4K for the consumer market – work in progress

What is 4K:

4K is the numerical representation for the resolution of a video. In it’s raw form 4k is 4096 × 2160 pixels, which provides an aspect ratio of 17:9, so to conform to the 16:9 consumer standard 4K has been reduced to 3840 pixels × 2160. This standard has been named Ultra High Definition (UHD). However, 8K is also in development so the naming standard that is yet to be confirmed seem to be progressing with 4K UHD and 8K UHD.


This diagram is a visual representation for the comparison of various standards. Each step up is essentially 4 times great resolution

Consumer Market:

When HD came on to the market, there was a lot of confusion over HDTV, Full HD and HD Ready. So a UHD-Forum which is led by the Digital TV Group was formed to promote 4K with the aim to avoid this confusion. So now you know what 4K TV is, what does this mean for the TV’s we buy for our home. Well, to get straight to the point, it means a bigger TV with a pin-point sharp picture. There is no great advantage of 4K over HD when we are talking about computer screen’s or a 40 inch TV, but 60+ inches… now we’re talking. At this year’s CES Vizio presented this wondrous beauty; 120 Inches of 4K.  When I see this I think, home cinema… or just cinema. I’m not sure exactly how easily you would get this into your living room… but that won’t stop us from trying.


So what’s holding 4K back?

Data rates? Codec? Content? oh and Cost?  As much as I am a lover of bigger and better, I’m pretty happy with my HD TV for now… especially when the prices are happily dropping.


Let’s face it, the main question – how much. Well the cost’s vary significantly and have fallen substantially over the last year. The low end price tag has been presented by Vizio where you can scoop a 50 inch for $999. If you have some very deep pocket’s then the Sony 110 Inch 4K TV will be in the region of $150,000.

If a television is not what your looking for… Sony, the first to offer home 4k projectors presented the VPL-VW500ES, 4K and 3D capable and only for $£8799.00….


4K Player’s

The shift from DVD to Blu-ray was simple, red laser to blue laser, this shift in wave length allowed for a significant increase in data rate and storage capacity. So unless we start producing ultraviolet laser players/disc’s, what option’ are left… The Blu-ray Disc Association is yet to confirm their plan’s on the next generation of 4K blu-ray discs, but the rumours are the use of triple layered disc’s offering up to 100GB of storage. Pioneer has taken this one… well a couple steps further. Pioneer claim to have successfully utilised 16 layers cramming 400GB on to the disc. Sony and Panasonic have teamed up on a new optical disc solution to rival the efforts of Blu-ray that could see a storage of 300GB.

This has got hard core fan’s debating over which codec will do the best job. According to HDTVtest, the current H.264/AVC format may well work with discs of this size, but it is more than likely that the H.265/HEVC codec will be used as some 4K televisions at the moment do house these decoders.

For now we will have to settle with Blu-ray’s that are mastered from 4K.


A few earlier player’s on the market:

Sony_4K_FMPX1The first player to hit the market mid-2013 was Sony’s FMP-X1 Ultra HD Media Player , which come’s loaded with 10 4K movies stored on the players 2TB HD and a connection to Sony’s “Video Unlimited” platform for purchase/streaming 4K movies and TV shows. This media player operates exclusively with Sony’s 4K Ultra HD TV range and will set you back $699.99. Sony currently has no plan’s to bring this to the UK.


Designed more for the professional crowd, REDRAY® is capable of playing 4K, 3D or HD media, REDRAY utilises a 1TB internal drive to store up t0 100 hours of 4K footage encoded in an advanced RED codec. This technology generates feature length 4K files small enough to fit on a USB flash drive. With a compressed data rate under 2.5MB/s, allow’s the content owner to deliver 4K worldwide via OTT media networks at remarkably low cost and high efficiency. Secure encryption is also available to protect your media from unauthorised viewing or duplication.


4K as a digital format has been around for a while; film’s have been shot in 4K for several year’s, Steven Soderbergh’s “Che” was filmed in 2008 on the RED ONE digital cinema camera. A number of TV shows, including the cult series Breaking Bad, are already being filmed in 4K. Any footage filmed on 35mm film can be scanned in at a resolution of 4K comfortably. Until 4K becomes more mainstream, it doesn’t make financial sense for a lot of the distributor’s to start re-scanning film to 4K as the return won’t be immediate. In summary, the breadth and depth of content is building, it’s just a matter time.

