What Is 4K And What Does It Mean For You?

06/02/2015 IEWC

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If you have done any shopping for a new TV or electronic device with a display lately, you have likely been exposed to the term “4K”. You may have also seen 4K bandied about in conjunction with UHD (Ultra High Definition). While some people will say UHD and 4K are the same thing, technically the truth is just a little different.

4K stands for the resolution of a specific electronic display, or rather how many pixels there are on that display – 4096 pixels on the horizontal line of display and 2160 pixels on the vertical display. Since the horizontal pixel count of 4096 was close to 4000, the industry came up with the shortened term we have come to know as “4K”. 4K is also more of a professional production and cinema standard while UHD tends to be more of a regular broadcast and consumer standard.

Now that we know what 4K is, how will it affect you going forward? I mentioned above that some people say UHD and 4K are the same. To get a bit technical, UHD is actually 3840 x 2160 while 4K is 4096 x 2160 pixels. As it stands right now, UHD has taken the lead in broadcast TV while 4K is making its own push and becoming widely available for online content including YouTube, Netflix and Amazon. One of the main holdbacks for 4K in the broadcast television market is that most stations are not actually transmitting a 4K signal. There are some technical challenges regarding compression, HDMI standards and gigabit per second connections needed to make 4K truly 4K. These issues will most likely be worked out as newer generation TVs are rolled out into the marketplace and bandwidth constraints become less of a problem.

From a purely consumer standpoint, the reality is both 4K and UHD provide for a stunning viewing experience. Both have roughly twice the horizontal and vertical resolution as the current generation of 1080p HDTV formats. With over 8 million pixels this provides for a display with as much as four times the detail depending on the monitor the signal is being displayed on. In other words, you could fit all of the pixels from a standard 1080p HD display onto one quarter of the screen of a 4K device.

It is pretty clear at this point that 4K is not going to end up being the fad that 3D TV ultimately turned out to be. As technology advances and the ability to stream at faster and faster speeds builds momentum, it is highly likely that 4K will become the defacto standard for the next generation. Of course, the industry is already talking about 8k, but that is another story for another time….