Posted by: Laura
Technology is a perpetually evolving beast, to the extent that you probably remember a time when the sputtering old computer in the spare room and the measly 24 inch TV in the conservatory, both of which are now longing for the sweet embrace of the landfill, set you back a small fortune. It's easy to feel cynical about the fact we're expected to shell out for what is essentially the same thing every few years, but once you've actually set your eyes on a 4k TV in all it's mesmerising glory, you'll understand that this time, it's not the same thing at all!
As a nation of gadget fiends, we always yearn to be ahead of the curb when it comes to the next piece of kit, with each new iteration of (essentially identical) iPhone generally resulting in the kind of frantic midnight campouts not seen since the days when we actually bought our concert tickets from a ticket office. So when the next big format hits the shelves, it's only natural to want to get on the bandwagon as an early adopter. But before you do so, you probably have a few questions.
Allow us to answer them.
What is it?
Technically speaking, the 4k refers to the number 4000, the amount of pixels which make up the image on your screen, in this case over 8 million! The larger the number of pixels, the sharper and clearer the image. The vast majority of current HD TVs output at either 1080p (progressive) or 1080i (interlaced), which equates a pixel density of 1920 x 1080. The name 4k is something of a misnomer, given that many TVs will refer to themselves as 4k compatible even though they can only output at 3840 x 2160. This is still 4 times sharper than current 'full' high definition, but true 4k actually outputs at a slightly wider, and even clearer ratio of 4096 x 2160. Standard definition (that old chestnut) is loosely defined as 480 progressive scan lines (480p) and all DVDs and most standard definition broadcasts are still presented in this format to this day.
A Brief History
And lo, standard definition begat high definition and high definition begat 4k. Ahem. Putting aside the needless hyperbole for a second, let's take you back to the late 90's when George Lucas was putting the finishing touches on what was to be the supremely disappointing Star Wars prequel; 'The Phantom Menace'. Though it, and its sequels turned out to be disastrous critical bombs, the consensus was that they looked spectacular, and that was because Lucas had been experimenting with new digital formats, which would go on to almost completely replace film as the 'standard' cinematic format.
Certain cinema buffs, however, noticed that on larger screens, films shot in 1080p seemed softer than similar movies shot on traditional film, especially if the audience were sat close to the screen. This was simply because cinema screens are so large that even high definition images are diluted to some extent. To counteract this problem, the Digital Cinema Initiative was formed in 2002, and by 2005 a 4k standard had been set as the eventual goal.
The first film to be released in 4k at the cinema was a remaster of Ridley Scott's sci-fi classic 'Blade Runner', though few theatres were equipped to show it in its full glory. It was the advent of 3D film that really helped sell 4k to the wider world, though, specifically James Cameron's 'Avatar', and whilst 3D is a format that has dwindled in popularity since the peak of 2010, 4k is just now starting to infiltrate out homes in a big way.
Is 4k worthwhile?
If you're a committed cinephile and prefer watching your movies on the biggest screen possible, then the short answer is; yes it certainly is! But for those on the fence, here we've compiled a list of the top 5 reasons why becoming an early adopter of 4k is a smart move.
• Surprisingly affordable – As is the case with any major new format launch, when 4k TVs first made their way into the home market, they were not cheap. Indeed, the 84 inch debut models unveiled by most major brands were all in excess of £20,000. Cut to July 2014, however, and you should be able to pick up a decent 55 to 64 inch 4k TV for just over £3,000. The fact that the vast majority of these models will also include 'Smart TV' functionality, which means you should be able to catch up on all your favourite shows, browse the internet and organise every facet of your entertainment from one simple, elegant, gorgeous interface.
• Future proof – 4k is very much the wave of the present and the future. The DCI (mentioned earlier) is also working tirelessly to transfer old analogue film to the new standard 4k format, as digital film is significantly easier to store, transfer and distribute. It's estimated that there are now over 20,000 4k projectors in cinemas all over the world, with 40% of all US screens using them and the UK is not far behind. It's beginnings in the cinematic world, and the fact that 8k is more than a decade off being a feasible concern means that 4k will be the optimum viewing format for both the cinema and home viewing for the foreseeable future.
• Netflix – Netflix has quickly overtaken traditional movie rental stores such as Blockbuster to become the go-to platform for anyone with a fast enough broadband connection. Netflix will be upgrading their library to support 4k films later this year. Indeed, the ground-breaking drama series 'Breaking Bad' is already available in Ultra HD, as is the streaming platform's own, award-winning 'House Of Cards'. It's more than likely that streaming services will completely supersede traditional, physical formats over the next decade, which works in 4k's favour, as most 4k films simply can't fit on a Blu-ray disc. In fact, most Blu-rays sold as “Mastered in 4k” have actually been downscaled to 2k so they can fit on the disc!
• Immersion – The general rule of thumb when it comes to an 'optimum viewing experience' with 4k is to always sit back a distance of 1.5 times your screen height. This allows the screen to effectively fill your field of vision, thereby completely immersing you in your cinematic experience.
• Glasses free 3D – With 4k TVs, it is possible to implement passive, glasses-free 3D with no loss of brightness, flickering issues or crosstalk, which would be a serious problem in older models. Put simply, the future of both traditional and 3D TV lies in 4k.
Whilst it is true that 8k is already on the drawing board, and that several major electronics manufacturers have already demonstrated prototype sets, you would need a television at least 84 inches wide to be able to even begin to see the difference. Recording in 8k would also be incredibly expensive. In fact, it's only recently that films and TV shows have started to be filmed in 4k, so whilst they will eventually upgrade, it will be very long indeed before the technology is actually implemented.
So is 4k completely necessary? Not at all. But is it desirable? Gorgeous? The future of entertainment? Yes, it most certainly is!