What The Heck Is 4K And Should You Spend $25,000 To Get It?

Several manufacturers are showing off so-called 4K technology — which promises TV pictures at four times the top resolution of current HD — at the Consumer Electronics Show, including Sony, which expects to have a 4K projector on the market in a few weeks, for $25,000. Assuming you have $25K burning a hole in your pocket, and a vacant wall in your home theater, should you rush out and buy one?

For most consumers, the answer is probably no. There’s currently no programming available that takes advantage of 4K, which means any videos shown via 4K would have to be upscaled from a lower resolution. While the top resolution for current HD is 1080p, a significant amount of programming is only available in the lower 720p resolution.

Samsung’s 4K prototype, exhibited at CES, doesn’t provide any upscaling, and the only “videos” the company showed on the set were some very vibrant still images and a couple of videos that appeared to be still images strung together to look like motion. “It’s about showing where we hope TV can go in the future,” said a spokesperson. “We’re not necessarily showing what we’ll be selling at any point in the next couple of years.”

Sony, on the other hand, believes the market — or at least a small, well-heeled segment of the market — is ready for 4K. “We’ve been offering true theater-quality sound to the consumer for years, but no one has come close to replicating the visual experience for the in-home consumer until now,” a spokesman told us.

While Sony’s representatives admit that the $25,000 price point for its VPL-VW1000ES projector puts it out of reach for most people, the company says it’s sold out of the initial orders and has a long back-order list.

The projector is able to upscale video from a variety of source material, including resolutions as low as 720p. At CES, Sony showed Blu-ray videos upscaled to 4K and it was almost impossible to distinguish the upscaling. A company representative said that the one problem they’ve seen with upscaling has been that it shows off the flaws of 720p, especially digital compression in satellite TV signals.

The goal is obviously to put this in TV sets at some point — and there are a handful of prototypes available — but there is no projected date for when that may occur.

Part of the reason there’s no rush to get in-set 4K to the market is that, while Sony’s projector is aimed at buyers who would use it to show movies, a TV set would be targeted toward people watching sports and TV shows — and broadcasters still adjusting to current HD standards and 3D are in no rush to upgrade their technology yet again.