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.


Edit Your Comment

  1. PSUSkier says:

    “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.”

    Seriously? You think you’ve been offering true theater-quality sound to the American consumer for years Sony? I hate to break this to you, but the receiver/speaker overpriced garbage you’re peddling right now (even at the highest end) is destroyed in price/performance ratio by almost every other audio vendor out there — with the exception of Bose of course.

    • PSUSkier says:

      Disclaimer: I’m looking only at the component market. I haven’t looked at any home theater in a box systems since I worked at a major electronics peddler, but generally speaking they don’t fall into the “recreating the theater experience” category.

      • Bsamm09 says:

        Does McIntosh still make receivers and how are they. I have a buddy who has an old receiver that still works and sounds awesome

        • PSUSkier says:

          Yes sir, but the receivers are stereo only. Honestly I love them because unlike some companies, they haven’t really taken the easy way out and went with cheaper components only to ride on their old reputation. Their amps are still sublime and their surround processors have massive feature sets while sticking to the classic styling. But of course they still come with their massive price tag.

    • Coffee says:

      I can’t say much either way about Sony’s receivers, although I would rather have a Yamaha, Onkyo, or Denon any day…but their speakers are total garbage when compared to some of the other mid-level brands.

      • PSUSkier says:

        Their receivers aren’t anything spectacular really. Even the ES line of receivers have a notably low current amplifier built into them, which of course is fine if you plan on driving a 3″ driver at the largest, but they do a terrible job at dampening 10″ or larger cones (which muddies up the sound).

    • Fafaflunkie Plays His World's Smallest Violin For You says:

      Hear hear! I always felt Sony’s price-to-perfomance ratio to be extremely thin compared to most other manufacturers. In fact, I can’t think of another company lower than Sony. The last Sony product I bought was a surround sound speaker set for my old Pioneer receiver (two back speakers + a centre speaker) which cost me $250 about 14 years ago. Not really worth the money, trust me on that, which forever soured me from buying anything Sony.

      • KyBash says:

        Oh, you youngsters! You missed the heyday — in the 1960s and 70s Sony was THE equipment to have. Nothing else came close!

        • PSUSkier says:

          Hahaha trust me, I haven’t missed them. I may only be in my 20s, but the Klipschorns in the corner are a testament to my appreciation for vintage audio. :)

    • EatSleepJeep says:

      Not since the ES 9000 separates has Sony had great home theater sound. The DA333ES & DA555ES were close, but none of their modern stuff is worth a darn.

  2. Coffee says:

    I’m totally in on this…it always irks me when I hold a magnifying glass up to the television and I can see pixels. Sure, when I take a few steps back, they turn into a lifelike image, but knowing they’re there – I just can’t get them out of my head. This technology would ensure that even under intense scrutiny, the pixels would be hard to see individually, and after many years, I will finally be able to sleep at night. Thank you for that, Sony.

  3. Fafaflunkie Plays His World's Smallest Violin For You says:

    I remember when I bought my first HDTV, all we had was upscaling from standard definition (480i) or enhanced (480p). Man, that was gawd-awful. Now imagine going from even 1080p to 4k (4x the resolution.) NO thanks! I know, it’s chicken and egg time, but I think I’ll wait for the eggs to hatch and mature a little bit before I dive into this nest.

    • AustinTXProgrammer says:

      480i to 1080i was a similar if not larger leap.

      still 4k would be pointless for anything other than wall sized projection

  4. MattAlbie says:

    A ton of stuff is getting 4K or above scans for their Blu-ray releases – but, obviously, the Blu-rays are 1080p. But just knowing that one day I might be able to buy a 4K home video release of DR. NO or ALIEN makes me… you know what, screw it. At that point, I’ll just start buying 35mm prints and save thousands of dollars.

  5. Megalomania says:

    Since it’s not explained here, it bears mentioning that 4K resolution refers to 4000 lines of horizontal resolution – for instance, 3996×2160 is 16:9 ratio 4K. The HD resolutions (1080p, 720p) refer to lines of VERTICAL resolution. This means 4x the total number of pixels, not 4x in each dimension for a total of 16x. There are also several 4K resolutions in different aspect ratios, but, who cares.

