4K has been the the talk of the town these past couple of years, promising higher-resolution videos and higher-resolution displays to go along with that. However, seeing as how the technology is still in its early stages, there’s some mystery as far as what is 4K and what it means for the future of technology and consumer electronics.
We’ve started seeing more and more 4K products pop up recently, including computer monitors and televisions, but for those who aren’t on the uppity-up of screen resolutions, 4K will seem like a meaningless term, but it’s important to note what screen resolution is and what the future holds for televisions and higher-resolution video.
4K Is the Next-Generation Resolution
In the simplest of terms, 4K (also known as Ultra HD or UHD) is the name of the 3840×2160 resolution. It gets its name from the number 4,000, in that 4K resolution is roughly 4,000 pixels horizontally. You’re probably already familiar with 1080p, which is the current standard for high-definition content (1,080 pixels vertically), but 4K looks to take over 1080p as the new standard within the next few years.
Just how much bigger is 4K over 1080p? It’s four times bigger. However, this doesn’t mean that 4K televisions and displays will be four times bigger physically, but rather more pixels will be squeezed into the same size display as a 1080p screen would occupy, meaning a much-higher pixel density and a crisper image than ever before. For example, if you were to watch a 4K video on a 55-inch 4K television, the image would look much crisper than watching the same video on a 55-inch 1080p television.
What about 4K content?
So there are 4K televisions and 4K displays available for purchase, but in order to fully take advantage of the higher resolution, you need 4K videos to play on that 4K television. Unfortunately, there isn’t a lot of 4K content to go around. Netflix is currently testing 4K streaming, but it’s not widely available yet. As for television broadcasting, the current standard is still 1080p HD, with very few 4K programming available to watch. Furthermore, movies aren’t widely available in 4K yet either; Blu-ray is still the standard at 1080p resolution.
However, in the absence of 4K content, 4K televisions can upscale 1080p content to 4K resolution, but it won’t be as crisp or detailed as native 4K videos. It’s the same concept as upscaling standard-definition content to 1080p; it works, but it will most likely look like crap once it’s upscaled. Upscaling is pretty much the equivalent of blowing up a low-resolution photo, which results in a pixelated mess. Granted, upscaling technology is a bit better at this, but not by much.
It’ll only be a matter of time before we see more and more 4K content pop up, but for now, there’s not much to watch at the moment.
Is a 4K Television Worth Buying?
Right Now? No. It would be better to wait until 4K becomes more of a standard before purchasing a 4K television. And since 4K televisions are still extremely expensive right now, it’s best to wait for prices to go way down, which they should once more 4K content becomes available. At that point, it’ll be a win-win situation.
However, if you’re in the market for a 4K computer monitor, there’s no reason not to get one if you can afford it. Computers can take advantage of the higher resolution to allow more screen real estate for power users. Apple’s online European store was briefly selling a Sharp 32-inch 4K display (by accident; the company eventually pulled the listing). If your computer can handle the extra processing power it takes to crank out higher resolutions, a 4K display would be the perfect display for your workspace.
What About 4K Gaming?
Playing video games in 4K would be absolutely insane, and it’s currently possible, as you can set the resolution of many newer games to 4K. However, unlike 4K movies, 4K video games take a ton of extra processing power. You’ll need quite the PC gaming rig in order to pull it off. However, if you’re a die-hard PC gamer and have sunk some $2,000 into your gaming rig with the latest and greatest graphics card, you’ll most likely be able play 4K video games.
As for consoles, both the PS4 and Xbox One don’t have video games that play at 4K resolutions, but Microsoft has been teasing the possibility, saying that its console comes included with a “4K-rated” HDMI cable. Whether or not we’ll see 4K video games come to the new consoles is still up in the air, but it might not be anytime soon.
How Much Does 4K Cost?
4K televisions and displays are pretty expensive right now. The first batch of larger 4K televisions were priced well over $10,000 (at the least), but you can get off-brand 4K televisions for under $1,000. As for computer monitors, they can be a bit more expensive, since you’re packing in more pixels into a smaller area. The Sharp display that Apple briefly sold was priced at over $3,000.
However, prices will undoubtedly come way down over the next couple of years, and you’ll most likely be able to grab a brand-name 4K TV for a reasonable price, but at this point, 4K is simply too young of a technology that it’s not really worth diving into right now, but just like with 1080p HD, 4K is aiming to be the next resolution standard when it comes to video content.