The world of video is not always easy to understand, with its array of acronyms. Technology moves so fast that sometimes it seems like we are only just getting used to one development, such as high definition (HD), when more come along. You may have heard mention of some dome of the latest acronyms, 4K, UHD and HDR, and wonder what they mean.
The terms 4K and UHD are both related to the resolution of the image you see, UHD is the derivation of 4K camera technology that is used in consumer devices as opposed to on cinema screens. The term high dynamic range (HDR) is connected to the color and contrast of the image as opposed to its resolution. We are going to take a look at these terms in more detail.
Ultra HD (UHD) 4K explained
4K is one of those terms that can be heard everywhere in the world of technology. It applies to the image quality of everything from cinema and 4K TV to smartphones and gaming consoles. You will have already seen 4K TVs for sale, but what are you actually getting; what is 4K? It’s really not that complicated. 4K technology is a development that improves the resolution of the image you see. UHD is the form of that technology that is used in consumer products, such as TVs. If you want to get a better idea of the improvement that comes from 4K resolution then you just need to look at the figures; in the majority of cases, 4K resolution is 3840 x 2160 or 2160p. Just compare this with the standard HD resolution of 1920 x 1080p.
In order to better understand what these resolutions mean, you need to imagine that your TV screen is split into a series of rows and columns. HD resolution means that your screen would have 1080 rows and 1920 columns. You can see that 4K resolution doubles those numbers meaning that more pixels are available (almost four times as many). This in return means that the picture you see is clearer and sharper. One point that is worth mentioning is that you may not get the same wow factor as you did when you first purchased that flat screen HD TV. You were probably not only changing from standard definition (SD) but also from a much smaller TV. This time around the actual sizes of TVs on the market probably will not change that much. It’s also worth mentioning that your eyes will only be able to make out the difference in resolution if you sit close enough to the TV screen. You can sit just a foot or two away from the screen and you will get the maximum benefit of the image filling your visual field.
Can you watch much 4K content right now?
It has to be said that there is not a great deal of 4K content available to view right now. The problem with 4K is that the content itself has far more bulk to it which makes it more difficult to actually deliver to you. You will not see any 4K content on broadcast TV right now as it has not made the switch. Streaming is also difficult as changing all content to 4K would make impossible demands on the Internet. 4K also requires a download speed of 25Mbps which most people do not have. Whilst many TV and film producers are already filming content that is 4K friendly you will not actually be able to view it in 4K until the systems have been developed to enable this to happen.
Right now, viewing options are pretty much limited to some content from Sony, Netflix and Amazon.
The problem is that producers of content are reluctant to take giant strides to developing the 4K provision while so few people have 4K ready TV sets and people do not want to invest in 4K TV while there is so little content available. It’s a Catch 22 situation. The fact remains that 4K UHD is pretty impressive and is set to revolutionize the future of video content.
Whereas 4K is all about the resolution of a moving image, HDR is about the color and contrast of that image. Given the fact that the improvement in resolution may not have as much of a wow factor as when we all moved from SD to HD, it’s possible the wow will actually come more from HDR. It’s still in its infancy but LG has produced HDR compatible TVs and there is a small amount of HDR content available via Amazon Prime. Netflix is also developing HDR content.
What exactly is HDR?
We have already mentioned that HDR is not about improving the resolution of the image you see. It’s all about increasing the range of color and contrast in moving images. This enables producers of content to bring out more detail in those areas of a picture that are especially bright or dark. This does not just mean that colors will be darker or brighter but that the actual color definition will be better. The idea of HDR is to make the image relate more to what the eye actually sees. The overall result of this is to make the content you view more lifelike.
It makes sense that as technology such as 4K improves the resolution of images so HDR improves their color definition and vitality.
Where are you able to watch HDR?
Now we come to the downside; there is even less HDR content available than 4K content. The main problem, when it comes to HDR, is that to produce a true HDR experience all filming needs to be done in HDR. Work is ongoing to engage the film industry in doing this. As far as HDR in the home goes, both Amazon and Netflix are integrating HDR into their streaming systems, although content is limited to only a couple of titles.
Turning current content into HDR content
It’s possible that there will be a system that enables current video to be upgraded to HDR. Technicolor is currently working on developing the system. If the system works as is intended, and brings current content in line with HDR standards, then there could be a lot more HDR content available to view. It’s worth noting that relatively few current TV sets actually have HDR capability so you will likely need to upgrade from your current TV in order to watch HDR content in the future.
4K, UHD and HDR are terms that you will hear a lot more about as technology enables further development. They are all set to revolutionize the quality of the video content that we view.