The Problem With 4K

When Sony announced its gargantuan 84-inch 4K TV at IFA 2012, I was impressed, but not blown away. Then I sat down in front of it, and I had a resolutiongasm. The clarity of the image is incredible, and as Angus over at Lifehacker points out, it's enough to make someone who doesn't normally mind about resolution issues the most passionate pixel peeker in history. With so much going for it, you'd think it'd be a slam dunk for Sony, right? Not quite.

There's no question that the 4K unit itself is incredible. When you sit down in front of it, your mind is overwhelmed by the quality you're seeing. It can't be real. It has to be some sort of gimmick, right? Nope. What you're seeing is poetry in motion.

Because of the high-quality of native 4K content on Sony's 4K TV, your brain is tricked into thinking the image has depth from a huge viewing angle.

And on top of all this bite-the-back-of-your-hand gorgeous imagery, you're presented with the side-mounted speakers that aren't just crappy tack-ons. Oh no. These produce amazing sound for bundled speakers.

So what's wrong with the Sony 4K TV?

Well, nothing really. The problem is the lack of content.

Right now the amount of 4K content on the market for home consumption is laughable, and some execs — like the boffins at HBO — are questioning the value that they'll get out of 4K. After all, why would release content that they won't make a return on?

To support 4K, content creators will likely have to spend a pretty penny updating a lot of their gear, and even then they'll only be putting it out for a fraction of the market who can afford $US25,000 television sets.

So there's not a whole lot of passive viewing content, but what about interactive? Well right now there aren't even that many games that run on the Playstation 3's 1080p resolution, so the idea of 4K content from developers isn't one that's just around the corner.

The most promising piece of interactive content designed for 4K that we've seen came out very recently from Toshiba who showed off a game running on a 4K-capable graphics card (the AMD 7970). It's gorgeous, but still, that's only one game and one demonstration in one corner of one trade show floor. It's not about to set the market alight.

We can take solace in the fact that when high-resolution Blu-ray players were released to the market, their content offering was just as slim, and now it's one of the dominant distribution mediums for high-quality content.

Let's just hope 4K goes the same way before manufacturers abandon this beautiful high-resolution future.


Comments

    When I first read about the Sony announcement of their 4K beastie, my first question was around content, and how to actually play it back. I was ridiculed,"Watch it on your PC, Physical media is dead!", "You Tube has 4K content" they exclaimed.

    I'm glad to see I wasn't the only one who actually noticed that there's a lack of "real" content for screens of this resolution.

      I want to see the article with the title "why your 1080p TV is probably a retina display".

      For example, my 50" 1080p tv has a PPI of around 44.06 (http://pixeldensitycalculator.com/?h=1920&v=1080&d=50) Also, the pixel spacing is around 0.567mm per pixel (http://www.nicetaco.com/tv.aspx#calculator).

      Based on (http://www.tuaw.com/2011/01/18/ipads-and-retina-displays-doing-the-math/) As long as I sit 1.949m away from my TV I will be unable to see any pixels (assuming I have average 20/20 vision).

    Reading the headline I knew the answer would come down to that one word... 'content'. In reality 1080p seems to be beyond most providers in Australia. Watch any live sport on Foxtel and you'll see it's so horribly compressed that it might as well be standard def.

      most free to air channels are still SD

      the few channels that do have HD are either news or crap

      maybe we need to come up with content thats worth watching and then people might be interested in the image quality?

        "Watch any live sport on Foxtel and you’ll see it’s so horribly compressed that it might as well be standard def."

        That's not true at all IMHO. I regularly watch the EPL on Foxtel HD and it's way better than SD. If my team are playing as a red button game it's disappointing as the quality is so different. Also, ESPN HD etc look much better in HD than SD.

          granted, there are exceptions but they are the exception and you never find that the broadcaster's priority is the fidelity of the picture. Certainly, broadcasting 4k is well beyond them and outside of the scope of their priorities.
          Side note... ah EPL.. the only reason to splurge on Fox...

          You do realise there is a difference between free to air and paytv right?

      Nowhere in the world will your find 1080p broadcast TV, as far as I know. 1080i at a good data rate should be possible, though. Sadly, it doesn't seem to be a goal worth pursuing for our broadcasters.

        I know the BBC transmits some programs in 1080p on Freeview in the UK.

      For this reason the Jackie Chan movie that was on a few months ago was unwatchable on HD. All his fast moves only looked good on SD, where there was plenty of spare bandwidth to keep up.

      Not convinced? Next time you see ANY water in broadcast HD, have a closer look. Once you see it, you will start to see artifacts in almost every show except locally broadcast news and the like.

      What? HD on Foxtel is great... especially compared to FTA HD

      Yep it's truly and utterly pathetic in Australia for HD content. I would estimate even in 2030 we will be lucky if we have 4K let alone the insane 8K content needed for the next gen. This is why I download my favourite shows so I can watch them in HD. And if you think it's bad enough watching SD, catchup TV like iView is only 360p.

    This TV is for PLAYING GAMES.

      average PC or any console will not be able to run games in that rez :)

        "average PC or any console" If you were spending $25K on a TV don't you think you could afford a kick *** PC to go with it. I'm thinking $25k for the tele and another $6 or 7k for a beastly gaming PC with 7970s crossfired and you're good to go!!

