4K HDTV is here, but I’d wait a bit
By Chris Heinonen on
At IFA in Berlin today, Sony announced their 84″, 4K HDTV that goes on sale later this year for 25,000 Euros. I imagine I will see it next week at CEDIA as well, but probably then it will be light on specifications as well. While 4K is really nice to see, and it is always good for companies to push innovations at the top end since that makes every product better down the road, I’m not sure that I’d be jumping onto the 4K bandwagon at this moment.Think back to the first HDTVs that people bought. While those are all tube displays now and not the flat panels we are all buying, they all have one thing in common: No HDCP support. Some of those early models has 9″ CRT guns that can fully resolve 1200+ lines of resolution, making them fully capable of showing off what Blu-ray can do. Unfortunately since they don’t have HDCP support, they’re limited to 1080i with old Blu-ray players, and with current Blu-ray titles that can enable the Image Constraint Token, they’re stuck with 480p content on their HDTV that is capable of far more.
Sony and others face a similar situation here. HDMI hasn’t caught up with 4K fully yet, so Sony’s $25,000 4K projector is a beautiful image, but it’s limited to 24p at 4K resolution, or 30p at QuadHD resolution (3840×2160). This means everything else has to be sent at HD resolutions and then scaled to 4K inside the projector. If you have cable or satellite TV with 4K feeds in a few years, likely at 60p, they won’t send, and neither will future concert videos or TV programs that might come on a 4K disc format. External scalers also can’t be used to fix this, due to the limits of HDMI.
Finally, the 4K/8K home HDTV standard is still in draft form, but will be finalized soon, but are we sure the new 4K projectors and displays will support it? As others have said, getting the full visual benefit out of 4K requires that you sit incredibly close to the screen, and most likely you’ll see a better image from the upcoming OLED displays this fall, and while they are smaller, they are also 40% of the cost. Both will likely be about as compatible with future 4K TV and disc formats, but one is almost certain to have better contrast and black levels, as well as viewing angles, due to the technology involved.
I’m glad to see people innovating, and I look forward to seeing the Sony next week in person. If you buy one today, you might find yourself not able to view that 4K content you really want to see down the road however, and there might be better TV options coming this year for the best image possible. I think in a year, if we have an updated HDMI standard to handle 60p and 3D at 4K over HDMI, and a final standard for how content will be encoded for the home, then 4K TVs can be set for down the road. Right now they seem to be more of an interesting tech demo than future-ready technology, though I hope that Sony and others can prove me wrong.