The last 15 years have been an exciting time for home theatre enthusiasts thanks to the introduction of the DVD Player, the Blu-ray player, the personal video recorder (PVR), digital surround audio technologies, the switch to digital television and of course, the introduction of large screen flat panel high definition televisions (HDTV).
If you're like most consumer electronics enthusiasts, you purchased one or more of these products in the last decade only to find out a few months later that an enhanced, updated, faster and cheaper version had since been released.
Fortunately, home theatre enthusiasts who have recently purchased a 1080p Flat Panel HDTV with a Blu-ray player and 7.1 A/V receiver capable of decoding the latest lossless audio formats can now sit back in their recliner munching popcorn knowing they need not worry about their home theatre system becoming technologically obsolete anytime soon.
Now before you get too comfortable in your La-Z-Boy, let me introduce you to a new standard in HD television called Ultra High Definition Television or UHDTV.
Similar to HDTV, which comes in two primary flavours (720 and 1080), UHDTV comes in two flavours called 4K and 8K. The primary advantage of UHDTV over HDTV is increased pixel resolution – more pixels typically means a more lifelike, more immersive and ultimately more enjoyable viewing experience.
How much more resolution does UHDTV offer compared to HDTV? In the case of 8K, more than 32 times the resolution of 720p (the standard resolution of most cable and satellite providers today). Think of going from a VGA 640 by 480 pixel digital camera of 15 years ago to a 10 megapixel digital camera today and you get a sense of how much more information is captured in an 8K video image.
To better understand UHDTV, let's review the pixel resolution of three most common digital video formats, now called ATSC standards, developed in the early 1990s by a consortium of electronics and telecommunications companies.
The first is standard definition digital television, which is what you see when you tune to satellite TV or digital cable station. Broadcast in a 16:9 aspect ratio, the video image consists of 720 pixels across and 480 pixels down. Multiply that out and it means that 337,920 pixels – just over a third of one megapixel – is lit up on your screen.
The second and most common HD format is 720p. Today, most cable and satellite providers broadcast in 720p format which displays 1280 by 720 pixels for a total of 921,600 pixels on screen. That works out to just under one megapixel of information.
The final type is 1080 which comes in two variants, 1080i and 1080p. A Blu-ray player pumps out 1920 x 1080p video and delivers 2,073,600 pixels or just over two megapixels of information to your television screen.
In summary, SD delivers a third of a megapixel to your screen at any one time, 720p delivers about one megapixel of information while 1080p tops out at just over 2 megapixels.
UHDTV specs approved on August 23, 2012 by the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) defines two formats, 4K and 8K. UHDTV 4K has 3840 by 2160 pixels of resolution which works out to 8,294,400 pixels, exactly four times the resolution of 1080p HDTV. UHDTV 8K delivers 7680 by 4320 pixels onscreen totalling more than 32 megapixels of resolution.
In summary a 4K digital image will have 24 times the number of pixels on screen as a SD signal and nine times the number of pixels as the common 720p signal broadcast by most television stations today. In addition to the vast increase in resolution, the Japanese have been calling on the ITU to include a new audio format that calls for up to 22.2 channels of discrete audio! So when can consumers expect these new UHDTVs?
While the spec was only recently approved, consumer electronics companies have already jumped on the bandwagon.
Beating its competitors to the punch, LG Electronics says it plans to roll out an 84-inch 4K TV in North America, Europe, Asia, and Latin America in September. The cost? Just over $22,000. While that may seem like a ridiculous sum of money, remember that the first generation of 42-inch plasma televisions sold in North America cost close to $40,000. In addition, Sony last week announced plans to sell the 84 inch XBR-84X900 4K UHDTV in North America beginning in December. Toshiba, which is calling its 4K sets Quad Full HD, is set to begin selling 4K sets in the first half of 2013.
No firm has announced plans for an 8K set.
Is UHDTV the future of HDTV?
The transition from analog to digital television began almost twenty years ago and continues today. After almost of two decades, the bulk of North American television viewing is still in standard definition with the complete transition to HDTV still years away.
UHDTV is another quantum leap which would require cable companies, satellite TV companies, television stations and consumers to invest billions of dollars in new equipment without any commensurate increase in revenues.
While UHDTV can deliver a superior video image, the benefits are only discernible when you play UHDTV source material (not available today) and on flat panels over 80 inches in size (not practical in the vast majority of homes).
In conclusion, UHDTV is a decade or two ahead of its time and not something consumers need think about anytime soon.