About 4K & Ultra HD (UHD) Resolution
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What Exactly Is 4K?
4K, officially known as UHD (Ultra-High Definition), is an overarching term that encompasses visual resolution technology which offers more pixels than regular HDTV (at least 4 times more pixels and thus the name 4K). The ultimate result of this increased pixel breakdown is a an image clarity that goes well beyond conventional 1080 pixel HD resolution and presents more vibrant, varied and realistic colors as well as much higher frame rates.
Currently, the best display of UHD technology is the 4K resolution TV and many of these have been emerging on the market since mid-2013, although 4K monitors have been around since 2013 and 4K resolution film and photo cameras commercially since at least 2012.
4K display has to consist of at least 3,840 pixels (horizontal) x 2,160 pixels (vertical) of resolution and the horizontal can go above 4,000 pixels. This puts it on the top of the current scale of digital resolutions in which the bottom is occupied by standard definition TV (450X540 pixels), HD with 720 pixels and full HD at 1080p.
In simplest terms, if you measure HD resolution by vertical pixel height (720p, 1080p) then 4K UHD can also be called 2160p.
As you can see, 4K outstrips its best HD predecessor by a very wide margin in creating a resolution profile that’s two times wider and two times higher than 1080 HD, thus giving a total screen resolution that’s 4 times larger overall, thus its name, 4K or, as it used to be called, Quad HD.
4K and UHD, Differences?
Now, we’ve been using the terms 4K and UHD interchangeably so far and while they basically are interchangeable at the commercial level, they do actually also mean slightly different things. While most UHD that you’ll find on TV screens is actually 3,840 pixels as mentioned above, it still gets called 4K because it does after all offer 4 times the resolution profile of regular HD.
However, in a more specialized context, proper 4K is what is most often found as a digital camera resolution standard that involves an actual 4,096 x 2160 pixel resolution at an aspect ratio of 1.9:1 (horizontal: vertical) as opposed to common TV based 3,840p width and aspect ratios of 16:9 or 1.78:1.
Basically, regardless of the fact that 4K TV is officially defined as UHD, you’re buying into the same thing whether you see either 4K or Ultra HD used to describe a TV, monitor or film/Photo camera.
You can read more 4K UHD vs 1080P Full HD and how to downsacle 4K to 1080p or upsacle 1080p to 4K.
Moving 4K into Home Theater
While the origins of 4K film go back quite a ways and have their roots in theatrical releases of films such as Blade Runner: The Final Cut back in 2007, it wasn’t until James Cameron filmed his now famous “Avatar” in 4K resolution that the projection platform itself was widely introduced in many theaters eager to please audiences with beautiful crystal screen clarity.
However, going from theaters to something like home entertainment is a big leap and it wasn’t until just within the last couple of years that both projectors and the already mentioned TVs became widely available for home theater system set up that would let consumers enjoy UHD clarity in their houses.
Now, in terms of TV 4K systems, this resolution isn’t even entirely noticeable unless you enjoy a very large and thus very expensive screen or are sitting abnormally close to your TV. However, when it comes to projectors, the power offered by 4K really does become visible.
Most 4K projectors offer at least 4,096 x 2,160 pixels of resolution and because they typically offer projection area sizes that totally dwarf all but the largest 4K TVs, this is where you really notice the difference between UHD and regular HD content.
With a projector showing native 4K content or even upscaled 1080p HD content, you finally get to experience picture clarity in your own home that imitates on a smaller scale what you’d find with a large UHD public theater screen.
Streaming 4K Content
While 4K content for home theater systems such as projectors and TVs is still pretty scarce on the ground, it is making ground as streaming content. YouTube has had a 4K channel running since as early as 2010 and other developments are definitely on the horizon, especially in countries or regions with excellent internet connectivity that goes above the normal speeds available to most people.
The broadcast industry as a whole is offering the promise of a soon to arrive new standard in streaming content compression during transmission, called H.265 or HVEC (High Efficiency Video Codec). With the implementation of HVEC, broadcasters are assuring the buying public that 4K content will become easy and economical to stream into home theater systems and thus will become much more common. TV manufacturers themselves have been keeping up to date with this promise and have ensured that every new 4K TV to be released this year and in 2015 or further down the road is fully capable of decoding the HVEC standard for its users.
The Benefits of UHD 4K TV
4K TVs don’t just come with the benefit of enormously enhanced resolution. They include a number of other features that distinguish them from more conventional TVs. read top 10 UHD 4K TVs of 2016
First of all, let it be clear that even if the difference in resolution isn’t too noticeable on a typical 4K screen size from a normal viewing distance, it is definitely there. The extra and much smaller pixels make a real difference whether your eye sight lets you notice them or not and additional features like ultra-high refresh rates and specialized technologies like MotionFlow (found in Samsung brand 4K TVs) will dramatically improve your viewing experience.
Furthermore, buying a 4K TV gives you access to future connectivity specs and future visual specs that will come in handy as broadcasters catch up to the new technology.
Also, the illumination capacities of most UHD TV brands use highly advanced technologies such as LCD panels illuminated by LED backlights in the form of local dimming or full array dimming systems that dramatically improve picture brightness and contrasts.
If what you’re looking for is maximal image quality features –even if you don’t particularly care about 4K UHD resolution itself—the major 4K lines of TVs from major manufacturers also happen to offer the top of the line in terms of these other image enhancement capabilities and they offer them at prices that are steadily dropping towards very affordable ranges.
Finally, understand that 4K content is growing into the market as you read this. 4K film camera prices are dropping too and a lot of new content is being filmed and distributed based on this platform. Furthermore, the Blu-ray Disc Association is well along with plans to have its 4K version of Blue-ray ready for public release by the end of this year.
And as we’ve already covered above with streaming content, compression and transmission codecs such as HVEC are going to make sure that both 4K broadcasts and 4K home theater systems are mutually compatible for delivering UHD content even if bandwidth conditions for most homes don’t improve significantly.
HDMI and 4K
Conventional HDMI 1.4 can handle 4K TV, but only up to speeds of 24 frames per second. Unfortunately this is still a common standard on many 2013 4K TVs but that’s changing and the latest TV models as well as the latest 4K projectors and computer monitors will all be outfitted with HDMI 2.0 ports, which are designed to handle the much higher frame rates and bit depths of UHD content.
So the bottom line for HDMI is: buy a TV, monitor or projector that’s already been outfitted with the latest version and you’ll be perfectly fine.
What About Regular HD Content on 4K Screens?
This is one of the key questions around the question of buying into 4K TVs and projectors. (Particularly TVs though, since they’re far more affordable). And the answer is a resounding Yes!
Almost all of the latest 4K TV models will not only easily play 1080P HD, 1080i, Blu-ray, HD DVD or even 720P content but will also upconvert any of these formats so that they’re rendered more clearly in UHD. Now while there is some debate on just how visibly your conventional content improves with this upconversion technology, it does indeed get rendered more sharply and especially so on the higher end TV brands with much more powerful upconversion engines running inside them.
Thus, the bottom line is that yes, your TV will display and even improve conventional HD content of all types but you should be sure to buy a make and model of TV (or projector) whose upconversion engine is widely considered to be superior.