Is It Time to Up Your Home Theater Game to 4K?
New technology can be thrilling, especially when it results in a home theater or media room viewing experience that is truly next level. But as each new home theater technology—3D, HD, OLED, plasma and so on—has emerged, big questions came along with it. Does it provide a performance boost that’s truly worth the extra cost? That’s a big one. But even those technologies that did, indeed, deliver advanced performance faced another, even bigger, hurdle: content. This time around, though, as 4K/Ultra High Definition (UHD) TV continues to earn major buzz with high performance home theater fans, 4K content is actually ready to roll as well.
The challenge looks a bit like this: you buy the world’s most cutting edge, miraculous oven, capable of taking every ingredient to a more delicious level. But all you have to put in that oven is a frozen pizza that’s been in your freezer for a year. It works similarly with advanced TVs. No matter how exceptional a TV’s resolution, color, and frame rates are, if the only content you have to play on it is standard definition cable or a VHS tape, you will never get to fully experience that TV’s superior quality.
Most people will remember when HD TVs came out and began to quickly garner popularity. Cable TV, however, was a bit out of step. It took years in some cases to get the full range of cable channels available in HD. Fortunately, however, the industry has been watching and learning, and as 4K TV began to pick up steam, content providers and creators were paying attention.
What Exactly is 4K?
Technically, two kinds of 4K exist: there’s consumer 4K, or UHD, which is a television with approximately 4,000 horizontal pixels, and then there’s Cinema 4K or DCI 4K, which is 256 pixels wider than consumer UHD. For those looking for the top tier home theater experience, consumer 4K/UHD is what you’re looking for. Cinema 4K is more useful to broadcast and live production applications. So why is it called 4K? That’s because it’s four times 1080p, which is the resolution of true HD.
Because your watching experience is only as good as the content available, home theater owners want to know before they invest in a 4K/UHD system that the content is actually available. One of the trends that’s allowing this much quicker adaptation is the fact that so many consumers are moving to streaming content rather than cable. Digital content providers like Amazon, Netflix, and Vudu are all offering content in 4K. You see, it’s much easier to provide single TV shows or movies in 4K without having to adapt an entire content delivery system, as cable providers must do.
There have been advances in physical content too, with 4K options like Ultra Blu-Ray players from Panasonic and Samsung, and one promised soon by LG.
What does all this add up to?
4K is on its way. If you’re an early adopter, now might be the time to start thinking about integrating the 4K experience into your home theater or media room. Content is available, and more is on the way. But also consider your options. HDR is another exciting home theater technology that got lots of attention at the 2016 Consumer Electronics show. Come back to Jackson Hole AV Tips from the Top next week for a look at home theater’s up and coming HDR trend.