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The short answer is:

All of the above with a Sony Digital Cinema (DCI) 4K projector.

New Ultra-HDTV panels are not Digital Cinema 4K resolution and would not need to be for the viewing of Ultra-HDTV future television/pre-recorded media.

I know, I know, another naming convention mess, and the new Ultra-HD term recently assigned by the Consumer Electronics Association (CEA) still does not cleanly address the naming issue it intended to resolve for the new high resolution panels, which were widely referred as 4K since 2011 by their manufacturers and by the press.

What is 4K? (Depends on who is using the term)

The term 4K actually comes from Digital Cinema Initiatives , LLC (DCI), seven major studios that standardized and defined a digital image container with a constant horizontal resolution of 4096 pixels (4K= 4 x 1K [1024 pixels in binary]) used for commercial theaters (details in the next part 4 of this series).

But the 4K naming convention has also been casually used by many in the TV industry for the past couple of years to describe U-HDTV displays that actually have only 3840 pixels horizontally.

To be exact, the use of the 4K term may be inappropriate considering that the displays do not have even 4000 pixels horizontally nor they are actually in 4K aspect ratio (17:9), and those panels are already selling under 4K marketing and press.

Should the industry stop using the term 4K for those TV displays? Is this an issue of “exactitude”, or is a marketing need for a more sensational name than just 4K to attract people with big wallets?

Horizontal or Vertical Resolution for U-HDTV?

With U-HDTV this is the first time TV resolutions are loosely quoted using the rough horizontal resolution (4K or 8K) rather than the exact vertical resolution such as 480i/p, 720p, 1080i/p.

Is it because introducing them as 4K or 8K was considered to impress better than saying 2160 and 4320? But now realized that actually 4K is not enough to impress a buyer for a $20-25000 purchase?

HDTV 1080i/p was never quoted as “2K Digital Cinema” even when its 1920 viewable horizontal pixels were close in number to the 2048 of 2K. So why starting the use of “Digital Cinema K” for U-HDTV?


Source: Sony

For simplicity and to concentrate in the specific matter of this series I will not cover how different aspect ratios of recorded 4K content within an image container with a constant horizontal resolution of 4096 (x 2160) would result in a variety of vertical resolutions for the content itself (horizontal video lines) depending upon the chosen aspect ratio of the content (1.33:1, 1.78:1, or 2.40:1).

This is similar to a 2.35:1 Cinemascope Flat movie letterboxed within a 16:9 1920x1080p HD space; it has a lower vertical resolution for the actual CinemaScope image (using 800+ video lines out of the available 1080) and is sandwiched between top/bottom black bars that use the rest of the 1080 space.

Similarly, a flat 1.85:1 movie will use some video lines for the movie image and some video lines for black bars within the 1920x1080 space. Content recorded and projected with anamorphic lens stretches vertically the content to maximize vertical resolution, and that application is beyond the scope of this subject.

Again, I will concentrate in the typical 2160 vertical resolution implemented by most consumer panels and projectors for 4K and U-HDTV.

Using the 4K DCI Term Correctly

Over the past few years Sony and other manufacturers of commercial theater projectors such as NEC, Christie, etc. correctly use the 4K term because they are capable to display true 4K images with their 4K projector chips, implementing SXRD (Sony’s proprietary naming for LCoS-Liquid Crystal on Silicone technology) or DLP (Digital Light Processing from Texas Instruments).

For consumers Sony introduced this year the first 4K VPL-VW1000ES home cinema projector ($25,000 MSRP) with 4096 horizontal pixels (x 2160), a true DCI 4K chip with 17:9 aspect ratio.

No 4K content is yet available as pre-recorded media for consumers to buy. I am upscaling 1080p content to 4K with the projector and applying its Reality Creation feature that enhances the upscaled 8-million-pixel image with an appearance and detail that has been nothing less than stunning.


Source: Sony

Using your U-HDTV panel for television

New higher resolution LCD panels claim to have 4K capabilities while only having 3840 (x2160) horizontal pixels, should they be called 4K? Would 4K be an attractive name for the marketing of these expensive panels? Would consumers need a true 4K 17:9 aspect ratio panel with 4096x2160 of resolution for the purpose of viewing 16:9 television/pre-recorded media with 3840x2160 resolution?

As a consumer you may rather have a U-HDTV panel with a resolution and aspect ratio that is in tune with current HDTV considering that you would be displaying upconverted legacy HDTV content and Blu-ray pre-recorded media with 16:9 aspect ratio for several years, even after U-HDTV broadcasting and U-HDTV Blu-ray format are implemented (details in part 2 of this “Living with 4K” series), which most probably be in 16:9 aspect ratio as well (not in the 4096x2160 of 4K Cinema DCI with 17:9 aspect ratio).


Source: Sony

So, does it make sense that Ultra-HDTV continues using a 4K term inherited from Digital Cinema, even as rough horizontal resolution, when they actually have a different aspect ratio and different horizontal resolution?

How Ultra-HDTV is named now?

