Learning Lab: What is 4K and is it time to make the switch?

August 23, 2017 by Hannah Evans

Watch the video here.

David Allen: Welcome to the Learning Lab. I’m David Allen here with Daniel Routman, and on today’s Learning Lab we will be discussing 4K. Now, we’ll be covering a lot of information today and that may bring up some questions. You may email those to seminars@fordav.com and we will make sure that they get answered as quickly as possible. Now Daniel, 4K, I think this is a big buzzword we hear a lot of. Why don’t you explain first what 4K really means?

Daniel Routman: Let’s just dive right in. What is 4K? It’s a resolution, so it’s really the number of pixels we have horizontally on a screen. You’ve heard of 1080p, and that is the number of pixels vertically, so really it’s a 2K. Instead of 1080p, it’s like 2160p.

DA: The 4K standard matters so why not use that?

DR: Right, bigger number, so let’s go with 4K. It’s roughly 4000 pixels wide. There’s really two variants of it. There’s UHD ultra-high definition, that’s 3840 x 2160, and that’s a true 16 x 9 aspect ratio. And then DCI, which is the digital cinema initiatives, this is what the movie theaters are using, so if you go see a theater and it’s a digital video more than likely it’s going to be this resolution projector.

DA: So it’s almost really a 4K at the 4096 as opposed to the 3840?

DR: That’s right, so this is a slightly wider aspect ratio. Here’s a little chart that gives you an idea to visualize how many pixels that is. You got the DVD at 480p, 720p, 1080p and then when we jump to 4K UHD that’s like having four 1080 pieces or four times as many pixels.

DA: That’s amazing, and then we got DCI. It’s just a little bit wider here.

DR: Right, same height but a little bit wider.

DA: Why is that? Why do they do that?

DR: There’s not an exact reason, but one of the theories is that when you take this 4096 x 2160, and a lot of movies are shot in 16 x 9 today, so if they show a 16 x 9 movie it fills the height but not the width. You got a little bit of space remaining. Of course, a lot of movies are shot in this cinema wide aspect, right?

DA: And I’ve actually seen in theaters that during previews it may have the 16 x 9 little covers, and then it will open up when the movie comes up.

DR: Right, when you show this ultra-wide, it fills the width but not the height. This 4096 resolution is kind of an in between the two aspect ratios, so it’s maximizing the space and minimizing the wasted area that you’re not using.

DA: Perfect, so I guess when it comes to 4K we’re really just getting more definition in the image.

DR: That’s right, sharpness is the key thing. You can see more detail in the eye, right? And then, of course, text is a big factor too. When you’re sitting in front of a laptop, you get that eye strain when you’re looking at this grainy text. You want to have this sharp text where you can’t even see the curves when you’re standing back.

DA: That makes a lot more sense, and the way we actually receive the high-definition signal today is through an HDMI connection or cable, so can we still use what we have today and get 4K?

DR: Today’s hardware absolutely can support 4K as long as your device can output that 4K, but the standard that we still are kind of stuck on today is this HDMI 1.4. You’re limited to 30 frames per second when you’re dealing with just UHD. Typically, we want to see 60 frames per second when we’re watching a Blu-ray or just a computer outlet it’s always going to be 60 frames per second.

DA: So how can we get to 60 frames?

DR: Well, we’ve planned ahead with HDMI 2.0 where you can get a true 4K at 60 frames per second, and it’s been out for a little while now, but we’re still not really seeing a lot of devices/displays take that HDMI 2.0 and give you that true 4K.

DA: So, eventually, the manufacturers start using that HDMI 2.0 version of their connectors and devices?

DR: It’s a matter of time before we start seeing the hardware. The cabling will still be the same though.

DA: So we can still use the cabling, that’s good.

DR: Yep, and then DisplayPort, I’m sure you’ve heard of, has always supported 4K at 60. That’s why a lot of people consider it to be the better type of cable because it has always supported the higher bandwidth that’s required for 4K.

DA: That’s fantastic, so is there content out there, 4K content, that, if you have a display or a projector, do you have 4K content to put on it?

DR: We’re still waiting to see a 4K Blu-ray come out. There’s plans for it, but what we’re seeing today is still streaming services like YouTube, Netflix and Amazon. You’re only going to see a few dozen movies that are available through Netflix and Amazon in 4K. Youtube is going to have hundreds of thousands of videos in 4K with people shooting with their 4K GoPro cameras.

DA: I would assume that with your streaming services it’s mainly due to bandwidth because it takes so much more bandwidth to get your 4K to your home to be able to watch it.

DR: That’s right, so even if it may be a true 4K (it may even be 60 frames per second) it’s still going to be compressed data because there’s so much information that has to make it into your house. Some other services we see, cable and satellite, are still in the beginning stages of rolling out, but it’s out there and you can watch some channels in true 4K.

DA: That’s good, so computers and cameras it looks like too, are there computers out there that have 4K options?

