If you thought 4K was a buzzword at last year's NAB, it was the real deal at CES this year. All of the manufacturers were out in force, and not just camera makers -- everyone who makes a screen had a 4K display at the show. There were a couple interesting developments so far that might actually mean 4K comes to your home sooner rather than later, including much cheaper 4K TVs from Westinghouse, Netflix streaming a video in 4K at the show itself, and a 4K Windows 8 tablet from Panasonic. RED was also in attendance at CES, showing off their new tech and playing videos in their new highly-compressed but high-quality .RED format. Check out all of the latest developments below.
First, here is Ted Schilowitz from RED talking to Engadget (though most of it we know already):
For me, the biggest news is that an affordable 4K screen is coming this year (sometime in the first quarter no less), and at sizes that begin to make the differences between 1080p and 4K noticeable. Westinghouse announced brand new sets that come in at relatively bargain prices compared to the competition, and their new 50", 55", and 65" sets are well within the realm of affordability for many filmmakers or post-houses, as well as many consumers. Here is a bit from Twice about the announcement:
Unlike the currently available $20,000-plus 84-inch Ultra HD sets from LG and Sony, Westinghouse is going to offer its sets starting in the first quarter at the bargain suggested retail prices of $2,499 for the 50-inch set, $3,000 for the 55-inch set and $3,995 for the 65-inch set.
But unlike Sony and LG, Westinghouse’s models will be barebones displays with no on-board Smart TV features and no elaborate 4K up-conversion video processing technology.
Instead, Roque said, Westinghouse expects viewers to use the 4K video processing converters that come built into select Blu-ray Disc players, A/V receivers and other devices to handle that load. To present pictures from regular sources, the sets will have only simple 4K up-scaling circuitry and 120Hz refresh rates.
So this means that your 1080p content would be reliant on the upconverter coming from the signal source. This was likely one of the ways they saved money with the set, but for those who want a 4K TV to view 4K content and possibly use in an edit suite, this is probably the most affordable option out there right now. This TV could also be combined with something like REDRAY, and you could be viewing content in true 4K for under $5,000 -- which might sound like a lot, but when you consider that some sets are going for over $20,000, it's a bargain. Vizio has also announced that they will be introducing their own budget 4K sets, but no prices have been announced yet.
We already talked a little about Sony's 4K strategy, and their own distribution tied in with their ultra-expensive TVs, but CEO Kaz Hirai talked quite a bit about their own strategy and where 4K is headed in the future. A disc format is not out of the question, but Sony hasn't progressed very far into making that a standard, especially since more and more consumers are moving away from disc formats. The Blu-Ray spec does contain the possibility of 4K, but it would require completely new players than most consumers have at the moment because the HDMI 1.4 standard, which includes 4K over a single HDMI, was not added until more recently. Either way, Sony believes that all of the manufacturers need to come together to help develop true 4K codec and file format standards for consumers.
Some other news comes from Netflix, who was quietly streaming 4K video to a display at the show:
Compression still has a way to go before it can be realistically streamed to most homes, but the new HEVC or H.265 standard will halve current bitrates from H.264 with equivalent quality. Those are the sorts of advances that will make Ultra High Definition a possibility, and as more people move away from cable, content providers will have to figure out other ways to get UHD to consumers, with streaming services like Netflix or Hulu at the forefront of those conversations.
Lastly, the arena where we are likely to see the first affordable and widely available 4K screens are in computers. That was made even more apparent by the 20" Windows 8 tablet introduced by Panasonic:
Obviously the first use that immediately comes to mind would be for photographers to be able to see their photos in much higher resolution, and actually be able to edit them that way. Graphic designers could also benefit from such a high-quality touch-screen display. There are many possibilities though, especially for filmmakers, and I could see this being a great client preview monitor that you could bring with you. It's not the most powerful device in the world, and the pixel density is actually lower than an Apple Retina display, but this is likely going to be the first place where 4K makes a huge difference, especially because of viewing distances.
There are still many that talk about whether 4K is really necessary at the screen sizes most people have in their homes, but there is no doubt in my mind that 5 years from now the majority of new displays will only be 4K. Technology is racing forward at an incredibly rapid pace, and those who are at the cutting edge with 4K may stand to benefit from content that has already been shot that way -- because that's really the biggest hurdle that still won't be overcome for a few more years: where does the 4K content come from and how do we get it to consumers? I would be surprised in that same time period if companies are still releasing 1080p cameras for filmmaking, especially when you consider how far computing technology has come in the last few years. It's going to be interesting and expensive in the short-term, but higher resolutions are coming, and they will be within the price range of most people in a relatively short amount of time.
What do you guys think? Who do you think will come out on top in the race to provide 4K content? What about screens? When do you think we'll see under $1,000 4K TVs at 65" or more?
- Westinghouse Brings Value To 4K Ultra HD TVs -- Twice
- Netflix and Samsung stream 4k video to a mysterious UHD TV -- The Verge
- Panasonic targets photographers with 20-inch 4K Windows 8 tablet (hands-on) -- The Verge
- 4K at CES 2013: the dream gets real -- The Verge
- Sony CEO Kaz Hirai wants 4K standard; disc format unlikely, but not out of the question -- The Verge
- Live from the Engadget CES Stage: an interview with Red Digital Cinema's Ted Schilowitz