    That said, there’s virtually no reason to get a 4K projector as a consumer, and if you’re in the market for a $25,000 projector, there are 1080p projectors near that price point that are probably much superior for their light output and overall picture quality.

    • kc2idf says:

      Yes, this detail is important.

      However, I was under the impression that they were going to a 1.91:1 aspect ratio, ergo 4k becomes 4096×2160. Am I mistaken?

      • Lyn Torden says:

        The motion picture industry uses a variety of aspect ratios. They choose them based on what the movie is. Most of the wide ones are about 2.37 to 1 (more than a couple squares). It turns out that if you arrange 4 images of 4:3 in a 4×3 arrangement you get 16:9. It turns out that if you arrange 4 images of 16:9 in a 4×3, you get 64:27. It turns out that 64:27 is almost exactly 2.37 to 1. At the 4K size that means 4096×1728. The VPL-VW1000ES is 4096×2160 (or so a couple articles I read say). So the widescreen movies are still going to be in letterbox format. But I guess that’s OK for a projector if you have a wallscreen that is 64:27.

        • kc2idf says:

          Sure, I kind of realized that much, but I was thinking in terms of what the equipment itself is capable of. Most of the cinemas around here have some sort of mechanism wherein either two panels to the sides of the screen or one overtop will close in on the screen to alter its aspect ratio to whatever is appropriate to the film.

    • PSUSkier says:

      Actually, I think you have it switched but your message is correct. The 4k is the number of pixels if you were to count them horizontally and the 2160 is the vertical pixel count. But yes, you hit the nail right on the head. If you were to invest $25,000 into a projector the image would be amazing compared to the 4k projector.

      I was one of the first to buy into 1080p because I did notice a difference, but based on what I’ve seen from 4k projectors you either need to have a viewing size too large to be comfortable to watch the entire screen (think IMAX scaling) or lose the resolution gains because your eyes can’t decipher that level of detail. Honestly, unless you have a huge image, I don’t know how much 4k is going to buy you.

      /Never thought I’d say that.

      • kc2idf says:

        This is true.

        Actually, the funny bit is that, as I understand it, IMAX digital is double 2k (i.e. two 2k [1] images with pixels overlapping), yielding a lower-resolution image than what you would get from a 4k projector[2], but still looks pretty good on a screen that literally has more square footage than my entire house [3].

        [1] 2k is the cinematic version of 1080p — 2048×1080 rather than 1920×1080)
        [2] https://secure.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/wiki/IMAX#IMAX_Digital_Theatre_System_and_Screen_Size_Controversy
        [3] The IMAX digital screen at Crossgates Mall in Albany, NY is about 1400 square feet. My house, both floors combined, is 1300.

  6. valen says:

    If I had that amount of money to spend, I would go for a Red One Camera instead.Why watch cinematic content when you can create it?

    • NCB says:

      I had a friend shoot a little film call “Browncoats: Redemption” on a Red One camera. It looked great in Blu-Ray. I was an extra in it.

      I hear he’s going to use it again on his next film too.

    • Fafaflunkie Plays His World's Smallest Violin For You says:

      I guess that’s Sony’s reasoning for selling this $25K 4K projector–for those who spent the $20K on that Red One Camera you mentioned (after all, that camera is a Sony product as well.) Wonder how many will buy that projector based on those camera sales? I guess there’ll always be a few idiots with nothing better to do with their money, but personally, show me some available affordable 4K content, and then we’ll talk.

  7. Rachacha says:

    I would rather have 4K over 3D. $25K is a bit expensive, but in a few years it will be quite affordable.

  8. ancientone567 says:

    This is a no-brainer. Don’t buy it as cable and many other providers still don’t have many HD channels well after the fact that many people have hd tv’s. Also just because it’s and hd channel not all shows or even commercials are in hd. It is a complete waste of money. Is it a good time to buy that 1080p TV you have always wanted? YES! 4k tech? NO!

  9. nocturnaljames says:

    1080p is excellent resolution, honestly anything more is excessive outside a huge theater screen. 1080p already shows details you don’t necessarily want to see.