DR: Absolutely, if you have a modern computer with HDMI, DisplayPort, Mini DisplayPort output, more than likely you can output 4K. And then so cameras as well, we’re starting to see a lot of cameras that output 4K at a decent price, and those are going to be the real driving factors at the initial stages because those are the true 4K sources that we’re going to have in rooms and conference rooms where people are going to want support for it.

DA: All these people that are buying these GoPros, the HERO4 silver or black, I can’t remember which one it is, but they’re 4K cameras. If they don’t have a 4K display, they’re not able to actually see it, so they need to get the 4K display as well.

DR: Let’s talk about displays and projectors. On the display side what we’re seeing is mostly consumer grade. You know, just 4K TVs that range in 60 to 80 inch, kind of the larger home TV sizes. In the pro space we’re really limited to just a few models, but I believe that’s going to pick up very rapidly.

DA: It’s kind of like, when 1080p came out, there were just a few models to begin with, and then it just kept progressing. Now every model today is 1080.

DR: That’s right, and then projectors, what we’re seeing today is really the home grade: the 2,000 lumen compact projector that can do 4K. Either that or the monster 10,000+ lumen, large venue type projectors. We’re not seeing anything for the 4-6,000 lumen range that we can put in a normal conference room yet, but I believe we’ll see that very soon.

DA: I believe it as well. So, signal routing, that’s how we get from point A to point B and do the switching and things of that nature. Is that product there yet?

DR: It has been out for quite some time, and even though our customers may not think they need it or know that they can’t get their hands on a 4K projector yet, they’re putting in 4K compatible infrastructure that can support end to end 4K. It’s been out for quite a while now, and it’s been quite successful.

DA: That’s good, so once they put the sources and the displays in the infrastructure is already ready to go.

DR: Yep, ready for the future.

DA: Perfect, so is 4K really necessary? I mean, do we really need to have 4K? There are always the skeptics, if you will, that say, “Is it necessary to upgrade if you have 1080p? Do you need to upgrade to 4K?”

DR: You’ll see on this example of this picture where someone is standing inches away from the screen…

DA: …looking at every little pixel.

DR: Right, so can you truly tell the difference when you’re standing far away? Well, I believe you can. Now, Apple did not come up with the idea of 4K or anything, but they’re the first to bring the idea of pixel doubling to the market. They suggested that people need to have these extremely tiny little pixels (high quantity of pixels) that the human eye can’t even discern between the two pixels side-by-side. So what they did was they took the existing iPhone and quadrupled the number of pixels.

DA: That’s the retina display.

DR: It’s kind of similar to what’s happening now with 1080 going from 1080 to 4K, quadrupling the number of pixels. So when people went from the iPhone 3GS to the iPhone 4, it was really impressive when they saw the difference in clarity. And once you start using this you would never want to go back to this. This looks terrible, but at the time it’s pretty awesome. So I think the same thing is happening with 4K, especially for laptop users, because you’re very close to a laptop and you can see the difference. It’s really impressive when you see it in person. But now what about displays? You’re not going to be inches away from a display, right? So if you look at it mathematically (at the pixel sizes), when do you really start seeing the benefit of 4K? Well, if you take an example room of a 70 inch display, you won’t start to see the benefit of 4K until you’re about eight feet away. So, in a room like this, let’s say that’s a 4K display, do you really need this? Can this person really tell the difference if that was a 1080p display?

DA: At the head of the table…so if it’s 1080 today and we went and switched it out to 4K tomorrow, would they be able to tell a difference? From a pixel standpoint they probably couldn’t because they couldn’t see the pixels necessarily, but, if you put 4K content on a 4K display, I think you can tell the difference. I mean, you can tell the difference from that sharpness like we were talking about earlier. There is a considerable amount of detail that you’re seeing.

DR: Some may argue, “Well, then it’s just a luxury at that point, right? It’s not a necessity.”

DA: So what’s going to drive it?

DR: I want to bring you back in time when we were still using 4 x 3 projectors. That’s all we did, right? And then all of a sudden we quickly switched over to widescreen aspect ratio screens. And what drove that? Well, it was the laptop industry, consumer laptops.

DA: It all went from 4 x 3 to 16 x 9.

DR: When people brought a laptop into a conference room and plugged it into the projector, they hated seeing their 16 x 9 screen shrink to just a 4 x 3 because it had to match what they were plugging into. They wanted what they see on their laptop to be replicated up on the big screen, and I believe that’s what’s going to happen. 4K is going to be driven by laptops.

DA: So if you’ve got a screen that is 4K on your laptop, and you see that nice detail and resolution, you want to see the same thing on the big screen.

DR: Right, a couple years ago, if I suggested that you’d be able to buy a 4K laptop for under a thousand dollars, you’d think that was crazy. But it’s already a reality, and that’s what people want.

DA: Well, this is fantastic. Thank you Daniel. I know that we’re just at the beginnings of 4K and that transition, and we’ll be going on. And I’m sure five years from now we’ll be talking about 8K and getting even higher resolution. We’ve covered a considerable amount of information today. Again, you may email any questions to seminars@fordav.com and we will respond as quickly as possible. This is all the time that we have for today, and we hope to see you next time on The Learning Lab.

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