What is 4K Television? We explain all you need to know

James O'Malley TV Leave a Comment

“4K” is going to be the buzzword that we see everywhere soon – all of our gadgets will want to have it. But why? What is it?

So, umm, what is 4K Television?

So first let’s get up to speed – what is 4K? Whilst we’re still slowly converting to HD over here the TV industry has already decided that 4K is the next step. Whereas HD is (if my maths is correct) four times bigger than standard definition – 4K is four times bigger than HD, to the point where it makes you want to say hyperbolic things about it being better resolution than life itself.

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Like with HD, as the technology comes to market the TVs are expensive and potentially bulky, but as time goes on we’ll eventually get everything shrunk down to the point where phones will display 4K and shoot in 4K too.

What can I plug in? Is there any 4K content out there?

This is the limiting factor at the moment. There’s not currently any TV companies broadcasting in 4K (there’s no Sky 4K service yet, for example), and the technology is so new you can’t even get Blu-Rays that are properly 4K. There’s Blu-Ray discs that claim to be 4K – but these are just downscaled to 1080p. The Blu-Ray forum of companies that make Blu-Ray players and discs haven’t actually agreed the various codecs and standards for 4K Blu-Ray yet either (ie: so a Panasonic 4K Blu-Ray player could play a Sony-made 4K Blu-Ray Disc).

This is changing though. The BBC have been running some tests with Sony (filming last year’s Wimbledon) and Sky have apparently done a test run through of filming a Premiership match. So expect to see some sort of “Sky 4K” or “Sky Ultra HD” (or whatever they decide to call it) maybe next year if we’re lucky.

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The best hope for 4K video at the moment is the internet – but even then, not many people have created 4K content. Netflix’s brilliant remake of House of Cards with Kevin Spacey was apparently shot in 4K, though there’s no way of viewing it that way yet – and no doubt there’s other material out there.

Incidentally the poverty of content at the moment is one of the main challenges for Panasonic’s massive new 65″ 4K telly – to the point where they’ve created a special 4K channel for their new TV that will stream on-demand 4K content to show off what the telly can do. This footage is mostly nature footage or slow moving shots of art galleries – because TV manufacturers like to use this sort of stuff as slow moving makes it look better. A fast moving shot may not look quite so great.

Give it a few years though and inevitably everything will move across. The next generation games consoles, the PS4 and Xbox One are both – sort of – built to support 4K. Both Sony and Microsoft say their consoles will support video (The XBO will apparently even come with a “4K ready” HDMI cable) – but this is very different to gaming.

4K gaming on these consoles may not be possible because computing images to fill a 4K resolution is going to need a lot of processing power – that the new consoles may not be able to match without a lesser framerate or similar technical trade-offs. So if you want to play games in 4K, then you’re probably best if you sink several thousand on a super-hi-tech PC.

So not much 4K yet – but look on the brightside. Question Time will be restricted to HD for a little while longer.

What can I watch 4K on?

Not much yet, basically. Panasonic launched a 65″ 4K TV for apparently around £5500, and Samsung & LG have similar models (which’ll probably cost you upwards of £10,000) – though expect to see most new high-end TVs from next year support the new standard. For the time being it might be cheaper to pay for a trip to the place that’s being filmed rather than buy a TV to watch it.

And once I’ve got 4K I’m set for life, right?

Not quite. In Japan they’re already testing 8K as a TV standard. It’s still in the labs but that’s the next step – and is four times the resolution 4K… which is 16x that of 1080p.

By James O'Malley | October 25th, 2013