Ultra high definition displays are coming your way and fast. So if you decide to pull the trigger on a screen with four times the resolution of 1080p, where are you going to get content from? As the price of 4K or UHDTVs comes down rapidly, getting content is probably the biggest question on consumers minds.
Before we get started, let’s quickly cover what UHD or 4K actually means. It seems the entertainment industry once again failed to settle on a format and aspect ration, so 4K means different things to different people. The source of the following table is from the talented guys over at Wikipedia and demonstrates the challenge for content creators. For the purpose of the rest of this post, we’ll talk about 4K and UHD in relation to 3840×2160 resolution with a 16:9 aspect ratio, as that’s what most TVs will be, however 4K monitors may vary from this.
|Format||Resolution||Display aspect ratio||Pixels|
|Academy 4K (storage format)||3656 × 2664||1.37:1||9,739,584|
|4K Ultra high definition television||3840 × 2160||1.78:1 (16:9)||8,294,400|
|DCI 4K (flat cropped)||3996 × 2160||1.85:1||8,631,360|
|DCI 4K (CinemaScope cropped)||4096 × 1714||2.39:1||7,020,544|
|Digital Cinema Initiatives 4K (4K2K) (native resolution)||4096 × 2160||1.90:1 (256:135) and (17:9) according to GoPro’s website||8,847,360|
|?||4096 × 2304||1.78:1 (16:9)||9,437,184|
|Canon Inc. 4K2560 (Canon DP-V3010)||4096 × 2560||1.6:1 (16:10)||10,485,760|
|Full aperture 4K (storage format)||4096 × 3112||1.32:1||12,746,752|
Most manufacturers are shipping hard drives or small servers with their UHD TVs to get consumers their first taste of UHD content and really showcase their displays well. This content is typically show in the best conditions, with amazing cameras, at amazing locations. There’s plenty of timelapse and fisheye lenses footage and even a healthy dose of 3D video which actually looks fantastic through passive glasses. While this provided drive is great, it doesn’t answer the fundamental question, how to get more.
Google has been accepting high resolution video uploads for quite some time now there’s been plenty of video producers that have taken them up on the offer. When you visit a YouTube video, click the cog in the bottom right of the player and check the quality. If you ever see an option above 1080 called ‘Original’ that’s the 4K setting. You will need a very decent connection for it to play unbuffered, but if you’re patient, it’ll buffer on any connection and then play and you’ll be treated to the best looking video your eyes have seen, even on a sub-4K display these look great.
YouTube competitor Vimeo permitted 4K content uploads for a while, but looks like they’ve switched it off. What is surprising is that Google don’t have a simple http://youtube.com/4K link to make accessing this stuff a whole lot easier.
One thing Bit Torrent doesn’t do is wait for the lowest common denominator to catchup before pushing forward. The large sizes associated with dealing with files of the 4K variety also doesn’t scare the file sharing community so if you have a fast connection and are willing to hit the torrents, there’s actually a fair bit of 4K content to enjoy, just invite a lawyer over to watch.
Shooting your own
Back in the days of the HDTVs we were having the same content sourcing discussion. One of the best answers to that problem was to put HD cameras in the hands of consumers so they could create and share their own content. The same is happening in the 4K space and the best example is the Samsung Galaxy Note 3 smartphone / tablet that can shoot 4K video. If you want to see a sample, click the fire image above and make sure you set the quality to ‘Original’, the result is seriously impressive when you consider it fits in your (oversized) pocket.
If DSLRs are to stay relevant, you can expect they will not only add, but excel at shooting 4K very shortly – 1080 is so yesterday. Almost all UHDTVs will be smart which means DLNA is likely supported, this means you can store your high resolution media on the network and stream it to the TV. What I wasn’t able to do was test if 802.11N was enough bandwidth to stream 50Mbps 4K video without issue. Alternatively you could connect your laptop via HDMI to playback the 4K footage.
A lot of the movies released over the past few years has been shot in 4K (probably on RED) and down-converted to Bluray for consumers. The is potential, although no announcements yet, for the distribution of 4K movies to be done via high capacity SD cards. Right now the cost is far too high for this to be practical, but the price is dropping and capacity increasing everyday. In 1-2 years from now, it’s possible we’ll see a 128GB SD card for the cost of a Bluray. Given we’re talking a premium product, we can expect to see premium prices for feature length 4K movies.
Now let’s talk about what’s on the horizon.. internationally there’s a lot more happening in this space than in Australia. In America, streaming service Netflix is about to start test streaming 4K Movies and TV shows over the internet. Obviously this has massive impacts on bandwidth and especially impacts data caps. It’s still very early days for compression algorithms when it comes to 4K, over time engineers will get much better about removing parts of the video and audio that isn’t distinguishable by humans. Regardless of how good this gets, those on FTTP connections are already good to go, NBN anyone?
Over in Japan, national broadcaster NHK is also experimenting with 8K, so even once the 4K content problem is reliably solved, this issue isn’t over. Broadcast spectrums in Australia are already very constrained and we see many TV channels still being transmitted in 576i or SD quality. It’s highly unlikely that we’ll ever see 4K broadcast in Australia, the real source for 4K content is undoubtedly the internet. This presents a unique challenge for TV manufacturers, how do they make IPTV as easy to consume as the current OTA broadcast. The channel up and down buttons on remotes have an expectation of an immediate response, when we move to IP-delivery, there’s almost always buffering of some description.
The next (now current) generation of consoles will also offer 4K video support at some stage. While the feature didn’t make it to launch for either the PS4 or Xbox One, it is on the way. Given both providers offer video streaming services, it’s safe to say 4K offerings are just around the corner, especially with pressure from places like Netflix.
I’ve had LG’s 55LA9700 55” UHDTV through it’s paces over the past week and a bit and can confirm that the step up from 1080 is dramatic. I see a market emerging for video footage that emulate what you’d see out a window. With the right material and a 4K display on your wall, you could easily fool people that was actually a window in your wall. For those playing at home, the sizes of 4K content is as much as 15GB for clips just a few minutes long, like I said, compression has a long way to go, either that or hard drives and bandwidth, but we all know which will arrive at the solution faster.
While plugging in a USB3.0 HDD to the TV works well, accessing the streaming versions of 4K on the TV is a lot more difficult than it should be. Using the browser on any TV device is trying at best and navigating your way to the small quality icon on the YouTube player is possible, but pretty unbearable. 4K needs to be made simpler, a lot simpler. It’s a shame Boxee isn’t really a player in this space anymore as their objective of making the consumption of IP-based content simple was a great one.
Heading into 2014 I wish the content story was a lot better for UHDTVs, but the reality is that as hooked on the quality as you get, most of the time you’re left with up-scaled 1080p or worse. Let us know in the comments if you’ve found some alternative sources for 4K content.