  10. ReverendTed says:

    So what’s the sizedistance ratio for being able to tell a difference? Do I have a wall big enough to see the pixels on a 1080p display?
    The only complaints I could make about my current picture are minor, and they’re almost all exclusively cable compression artifacts that disappear if you’re not looking for them. Heck, even upscaled DVDs look pretty good on my 47″ 1080p TV (viewed from somewhere between 6′ and 8′.)

    • hansolo247 says:

      1080p becomes noticeable on a 50″ set. At normal distances, any less really won’t be much better than 720p.

      4K on a 80-100″ set is one thing, but 4K on a 50″ would be a collassal waste of money.

  11. TheSpatulaOfLove says:

    I certainly hope my ISP is preparing for those 50G Piratebay downloads that will inevitably come when 4K hits the mainstream…


  12. Tim says:

    How long until we have technology with a higher resolution than real life?

    • Rachacha says:

      I believe that 4K is at about the maximum resolution that most humans can percieve. Apple claims that the iPhone 4 (and higher) display when held at a distance of 12 inches or greater is at a resolution higher than the human retina can percieve.

      • Kavatar says:

        Apple’s claims are referring to pixel density, not resolution. What humans can perceive depends on the number of pixels, the size of the display, and how far away from the display they are. I’m sure one could calculate the theoretical resolution/display size limits based on the average household room dimensions…but I won’t.

  13. TinaBringMeTheAx says:

    But does it take the video resolution up to eleven?

  14. Bog says:

    So, when are they going to spend the money to create the technology so that many of us can even SEE in HD? Yeah, if it is more than a foot away I can’t really tell the difference between HD and regular. So what the F*? Hundreds of billions are spent on improving purely entertainment products and a mere few dozen million on improving the ability for people to actually see well. (and I am not talking things like glasses and Lasic. I am just a little annoyed.

  15. wrbwrx says:

    1080p is NOT “Full HD” like best buy claims. What is 4K then, “More Fuller HD’er”?

    • Michael Belisle says:

      I’m sorry, but 1080p is indeed full HD. That’s as far as the HD standard (PDF) goes.

      I suggest Super Fucking High Definition (SFHD) as the popular term for 4K resolution.

  16. PSUSkier says:

    Another thought. Instead of jacking up the resolution I’d MUCH rather see new advances in display technology. A few years ago we almost had Surface-conduction Electron-emitter Displays (SED) from a collaboration between Canon and Toshiba. Unfortunately some patent jerks put the stop on that, but I refuse to believe there isn’t an alternative technology that could absolutely stomp on LCD and plasma (OLED not included, because they’re still prohibitively expensive).

  17. Michael Belisle says:

    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.

    Sigh. Of course it’s impossible to distinguish the upscaling for 1080p: 4K is four times 1080p. Imagine you have a 1080p projector. Divide every pixel into four. You now have a 4K projector.

    This does not work for 720p. Hence, it looks like shit because the upconversion is lossy.

    Broadcasters still adjusting to current HD standards and 3D are in no rush to upgrade their technology yet again.

    Well, considering they’re still broadcasting at 720p, I too doubt they’re in a rush to blow past 1080 and go straight to 4K. Especially its benefit in a home is quite questionable unless you have a huge screen that you’re sitting abnormally close to. (For example, I have a 108″ screen. I can assure you that I’m not planning to sit 7′ from it any time soon.)

  18. lol456 says:

    Personally, I welcome our 4K overlords. It makes perfect sense in a front projector where screens are often 100″+ . It makes less sense in consumer flat panels unless they’re 70 or 80 inches plus (looking at you, Sharp). Just an FYI people – people generally don’t use front projectors to watch their local news, they use it to watch FILMS in their theater rooms. Films, which probably already exist in a 4K x 2K digital cinema master that have been downscaled to 1080p for Blu-Ray disc. 4K means resolution that can truly match a digital cinema in the home; I’d expect to see a 4K-native BD player and 4K-native BD disc releases before long to match as 4K trickles down to cheaper projectors and flat panels. It’s going to be just like when 1080p first arrived and people were saying that it was indistinguishable from 720p.

