New Year (UHD) Resolution

The launch of 8K TV displays at IFA last year and more at CES at the beginning of January is something that I have been thinking about quite a lot – to arrive at my personal view of what the release of these displays means to me. Many have said we don’t need this resolution, many have said the same about 4K displays and to be honest they said that about HD as well (in fact if you go back to the 1930s, they probably said the same about the ‘high definition’ displays that were launched then). In other words the phrase ‘we don’t need it, we don’t see it, and other comments like that have always be said, but is it finally true?

The basis of the negative response about 8K displays and how resolution is not needed comes from the analysis of human perception, positions, sizes, empirical and theoretical analysis, as well as focus groups/studies. This can be summed up in the chart below about what the optimal viewing distance is by the size of the television and the resolution. In other words, people sit generally too far away to actually ‘see the resolution’ and therefore it is not ‘worth it’.

Image result for 4k viewing distance chart

There is a point to these comments and I am not going to discount the research, however much of the analysis is done based on ideal viewing positions and not the chaos of the way that consumers really watch their content on big screen and on small screen. In other words, the reality is that many homes have less than ideal placement of the TV compared to seating positions, as well as the tendency for some to sit themselves in positions all around the room and even on bean bags within 1 metre of the TV itself. Throw in that many have some interesting usages of TV displays like the 43″ TV I use as a testing display in my office which sits less than 30″ away from me as I type this (forgive my mixing of dimensions – I am British).

It is also true that the situation with having higher resolution displays and content is different now than it was with the last start of a transition period in resolution – the ‘move’ from SD to HD back in the mid 2000s. For a start, we now have a great many different displays upon which we consumer content, such as smartphone, tablet, PC and (shock) even a normal TV – all of which have a varied selection of display resolutions from 720p through to full 4K, and now 8K, and are used to watch SD through to 4K content today. In other words, that transition is advanced but has not completed, not even close. If we think now about HD to UHD, it is even less correct to call it a transition because of the much more varied selection of display sizes that we use. The content world is one of many resolutions and that will be true for a very long time indeed, just based on the existing available content that we all now have access to, the evaluations of content experience that organisations such as the EBU are undertaking and the fact that today much content is being distributed in 2K resolution still, despite being captured in higher resolution (largely because of special effects reasons of course).

In my view, the relationship between content and display is now broken apart, and a major part of what each display is doing is processing the image to display it to its best advantage, regardless of the source material. We are watch a broad swathe of content of different source resolutions on our displays, not matter what the native resolution is. In fact, this has been seen in much of the initial marketing material for those 8k displays, knowing that most of the content will be lower resolution and will continue to be so. In fact some of the displays are only capable of 8K from application playback, and not even from Youtube…

So why do we have higher resolution displays? My view is because it is about ensuring that the bottleneck on the content quality is not in the display but in the source material and the eyeball – and that these displays can be used to ‘fudge’ and process the content so it looks as good as it can get, regardless of the resolution, physical size of the display, or your viewing position.

The answer then to the question ‘is it worth it?” is ‘it can be’ but it depends on the eye of the beholder and the desire for maximising quality balanced with cost. However the really important point about this is what matters is the quality of the content that is seen, and resolution helps (and sometimes hinders) but that the better pixels of HDR and WCG offers much more ‘bang per buck’ to the equation than resolution and that is what we should focus on, along with those content enhancement technologies that will try and optimise the bottleneck to our eye.

Ian Nock is the Founder of Fairmile West, which is a Consulting company focused on working in the Consumer Device and Video arena. We work with clients on technology strategy and product delivery through key practices in Consumer Devices and Video Services. If you are interested in learning more about what we do, please do get in touch via our website – Contact us. You can also keep track with what interests us in the industry by following our Link blog at TV Tech News, and you can specifically follow news on Ultra HD via the following link – Ultra HD News.