K is still enormous. And there's a reason for that: 4K panels work better and (more importantly) are cheaper to produce at larger sizes. The higher the pixel density (ie, the smaller the screen), the more expensive it becomes to manufacture the panels. If 4K TV manufacturers intend to stay larger than life for a while, then that means it isn't just a case of being able to afford the cash — you'll also need to be able to afford the space.

What will you watch?

Content is king, and without media to watch, there's just no point in, well ... you know the rest. Nearly every new home entertainment technology has suffered from this criticism since we stopped recording on wax cylinders. Sony firmly believes that consumer demand will drive the content creators to produce 4K material, and for the most part history backs this up. But 4K does have a special slog in that currently, as no disc-format media (such as Blu-ray or DVD) is capable of being used for 4K. Timescapes, the world's first commercially available 4K film, has two 4K versions. One, an MP4 encoded in H.264 at 4096x2304, is available as a 25GB file on a USB stick. The other, 4K Cineform, is 330GB and ships on a hard drive. You'll pay US$99.95 for the former and — gulp — US$299.95 for the latter. It's obviously not a commercially viable distribution model for the mainstream.

Although we've noted previously that 4K is a technology that could naturally lend itself to digital delivery, Australia isn't a great place to be trying that, thanks to our poor broadband speeds and high costs (when compared to the rest of the globe). There are also a number of upscalers at the moment, able to take an existing media source such as a Blu-ray and extrapolate it out for 4K viewing. Sadly, we haven't seen one in action yet, but traditionally, upscaling devices haven't been exactly awe inspiring...

There's no doubt that 4K is a superior viewing experience, even lending itself to better passive 3D viewing. But whether it can become firmly entrenched in a home entertainment environment remains to be seen, with a number of challenges on the horizon for manufacturers hopping on-board the 4K bandwagon.

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Im Batman posted a comment   

Viewing distance recommendations are all over the place.

HDTV they were telling us the optimum viewing distance was proportional to the screen size.

now with 4K, the better the res. the closer you sit... CRAZY.
And with old CRTs we didn't even give it a consideration.

4K at 1.5m would be impressive... but don't think i could live with it.

Movie theatres never have you sitting that close but its still a great big screen experience.


kalval posted a comment   

I would much prefer to see 4K (or at least something close) in a 22" or slightly bigger computer monitor. It's not unachievable - 10" tablets with 1080p displays are fairly common (and cheap), and pixel density is higher at 1080p @ 10" vs 2160p @ 22". Most people sit close enough to their computer screens for this to be a benefit, and it allows you to display more on a screen - even several windows side by side.


grumpi posted a reply   

I have been working with a 24 inch 1920 x 1200 monitor.
Text looks OK in Windows 7 but is nothing special.
On the other hand, Windows 8's shockingly bad anti-aliasing has highlighted the need for a 4K monitor, just to minimise the blurry fonts.


ras0406 posted a comment   

330GB is just ridiculous. God know how much bandwidth would be required to stream such high-def content. Even downloading it wouldn't be feasable unless users have unlimited downloads. The manufacturers have to be realistic about size (of TVs and content). How many consumers have the space for a TV that is larger than 60"? I wouldn't think there would be many. So the key question is: is there a discernable difference between 4K and 1080P on a TV that is 60" or smaller? While I'm an enthusiast, I couldn't really justify getting a 4K TV (once they're affordable :-) ) unless the difference between 4K and 1080P is noticeable on TV that isn't as big as a suburb.

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