In the following parts of this “Living with 4K” series I will detail the various naming conventions and standards regarding Ultra-HDTV and 4K DCI, but to give you the heads up, here are some highlights and a summary table:

1) The Ultra-HDTV standard defined by the EBU (European Broadcast Union) has 2 levels of high resolution: level 1 with 3840x2160 pixels (called 4K), and level 2 with 7680x4320 pixels (called 8K or Super Hi-Vision - SHV).

2) The International Telecommunication Union (ITU) and the SMPTE (Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineers) also refer to the same two levels of Ultra-HDTV, defining them as lower level U-HD1 and upper level U-HD2, and also making reference to 4K and 8K resolutions.

3) The Digital Cinema Initiatives (DCI) defines 2K as 2048x1080 and 4K as 4096x2160, in addition to defining several other specifications for frame rates, bit depth, color space, etc., “for the purpose of digital commercial cinema”.

4) And just recently the Consumers Electronics Association (CEA) named the 3840x2160 pixel displays as: U-HD (Ultra-HD) rather than 4K. For over a year they have been called 4K displays, and they are still being advertised and covered by the press that way.

Note that the CEA did not specifically use the established U-HD1 term (level 1/lower of Ultra-HDTV), but rather used “Ultra-HD” resembling the broader “Ultra-HDTV” standard that actually engulfs two levels, the “4K and “8K” levels.

Summary of 4K/U-HD/U-HDTV naming conventions (and HDTV)

Defining OrganizationImage format (HxV)Viewable Pixel count per video frameScanningNaming Convention Assigned to itRelevant to "K" (1K=1024) resolution the format is Actually
ATSC Table 31280 × 720921,600ProgressiveHDTV1.25K [1280/1024]
1920 × 10802,073,600Interlaced/ Progressive1.87K [1920/1024]
Digital Cinema Initiatives (DCI)2048 × 10802,211,840ProgressiveCorrectly named 2KTrue 2K
4096 × 21608,847,360ProgressiveCorrectly named 4KTrue 4K
European Broadcasting Union (EBU)3840 × 21608,294,400ProgressiveUHDTV Lower Layer UHD-1, Also called 4K3.75K [3840/1024]
7680 × 432033,177,600ProgressiveUHDTV Upper Layer UHD-2 - Also called 8K or Super Hi-Vision (SHV)7.5K [7680/1024]
International Communication Union (ITU)3840 × 21608,294,400ProgressiveUHDTV level 1, Also called 4K3.75K [3840/1024]
7680 × 432033,177,600ProgressiveUHDTV level 2, Also called 8K7.5K [7680/1024]
Consumer Electronics Association (CEA)3840 x 21608,294,400ProgressiveNewly named U(ltra) HD, Initially called 4K3.75K [3840/1024]

The following parts 4 and 5 of this “Living with 4K” series will provide details of the naming conventions as defined by the various organizations (ITU, EBU, CEA, and DCI). Part 5 wraps the subject of naming conventions and provides a historic perspective of similar naming decisions taken by the CEA with DTV.

Posted by Rodolfo La Maestra, December 20, 2012 7:07 AM

More in Category: 4K (Ultra HD)

About Rodolfo La Maestra

Rodolfo La Maestra is the Senior Technical Director of UHDTV Magazine and HDTV Magazine and participated in the HDTV vision since the late 1980's. In the late 1990's, he began tracking and reviewing HDTV consumer equipment, and authored the annual HDTV Technology Review report, tutorials, and educative articles for HDTV Magazine, DVDetc and HDTVetc  magazines, Veritas et Visus Newsletter, Display Search, and served as technical consultant/editor for the "Reference Guide" and the "HDTV Glossary of Terms" for HDTVetc and HDTV Magazines.  In 2004, he began recording a weekly HDTV technology program for MD Cable television, which by 2006 reached the rating of second most viewed.

Rodolfo's background encompasses Electronic Engineering, Computer Science, and Audio and Video Electronics, with over 4,700 hours of professional training, a BS in Computer and Information Systems, and thirty+ professional and post-graduate certifications, some from MIT, American, and George Washington Universities.  Rodolfo was also Computer Science professor in five institutions between 1966-1973 in Argentina, regarding IBM, Burroughs, and Honeywell mainframe computers.  After 38 years of computer systems career, Rodolfo retired in 2003 as Chief of Systems Development from the Inter-American Development Bank directing sixty+ software-development computer professionals, supporting member countries in north/central/south America.

In parallel, from 1998 he helped the public with his other career of audio/video electronics, which started with hi-end audio in the early 60’s and merged with Home Theater video, multichannel audio
, HD, 3D and UHDTV. When HDTV started airing in November 1998, and later followed by 3DTV and 4K UHDTV, he realized that the technology as implemented would overwhelm consumers due to its complexity, and it certainly does even today, and launched his mission of educating and helping consumers understand the complexity, the challenge, and the beauty of the technology pursuing better sound and image, so the public learn to appreciate it not just as another television.