Is 2014 the year of 4K?

Well it’s the start of a new year, and the big news at CES was 4K.

It’s fair to say that home 3D was a damp squib. The technology was clunky to use, expensive and content was limited. Though 3D can deliver fantastically immersive theatrical experiences like Gravity, a lot of television manufacturers took a bath as the general public ignored the technology. Step forward ultra HD to save the day, and balance sheets.

Content is king

One of the key issues with 4K currently is a lack of content. After all nobody wants to spring a significant amount of money for a new television that can only run upscaled video, and not display at the optimum native resolution.

Content providers are clearly on board with Netflix committing to streaming season two of House of Cards in the enhanced format.

YouTube already offer 4K content if your network can handle it, although you obviously need a display that’s capable of outputting it. Alongside support for the now ratified H.265 (HEVC) codec, Google have announced their own in the shape of the VP9 codec. It’s royalty-free and this detailed video outlines the encoding process.

A resurgent Sony buoyed by the success of PS4 are also keenly behind the technology, and have the advantage of not only manufacturing the TV sets and 4K players, but owning the film and TV companies who produce the content. Vertical integration certainly playing a key role here.

Whilst it’s still uncertain if next gen consoles like the PS4 and Xbox One have enough horsepower to be able to output games at 4K, they would be ideal streaming units.

Apple are targeting professional 4K use with Final Cut on the new Mac Pro, and I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see high end Apple display being produced to 4K specifications. Super-retina?

Pipeline or pipedream?

Improvements in codec delivery mean that only a stable 15 Mbps connection is required to stream 4K content. This is now a realistic prospect for many, as fibre speeds have risen exponentially. The Achille’s heel now being download caps and network throttling by ISPs.

Aside from the resolution upgrade, 4K offers enhanced levels of colour fidelity. One of my favourite things about HD has always been the improved depth of field and deeper levels of focus. Something that gets lost sometimes in focusing on improvements to resolution and the number of pixels.

Intriguingly Dolby have entered the fray and developed a new HDR-based technology that is claimed to radically enhance the colour gamut of 4K content, and offer much brighter images that provide a much wider colour spectrum.

For now the future’s bright, and a whole lot sharper.

What do you think?

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