    On another note, I have already had the pleasure of spending some time with a JVC DLA-X70R D-ILA projector with “4K e-shift” technology, (which, by the way, is only $8,000) watching upscaled Blu-ray releases and I was amazed by the amount of detail and lack of visible pixel structure over a 115″ screen. it needs to be seen to be be believed.

  19. Swins says:

    Ahhh Consumerist, always knocking the new expensive stuff you don’t understand.

    About a dozen hospitals that I work with have had 4K projectors for about 6 months now, why? The resolution is so high that it can show things on pictures, even those not taken at the 4K standard. Its interpolation engine is fantastic, and I would imagine that even if they didn’t sell tons of these to institutions (which they will anyway) parts of the technology inside will make it to other consumer products.

    Funny thing is that in at least three cases so far a similar 4K projector has made the difference between someone living and dying. Doctors were able to, around a large screen debate a mass from a digital xray projected and up-scaled in 4K.

    It is fantastic for medical, industrial, and even rich clients. I suspect Pixar and several other digital animation companies bought up the first run.

    • Razor512 says:

      hospitals do not allow for any interpolation as it is always a destructive process. The reason for 4K displays is so you don’t have to zoom as much, which recreates the more traditional experience.

      other than that, a display for medical imaging must be calibrated to prevent clipping which will make certain things disappear. The 4k medical displays are also smaller than almost any 4k consumer display in order to keep the dpi high.

  20. redskull says:

    How much more resolution do we need? Is seeing every pore on Ellen’s face not enough? Must we also see what lies inside her pores?

    If I was a little more paranoid, I’d think that this was a plot by companies like Sony to get people to start buying physical media again. If they start releasing movies that are so large they’re not practical to download, do they hope that will cause people to start buying UV-DVD or whatever they’ll be selling then?

  21. maxhobbs says:

    This is going to make for some very massive torrent files…………………………….

  22. Kahlidan says:

    Considering most movies shot on film are scanned at 2k resolution into digital masters by the studios, this technology seems more about bragging rights than something actually feasible for use. Some restorations are done at 4k res, like Blade Runner in 2007 but this is the exception. For this tech to be anything but a showpiece, the studios would have to re-telecine all their older films AGAIN, and it just ain’t gonna happen, especially considering how slowly catalog titles appear on blu-ray as it is. Maybe at some far future date, we’ll get UHD TV broadcasts, but don’t hold your breath.

  23. jeni1122 says:

    I sell projectors at work. Anything from big fancy ones to small ones for the classroom. I have already started to get phone calls asking about 4K. Until their is some sort of content specifically made for these machines, I am not really going to pay any attention.

    Tech companies keep showing hardware way, WAY too soon and they start selling items way before they are even off of the assembly line. If their is no content to show on these 4K machines then what is the point in showing them in the first place? Why not wait until you have some great content to show what the projector or TV can really do?

  24. Thunderchyld says:

    The resolution progression is bound to happen as technology advances. Many, if not most, professional digital projectors in theatres are already running 4k. Texas Instruments DLP system and Sony’s SRXR320P are both installed at theatres I’ve consulted for, both systems running at 4k resolution.

    Really, it only makes sense. For example, @ 640×480 resolution, on a screen 12′ x9′, each of those pixels would be 0.225″x0.225″. Increase the resolution, to 1920×1080(HD), and the pixels drop in size to 0.075″x0.075″. 4K jumps the resolution up to an astonishing 4096×2160. On our 12’x9′ screen, the pixel size drops down to 0.035″x0.035″.

    One of the most interesting factoids re 4k, at least to me, is the sheer size of the format. 4096×2160=8,847,360. IE, each frame of a 4k film is equivalent to an 8 megapixel photo. The “best” jpeg setting on my Sony F828 takes slightly under 4mb to store an 8mp photo. Extrapolating from that, with a framerate of 24fps, we’re talking approx 192mb a second. 192 mb a second works out to approx 691,200 mb/hour. Not too bad, lol, only a little more than a terrabyte needed for your average 90 minute movie.

    That little factoid really exemplifies why 4k won’t be a common home feature for quite some time, storage. There is no easily portable, large capacity item capable of holding that much data other than a hard drive.