For those that are impatient, why not capture some of your own 4K moment’s. Sony has released it’s consumer 4K camera, FDR-AX100 with a price estimated in the region of $2000.



As much as we’d like to think we all have fast broadband… the reality for many is a distant a dream.

As of May 2013, Ofcom reported the average broadband speed in the UK to be 14.7Mbps, where fibre report’s an average of 43.6Mbps. In the United States the average speed reported by the NCTA is 7.4Mbps. Half of what is required to stream the current Netflix Super HD. Netflix report a minimum of 15Mbps to receive the 4K video, I still feel doubtful. In my experience, even when my connection speeds have been in the region of 20Mbps HD content struggled to stream seamlessly. This might be why the buzz is to have a 50Mbps connection to be safe… so that’s a good portion of the population, at least in the UK and USA who’s 4K streaming experience will not be a good one.

For now, people will have to settle with buffering their content over night, so some major improvements are in store in a lot of countries before 4K streaming will become a reality.

Streaming platforms:

Sony “Video Unlimited”, at the forefront of 4K technology, Sony has included 140 4K titles into it’s VOD platform to satisfy their 4K television customers. The service plays back content at a maximum bit rate of 100 Mbps and allows customers to enjoy premium 4K content such as Hollywood movies in high picture and sound quality with the stability that content downloads offer.

Netflix chief product officer Neil Hunt, believe’s that the future of entertainment content will only available on-line. It’s this belief that drove Netflix into the early start of integrating 4K on their platform.  Netflix has opt’d to use the H.265 codec claiming they can deliver rich 4K content in as small as 15Mbps.  One small problem, you won’t be able to watch any 4K content without a HEVC decoder.  For the moment Sony, Samsung, LG and Vizio have adopted this technology within their production line.

There’s also the possibility of the Sony PlayStation 4 getting a 4K firmware update. The PS4 is known to be 4K ready, so Netflix will need to upgrade their PS4 application, but it’s all in the pipeline.

Prime Instant and Amazon’s LoveFilm have announced that it will shoot all of it’s original show’s in 4K for it’s UDH service.  Amazon will launch five new comedy and drama pilots in 2014 and viewers will be invited to watch and provide feedback to determine which pilots get made as a series exclusive to view on Prime Instant Video and Amazon’s Lovefilm in the UK.

The pilots include The After, from X-Files creator Chris Carter; Bosch, not about drills but a Michael Connelly series based on the Harry Bosch book series; Mozart in the Jungle from Academy Award nominee Roman Coppola; The Rebels; and Transparent.

YouTube has been testing 4K streaming on their platform for sometime. They identified the potential streaming issues and devises a strategy to overcome the high bandwidth requirements. YouTube opt’d to use the VP9 royalty-free codec.  However, your hardware must support VP9 before you can view the streams. Several partners, including Samsung, LG, Panasonic, Sony, ARM and Intel, have signed up to build hardware that supports VP9.


Here is an example of a video on YouTube that has the 4K option on the streaming quality setting. It is still a little temperamental, especially when you combine the internet speed requirements.


The bulk of content we watch is still via broadcast. Tell my mum that she would have to stream the latest episodes of EastEnders or Coronation Street, you would very quickly see someone have a nervous breakdown.

The strain on the broadcast corporations is having to account for another receiving device… so that’s SD (4:3 and 16:9), HD, 3D (although many believe this is coming to and end) and now UHD. In August, Sky carried out its first ever live 4K trial broadcast using the English Premier League match between West Ham and Stoke City. Although the BBC and Sony had tested a localised demonstration in a “4K Experience Zone” at Wimbledon earlier in the year.


4K is not a distant future vision, it’s very much around the corner. The biggest concern is the lack of content being provided for the UK market. This will surely slow the british technology drive, but I guess it’s not a bad thing for us to allow other’s to iron out the bugs, while paying the premium cashola.  The Brit’s will jump on board when it’s more affordable… well providing it’s fairly priced.

I don’t believe the cloud will take over just yet, the internet bandwidth is not quite there to deliver the content in the required speed’s.  Development’s of optical media point to the continuation of hard copy purchasing, I’m happy with that; Last thing I want is to have staggered streaming.

Although 8K camera’s do exist, they are rarely used. We haven’t cracked 4K yet, so I don’t see the point in pushing for 8K UHD at the moment… well even in the next 5-10 year’s…. We will look on and smile in all the 4K glory 🙂