My industry (day job) is always a bit goofy. It’s been that way since its inception and we can’t help it, it’s the moving target and “art” of the industry that continually keeps consumers on their toes in order to perpetuate the growth arc and retain jobs. Fact.
When HD TV became a reality, the industry was fluctuating between 720p, 1080i and 1080p. The “I” meaning “interlaced resolution refresh and the “P” meaning “progressive”. For quite a while there was no standard and products would be sold to meet all three formats. Then, consumer demand defined a leader and 1080p was the winner—all for very good reasons I might add.
While riding the wave of 1080p resolution displays, the industry tried to re-heat the 3D TV trend and then curved screens, again…we were doing that in the early 90’s, and then the natural evolution of a technology decided to simply increase the resolution to 4k.
Just to keep consumers confused, we decided to base 1080p nomenclature on image height but then threw you a curve ball and now refer to Ultra HD as 4k which is nomenclature based on image width. How’s that for keeping things confusing?
Ultra HD was put to the test in Singapore as Sky is trying to move toward a full Ultra HD broadcast in 2017. The test, according to reports, was successful and that’s great news. What is 4k? It’s 3840 x 2160 or 2160p if you were using the old width jargon of 1080p. How does that stack up to our 1080p displays? Well, it’s more pixels. If you consider the image of our 1080p HD displays are 1920x1080p and now with the new 4k displays we are seeing 3840x2160p, then we are seeing a lot better resolution.
A 4k or Ultra HD image doubles the number of lines and columns of your display resolution which gives you approximately four times as many pixels as HD 1080p. This means you could cram every single pixel of your 1080p display into one quarter of a Ultra HD display.
It’s all in the pixels
Are pixels important? Short answer is yes because they deliver more information which usually means a sharper image. Now, to be perfectly fair, your local theater is showing true 4k digital movies in a cinema standard but the consumer version of 4k is slightly less resolution. The local theater is showing 4096×2160 and you’ll be looking at 3840×2160. Just didn’t want to nerds out there to send me hate mail because I missed this nugget. Technically it’s not quite true Ultra HD in its purest form.
A lot of the benefit of this new resolution comes down to the display and size of display you have as to whether you will see a huge difference or not. Then there is the technology behind the actual display itself as OLED vs LED LCD is a marked difference in image quality and if you are watching standard HD signals on your 4k display, they may look better than your old display but they are not 4k resolution so you aren’t seeing a big difference.
The challenge for digital display has always been how to create black light. Black should be truly black and that’s tough to do with light, right? So this is the true art of display manufacturer technology in setting standards of brightness and darkness of the pixels and that’s a huge issue.
4k? That’s so 2016!
Before you get too excited that we’ve reached the end of display technology, 8k is already here and again, it doubles the lines of resolution and delivers a pixel count of 32 million and that’s a bunch considering that 4k added nearly 8.3 million more pixels than your current 1080p display has.
The problem with Ultra HD—both 4k and 8k fit in this category—is that there is precious few broadcast sources delivering this level of quality. In my world, we call that a FLOB which stands for Eff’ing lot of bandwidth.
There’s also a real push to enhance current resolutions with better backlight, Quantum Dot systems, HDR, UHD and OLED in order to increase color depth and brightness so it’s not just about resolution but the higher the resolution, the more you have to work with.
In the end, you can have a 4k display but there is very little to watch. F1 and Sky, it seems, are trying to push their content to a higher level of performance and that should be applauded. One thing I will caution you on is the cable you use to connect your box to the display. Make sure you are using an HDMI 2.0 or cable type that handles 4k resolution as well as 60fps which is frames-per-second. That’s very important.
In the end, it is the bandwidth and backbone of F1’s broadcast system that will have to be bullet proof and massive and Tata Communications is working on that with the Singapore Grand Prix as a test. If they envision delivering more content and data such as timing, scoring, multiple camera angles, VR or other features, this will be essential—and it’s a serious FLOB.