There are, it seems, two camps – not exactly opposed, but each with their own manifesto and each fighting to be heard. One has the numerical advantage – the UltraHD Camp – giving them an immediate appeal. 4k is better than 2k, right? And 8k must, therefore, be better than 4k. The other has a harder job – this group we’ll call the Better Pixel Camp. They must convince us of the merits of more arcane qualities – decreased quantisation error (e.g. 10 bits v. 8 bits per pixel), increased dynamic range, reduced compression and so on.
In an ideal world we would have both more pixels and better pixels, but if there is one universal constant it is a lack of bandwidth – it doesn’t matter how many kitchen cupboards you have, there is always one pan that won’t fit. Storage media, broadcast transmission channels, Internet bandwidth – they all force us to compromise our image quality.
And so we, as an industry, have to choose. Or, perhaps more accurately, we have to guess which the consumer will like more. Or, even more accurately, we have to guess which the consumer will pony up for.
In the world of theatrical cinema, I’m sure we’ll actually push towards both more pixels and better pixels, but it’s a lot less certain in television. Although the numerical appeal of Ultra HD is compelling, screens will have to get a lot larger before consumers will really see the benefit of all those pixels. Here in the UK we live in the smallest homes in Western Europe – and new builds are getting smaller – so where are we going to put these 100” screens? Perhaps, as with HD (which was unrealistic with CRTs) a new technology will enable the transition, such as turning your entire wall into a TV. Maybe, in the short term at least, better pixels make more sense than more pixels?
Nevertheless, when HDTV was first mooted few people doubted that it would become a commercial reality – though it took many years. Unlike, for instance, stereo 3D, Ultra HD seems to be gaining a similar momentum. Only time, and the marketplace, will tell.
Adam Garstone, Editor