Opinions, Observations and Ramblings about media technology.

Sunday, March 3, 2013

4K or not 2K - Is that the question?

If you've been even vaguely following the latest consumer television trends, you are already familiar with the recent introduction of "4K" television, also known as Ultra High Definition (UHDTV) or Quad HD (QHD).  The 4K name is derived from the horizontal pixel count of 3,840 -- which is darn close to 4,000.  As with all new technologies, there is a fair share of confusing nomenclature.   In the world of digital cinema, the term 4K refers to a matrix of 4,096 (wide) by 2,160 (high) pixels, so the 4K name seems a bit more appropriate – there are even 96 bonus pixels, if you're counting.

However, for home television, the 16:9 aspect ratio is preferred.  By doubling both the width and height of the old fashioned 1,920 x 1,080 HDTV raster, you arrive at 3,840 by 2,160, which provides amazing spacial resolution, even though it’s about 7% less than 4K digital cinema, as if that really mattered.   Professional cinematographers routinely refer to this “way beyond HD” in terms like 4K or 5K.  But the consumer electronics industry seems a bit more skittish.  Last October, the CEA announced that “the next generation of so-called 4K displays… will be called ‘Ultra High Definition’ or ‘Ultra HD’”.   Here’s my theory as to why.  

Only a few years ago, consumer TV’s were defined as “19-inch” or “42-inch” in reference to their diagonal screen dimension.  Then, around 2008, retail ads starting using the term “19-inch class” or “42-inch class”.  Class?  What the heck does that mean?   Perhaps the answer comes from the 2010 regulatory action in San Diego and six other California counties against six leading TV manufacturers.  The injunction clarified how screen size measurements are to be represented in the future.  In the past, most TV makers rounded up the size to their screens, measured diagonally, to the neared inch.  But the California Division of Measurement Standards and the local Weights and Measures Departments felt that this violated California law, and brought their concerns to the attend of county prosecutors.  The CE guys settled by agreeing to donate a million bucks worth of TV’s to schools (and to pay the lawyers another million).

In my view:  silly.  The difference between a 41.5 inch and 42 inch panel is insignificant to the consumer, especially considering bezel design, and the letter-boxing common in much programming.  But this past injunction may have made the consumer electronics folks a bit more cautious in calling a panel with 3,840 pixels “4K”.   (Where are my 160 missing pixels??)  So there you have it:  It’s not 4K, its UHDTV.    Whatever.  After all, professional digital cinema has a standard called 2K, representing 2,160 x 1080 pixels… just a tad more than high definition at 1,920 x 1080.  But nobody talks about 2K for home; it’s consistently called HD.  So why not Quad HD / Ultra HD for the next step in home theater, while leaving 4K for the multiplex?

Yes, I have opinions on how important this format is at home.  But I’ll save that for later.

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