4K is coming, 4K is coming! You may have been hearing this for a while now and wondering what all the hype is and/or when it’s going to finally get here. It’s a bit of a chick-and-egg situation currently: adoption of 4K TVs and displays is being seen among higher-end consumers and businesses, even while 4K content is sparse, as providers are waiting for the masses to get on board with the new technology. However, without the available content, the masses really don’t have a reason to yet. Confusing, we know.
For those who are not familiar with 4K, the brief reason why you will not want to be left behind is because 4K means 4x as many pixels as a 1080P display, which makes for more beautifully detailed, realistic images. At any rate, this article isn’t about what 4K is—athough if you want to know more see 4K Video 101—rather, we want to help you get ready for it.
There are a multitude of factors to take into consideration when adopting or preparing to adopt 4K. Let’s go over them.
Display Size and Viewing Distance
If you were, say, 10-feet from a 32-inch HDTV, you wouldn’t be able to tell much difference between 1080P or 4K. Resolution and screen size determine ideal viewing distances. A larger 4K display in a control room, for example, will have the same perceived quality as a smaller 1080P display if viewed at the same distance. What this means is that unless your screen is taking up a large portion of a person’s field of view, you may not want to invest in 4K.
However, 4K TV’s can be an exciting addition to your viewing experience, creating a more immersive environment and allowing you to sit closer to the screen without seeing all the pixels, as you would on a 1080P TV. If you feel like this investment is worthwhile, 4K TVs start as low as $500 for a 42-inch model. Smaller 4K monitors can be found in the $350 range.
You’ll also need appropriate networking hardware to manage transmitting 4K content for your home theater or business application. Most new computers can handle downloading and streaming 4K content, but you’ll also need to invest in appropriate transmitters, receivers and audio setup. You may also need a video matrix switcher if you plan on creating a complex AV network, as well as proper cabling, such as Cat6 or higher or hybrid fiber-HDMI cabling, which supports gigabit Ethernet and will be able to handle bandwidth-heavy streams.
If you’re downloading 4K content through the Internet, you can expect long wait times. A single 4K video stream can require up to 25 megabits a second, meaning, it can take up to 8 hours to download a 2-hour 4K video on a 10Mbps connection. For many consumers in the U.S., the bandwidth necessary for a single 4K stream is unfeasible, much less two or more simultaneously. Residential users can expect their bandwidth to be maxed out on low-end plans and may have to pay overage fees if they have a data cap.
ISPs will view the impending dominance of 4K as indication to raise prices to accommodate increased network capacity. For 4K to become feasible on a national level in the U.S., fiber optic connections will need to be expanded to the “last mile,” which is another way of saying to the home. Fiber-to-the-home (FTTH) providers, such as Verizon and Google, are the only companies that are in a position to handle the investments in laying the fiber optic lines needed for a 4K future for the masses.
If you’re a business user, you likely aren’t overly worried about downloading a lot of 4K content, but may be producing high-quality content and moving it through your network. In this case, investing in a good 4K media server and networking hardware should suit your needs for distributing 4K content just fine.
For enterprise users in broadcast TV, production and digital cinema, the big change happening now is the laying out of a 10GB fiber optic backbone. It is being used for 3G HD-SDI applications, and is expected to increase to 12G for sending uncompressed 4K video/audio/data. This is different from the 10GB Ethernet lines that are being laid for IP-based distribution of packetized video, which is becoming a competitive standard.
While ProAV and commercial customers don’t necessarily care about broadcast content like the home user, they do have something in common with gamers: the ability to display 4K computer graphics using DisplayPort 1.2a.
DisplayPort, which was developed as an alternative to HMDI by the VESA (Video Electronics Standards Association), is a digital display interface that includes a locking tab on top to address complaints in the commercial A/V industry about the connectors being too easy to pull out. It is backwards compatible with single-link DVI or HDMI, VGA and dual-link DVI with use of adapters, and utilizes packetized data transmission such as is used for Ethernet/IP transmission.
DisplayPort can be used to transmit audio and video simultaneously or to send each signal independently, and can carry device control data, as well as bi-directional USB, all on the same cable. DisplayPort currently works for computer monitors up to 5K (5120×2880) and televisions up to 8K (7680×4320 @60Hz).