If you haven't seen an ultra-high definition or 4K television yet, let me tell you it is worth travelling miles for. You will be wowed by its 'unbelievable' clarity. But whether you should bring home one of them depends on how deep your pockets are, because 4K TVs are among the most expensive of TV models.
4K TVs pack twice the horizontal and vertical resolution of full HD TVs, the 1080p ones. So 4K units have a resolution of 38402160 pixels, compared with the 1920x1080p of a full HD set. If you thought full HD was crystal clear then 4K is almost unnaturally so. After a long time one sees new technology in the TV's core picture quality and not peripheral gimmickry.
have also been grappling with a few problems. With sizes upwards of 82 inches to accommodate the high pixel density, they are too large for most households. Moreover, with most broadcasters struggling to find bandwidth even for their full HD channels, there is no way they can now start beaming 4K content, which is four times heavier.
All this could change, though. Sony, which launched its first 4KTV last year, has now shrunk both the sizes and the prices. Sony's 4K models
now come in 55 and 65-inch, priced at Rs 3.05 lakh and Rs 4.05 lakh respectively. That's still very expensive, though cheap when you consider Sony's first 84-inch model cost Rs 17 lakh. While the 84-inch TV sets could only be installed in hotels and convention centres, the new sizes could find their way into households. It is highly likely Samsung and LG will follow suit, maybe with even smaller screen sizes.
The problem of 4K content, however, remains unresolved. Will there ever be a 4K channel in India? Even globally there are ominous signs - the only 3DTV channel in the US, from ESPN, will shut down by the year-end. This, when 3DTVs have actually started showing up in the TV sales figures globally. 4k as yet is hardly visible on sales charts, with Sony admitting it sold just 200 units in India in 2012/13.
A big disruptor here could be the launch of the Intel Media service later this year. This hardware and software solution is expected to be powered by Intel's fourth generation Haswell processors, which are capable of rendering
4K content. Though noncommittal on the finer details of the new service, Jon Carvill, Director of Corporate Communications at Intel Media, said on the phone from the US they would be launching a service and a device with on-demand content via the Internet. "Our solution will have live as well as catch-up television," said Carvill, adding that the service would be limited to the US in the first phase.
In other parts of the world, 4K buyers will have to look for media players that support this high-resolution content. Sony is already selling a pre-loaded 4K media player in some countries - not yet in India - for $700. With Sony's new TVs capable of up-scaling 1080p content to 4K, there is also talk of bringing in Blu-ray titles with 1080p content mastered for 4k so that they show up well on the high-resolution screen. Sony Corp CEO Kazuo Hirai has told Japanese newspaper Asahi Shimbun that the company "plans to distribute superfine, 4K-resolution movies online exclusively for customers of its next-generation televisions", though Sony India Managing Director Kenichiro Hibi noted that this would also roll out in the US first. Hibi hoped there would be more content when movies start being shot in this format.
It is, however, hard to say if this will be TV's future. Years after they were launched, full HDTVs are just about finding their feet now. And then there is also 8K in the offing. For the record, that is 16 times the number of pixels of full HD.