4k Ultra HD

The next big push in the world of TV, movies, and gaming is all about 4k Ultra HD video (or just 4k, or just ultra HD, we put them together to make everyone happy).

Samsung, Sharp, and Sony are all lining up new 4k HDTVs, and 4k projectors are starting to come to the market as well. Netflix has been testing 4k movie streaming, and 4k is the new popular buzzword for PCs and consoles. So what is it and is it worth having?

4k Ultra HD

4k has everything to do with resolution. For a while now, the highest resolution for any display, no matter how expensive, is 1080p. That number refers to the number of vertical pixels on the screen. The full number is 1920 x 1080 pixels. If you were to count all of those pixels it would end up being just over 2 million. 4k displays have a native resolution of 3840 x 2160, which adds up to four times as many pixels as 1080p displays.

However, the human eye can only see so much detail. Once you get into such ridiculously huge numbers of pixels, does it really make a difference? The answer to that has to do with what’s known as Pixels Per Degree of Vision (PPD). Basically an eye in good working condition can distinguish about 50 PPD. This takes into account the amount of pixels per inch of screen and the distance of the viewer from it. That means that the farther you are from your display, the less likely it is that you will notice any difference. Take the example below, sitting close to your computer screen you can pick up some definite differences between the 1080p image and the 4k image, but if you back up a few feet, those details become harder to distinguish. But, that doesn’t mean that 4k is completely overrated. If you have a huge screen, the differences would also be more noticeable.

4k Ultra HD

Click on image for full size

Another thing to consider is the content. You can have a 4k enabled display and device, but if your content isn’t 4k, you aren’t going to see a difference. As of now there aren’t many 4k movies or videos available, and while both the Xbox One and the PS4 have hinted at possible 4k content in the future, that time isn’t here yet. But the recent release of HDMI 2.0 promises that 4k might be right around the corner.

Where 4k is really taking off is in the world of PC entertainment, especially PC gaming. Remember PPD? While the distance between your couch and your TV means that the difference in PPD between 1080p and 4k isn’t huge, it is a different story for computer monitors.

The most popular monitor size and resolution is a 27 inch 1080p monitor and most people sit around 20 inches away from their screen. That means that there is an average PPD of 19.3. That’s a far cry from the 50 PPD that most people can distinguish. Upgrading to a 31.5 inch 4k monitor cranks the PPD all the way up to 35.6, increasing visible quality by 84%. This makes for an immersive experience like nothing you’ve seen before.

4k Ultra HD

This side-by-side done by Nvidia shows a 1:1 comparison from Batman: Arkham Origins, showing the incredible leap in image quality 4k brings to PC Gaming

Another aspect of PC gaming that makes 4k so popular is that PC games are rendered at the native format of your display. That means, with the right monitor and hardware, you will see a noticeable improvement on all of your games. Nvidia is already pushing 4k graphics cards and PCs and, while they aren’t cheap (a GTX Battlebox PC can range anywhere from $2300 to well over $10k), they do promise an exceptional gaming experience. Recently, companies like Toshiba have even revealed 4k capable laptops coming in the future.

Improvements such as HDMI 2.0, 4k displays, and 4k-capable video cards all mean that 4k is coming, and probably coming soon. But, the lack of content on many devices and the high price-tag on 4k equipment means that, at this point, 4k will probably be reserved for hardcore gaming enthusiasts and videophiles. But if you are willing to shell out the extra money for 4k, you are in store for an incredibly immersive and realistic experience.

Learn more about HDMI 2.0