It’s clear from discussions across the supply chain that the industry is considering launching 4K x 2K (3840×2160) resolution TVs, which have four times the information content of current 1080p products.
This increase in resolution is a sign of the growing maturity in the TV market, and the price erosion that continues to damage the business. Set and panel makers are seeking the next innovation that can boost pricing.
So why 4K x 2K? From a broadcast or packaged media point of view, any increase in content format is still a long way off, with many markets still to make the move even to HD (we estimate that less than a third of homes in Western Europe watch HD, for example). It is also hard to justify in terms of image quality. If you watch TV from further away than 3m (10 ft.) you would need a screen size of at least 55” to notice the difference. Any smaller, and it would be beyond the resolution of the human eye.
There are other reasons to introduce higher resolution, even where it is not viewable. The most obvious is for passive 3D glasses. Doubling the number of lines is necessary to restore 1080 lines to each eye, and would overcome the main objection to passive 3D. However, the ability to produce a retarder film with such fine resolution has yet to be proven.
Achieving such a product would not be cheap either. Implanting a 4K x 2K video pipe requires four times the signal bandwidth and memory, and it will require significant post-processing if the up-scaling is going to be worth viewing. As with real-time 2D to 3D conversion, concerns about the quality could result in a negative view of the new format.
Our upcoming TV forecast includes 4K x 2K LCD sets for the first time. We anticipate seeing the first product release by the end of 2011, with very small volumes in 2012. The key concern I have is the marketing and timing of the 4K x 2K introduction. 2010 saw a surge in new features (3D, LED backlighting, and connected TV). In fact, there were so many mixed messages that consumers became completely confused.
In this case, format confusion could ensue—720, 1080, cinema (21:9), 4K x 2K. Careful examination of real needs will be required to ensure that 4K x 2K has lasting value to consumers and thus rewards for the industry. Forcing another supposed innovation into the marketplace will merely provoke another round of price erosion as costly innovations are discounted to win over consumers.