Taking High-Definition Even Higher

cesWhile Sony has been heavily promoting its 4K projection technology in theaters, the consumer electronics industry is embracing the higher-resolution standard for home displays, starting with the “Ultra HD” (or UHD) brand from the Consumer Electronics Association. Technically, the resolution for UHDTV displays begins at 3840x2160, which offers four times the pixels as a normal HDTV’s 1920x1080. Many companies are prepping displays capable of 7680x4320, which essentially replicates the 4K resolution levels seen in more and more cinemas while providing 16 times the number of pixels as normal HDTV.

There’s been an increase of 4K home-display prototypes each year at the annual Consumer Electronics Show (with more likely in store for the January event), but this standard faces dual challenges before it can get a foothold in the consumer market. The first is a “chicken and egg” dilemma: there’s currently no native 4K content easily available to consumers, so owning one of these über high-resolution displays becomes more about bragging rights than a noticeable improvement in picture quality (though some displays have upscale features to artificially create 4K resolution). The other challenge for the industry is to show consumers a dramatic enough difference in picture quality between 1K and 4K images. Frankly, most audiences would probably have a hard time telling the difference between a standard 2K image on a 50-foot-wide theater screen and the same image on the 4K from Sony. The real question is: how much of a difference will most consumers see on an 80-inch home screen? And, if they can notice a difference, will it be dramatic enough to justify embracing the UHDTV standard? Time will tell.

Knowing that UHDTV is a possibility, filmmakers have been future proofing their projects by shooting in the highest resolution that’s economically feasible, which explains the popularity of cameras like the 5K RED EPIC. And although the image resolution captured with an EPIC is most likely to be downgraded to 2K DCP standards for theatrical releases, they still have the ability to put out a native 4K version while having more electronic “canvas” to work with when needed, including the digital equivalent of optical blow-ups.