What to Consider Before Going 4K

Ultra HD and 4K TVs are expected to be everywhere this year. With four times the pixels as “Full HD” (1920 by 1080, or 2 megapixels), 4KTVs offer the best quality ever (3840 by 2160, or 8 megapixels). But early adopters will want to future-proof their investment to ensure their TV will support emerging formats in this still evolving technology. Following are a few things to consider before going 4K.

HDMI Connectors: The current standard of HDMI is called 1.4, and it can transfer 4K signals to your television at up to 30 frames per second. Now, HDMI 2.0 supports up to 60 frames per second, with 12-bit instead of 8-bit color. Consumers will need an HDMI 2.0 connector to make their TV work for future devices with higher frame rates and higher color resolution. HDMI 2.0 also comes with a new content protection protocol called HDCP 2.2, which is designed to create a more secure connection between the content source and the TV display. This new tech is not backward-compatible, so users who don’t get all of their 4K content off the Web need to make sure HDCP 2.2 appears in the specs of their 4K TV purchase.

Upscaling/Processing Electronics: Unfortunately, 4K content is lagging far behind 4K TVs. Only a limited amount of content optimized for 4K is available online: some YouTube videos and one or two series on Netflix, with some more content from M-Go and Amazon coming soon. Therefore, more than 99% of what consumers will watch on their 4K TV next year will be regular HD or even standard-definition content. For this reason, the electronics to scale up the SD or HD video into 4K signals will be extremely important when choosing a 4K TV, as they determine the video quality.

HEVC: High Efficiency Video Coding (HEVC), also called H.265, is the new video-compression standard, and it is twice as efficient as the previous standard (AVC or H.264). So, it is rapidly becoming the codec of choice for storing and delivering 4K content. All of the major streaming services are planning 4K delivery in 2015 using HEVC, so if a 4K television does not include a built-in HEVC decoder, consumers will need to connect an external streamer box that supports HEVC decoding to a TV to enjoy these services.

Quality and Price: The adage “you get what you pay for” is true for many consumer devices. While consumers can find 65-inch 4KTVs for less than $1,000, these sets are typically of a lower quality, which will especially be noticeable when “upscaling” SD or HD content to 4K. High-quality, top brand 65-inch 4KTVs are typically in the range of $2,500-$4,000, and although price is not always an indication of quality, buying a 4KTV from a good brand at a competitive store is a safe be.

The Bottom Line: Buying a 4KTV is the first step to ensuring that consumers have access to the new higher resolution content that is coming in 2015 and beyond, and many considerations are involved when making this purchase decision. Before consumers purchase a new 4KTV, they need to make sure it can handle everything the future has in store for this evolving technology.

Dror Gill is chief technology officer of Beamr, an imaging technology company that powers Web publishers, digital distributors, social networks and media companies.