          PS3 Xbox just chilling in a dusty corner....

          re kick *** PC totally agree ... to bad I dont know one single gamer who can spend 25k on 'big monitor'

            Sooooo getting this as my next monitor... after I win the lotto.

        I would expect you will be able to play 4x 1080p simultaneous sources on this screen. 4x Xbox 360 or play stations for a multiplayer would be excellent on this.

        Also it is meant to have a rather good processor for scaling, so it would work quite well with existing consoles fullscreen, but lower res.

        Content has always been lagging, nothing new. Don't people remember when 1080p just came out and the only video was slow moving demo video run off custom hdd players? I think it will be a faster transition this time since 4k has been out on digital projection for a while and many films are recorded digitally at 4k. This cuts our costly film transfer and means the media is there waiting for a market.

        Radeon 7970s can be had for under $A 400 these days. The marginal cost over something like a 7800 series is nothing next to the price of the screen itself.

    Would be interested to know how many people writing about these 4K TVs have actually seen one up in real life.

    As for content, I think most people have Full HD (1080) TVs these days, but even now the majority of content on TV is still 540p or something similarly crappy. It slow the propagation of 4K TV's into the mainstream, but any conclusion that hints at manufacturers abandoning higher resolution screens is short sighted. How else are they going to upsell us?

      As I mentioned, I have seen that particular Sony 4K in real life and it's so beautiful I could weep.

      I've seen this TV in real life. Probably at the same place Luke did...

        SEEINCEPTION.

    In addition, the problem is that it's damn expensive. I know of no one who would shell out the amount commonly paid for a car to buy a TV, great as it is.

      I remember large screen plasmas costing nearly that much when they first came out, now every man and his dog has one. Give it a couple of years and TVs like this will drop down in price significantly.

    1080P content still looks pretty awesome, even upscaled on a 2K TV. I'm still waiting for 2K TVs to come out.

    So not the grand and mighty nVidia card then?

    Score one for AMD.. been a while.

    On the heels of this and the first comment, I searched for a 4k video on youtube and promptly got a BSOD haha. I assume only some graphics cards support it then.

    I'd love to see a 4k screen. With the size of some TV's, 1080p is starting to look a bit dated. Real content is likely a couple of years away though.

      My 2560x1440 samsung with gtx680 crashes IE on 1440p content... I haven't bothered narrowing the cause yet.
      Lack of >1080p content makes me weep a little bit :(

    I agree with everyone's (to varying extents) comments but I reckon I could easily fill the screen with 4 channels playing at once, or multiple browser windows plus tv picture in picture plus skype plus whatever the heck else I could do with it at the same time whilst slouching in my couch.
    Heck I already do with my 55" with upscaled despicable SD content and love it so the more size and rez the better I say, even it no native 4k content ever exists.
    In other words, if you build it (affordably enough) they will come.

      You sure you're not Marty McFlys son from the future :P

    It's hard enough to get 1080 content out of Aussie broadcasters let alone 4k. We are a long long way away from this juicy goodness hitting out tv airways.

    Film makers have already been filming for the future.. The Hobbit for instance is filmed in 5k and at a staggering 48fps!! that would look amazing on a tv like this. I hope they start rolling out 4k panels and content very soon..

    Imagine Battlefield 4 (or any game for that matter) in 4k ! 4 x gtx690's later... lol

    Saying lack of content is a problem is ridiculous. Once 4k becomes popular there'll be a demand for it and u can trust all developers and tv/movie producers to jump on the bandwagon.

    Just look at 3D. After Avatar, everything is going freaking 3D

    And the only place most of you could have an 84 inch screen is on the ceiling...

    The problem is they're making the TVs friggin' huge and thereby diluting any resolution increase! Make me a 4k 43" TV and I'll be impressed!

    Once upon a time HD and Full HD content was hard to come by, and HDTV's were hellishly expensive (My uncle has a 720P TV that cost him $14,000 back in the day, and uses more power than some countries). Give it time to catch up, a tech journalist should know that. How long was 1080P the gold standard before the PS3/360/Blu-ray start using it at a cost effective level.

      Thing is, many years down the track and HD content is still lagging behind HD display tech in many ways.

      Check what resoultions your PS3 and 360 are actually outputting.

        And? TV makers jumping ahead only serves to bring down cost, raising the adoption rate and increasing demand for content. if they say, ok, lets wait until all content is in 1080P, then we will work on the next one, prices stay high and technological advancement stalls.

    There's no point thinking about 4k until we can get HD working, there is a serious lack of HD content.

    Give it a decade for 4K TV's to hit the market, for a new content medium to come out (or BluRays start supporting 4K movies) and online content, and hopefully the prices should start dropping on the hardware, resulting in more people wanting to buy 4K content and therefore a reduction on 4K content as well. For me, not now. Not until I can get a 55" 4K 3D and wifi smart TV (with gesture control) and OLED screen for under $3K.

    It'll be like 1080p- that took about 3-4 years to go mainstream. When we're talking sets that cost 2-5 thousand dollars, instead of 25 thousand dollars, then it'll go mainstream.

    This set is clearly pitched at cashed up, techno geek early adopters.

    So seeing how Sony has brought out the 4k tv first. I sure hope the PS4 supports 4k. would be great to be able to play some games on a console in 4k even though I think it will be at least 3 years before it really kicks off

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