The following article originally appeared in Wide Screen Review (WSR) magazine and is being republished courtesy of the author, Terry Paullin.
Ahh ... C.E.S. (Consumer Electronics Show) - That immutable bastion of ultra-hype for what's happening sometime next year - maybe .... set in the perfect confluence of fantasy, caprice and wishful thinking ... Las Vegas.
As I stood in the Central Hall of the L.V. Convention Center, I found myself in front of a scene that made me laugh out loud, and was remindful of the ever increasing spin all around us. The displays in front of me had signage that heralded "The future of TV" (4K of course) coming soon (2nd qtr.) - and up and to the left was an even bigger sign from a different manufacturer that informed "8K - The future of TV". We have obsoleted ourselves before we even hit the street. God bless the Marketing Department.
I wish I could put a finger on it, but I can't. It has happened with such regularity that it can't be coincidence. Every time the next new thing comes along, there is always a two-path controversy that delays standards, confuses early adopters, and, most deleterious to the health of our industry, postpones discretionary spending. I cite Betamax vs. VHS, SACD vs. DVD Audio, D-VHS vs. et. al., HD-DVD vs. Blu-Ray and now, a perfect storm gathering overhead around 4K displays/players.
The first question someone might ask is "Do we need them?". Easy answer, emphatic YES. As we see new, larger displays north of, say 84 inches, the "old" 1080 stuff is starting to show it's pixels. We could need them for yet another, more important set of reasons. Read on.
Second Q, what shall we call it? Is it 4K or Ultra HD? If you read the ads, the marketing departments are still conflicted on that issue.
Then there is the obvious issue of horizontal resolution. Is it 3,840 or 4,096 lines? For up-conversions sake we'd like 3,840 lines, a simple doubling of 1920. Processing is easier and regular readers know that we want to minimize processing where ever we can. Yet, the other camp is calling their flavor "Real 4K" ....hmmm. Without a true standard it's difficult to build verification tools, and yet that hasn't stopped THX from announcing a "4K certification Program" replete with some 600 tests. I wonder what the right answer is to the question "What number do you get when you add up all the vertical lines"? (yes, that's horizontal resolution).
Now to a much more important question. What comes with the new standard that will compel us to reach for our wallets? Are we going to miss a golden opportunity to break out of the 8-bit color world? How about color matrix and color space? I promise you that any of those "upgrades" will generate as much or more "awe" to your eyes than just higher resolution alone.
Indeed, Monster Cable was demonstrating this in a booth that featured what they called a "4K+" cable ... (I know, I know) but in this instance I believe it is a legitimate differentiation. It refers to the fact that a 4K+ cable can handle 4K, 10 bit, 4-4-4 color or, 12 bit, 4-4-2 color. All of these color improvements require incremental multiples of bandwidth, so in order to realize them, we'll need cables that don't "roll off" at the new, (much) higher frequencies. If you saw the demo that I did, you could see what a dramatic improvement higher color resolution makes.
Let's dig a little deeper.
Bit depth, you may recall, has to do with the resolution, or graduations of the B&W and both color difference signals. More bits make it harder to see the banding in a gray ramp, black on one side, white on the other. We have been living with 8-bit color (a.k.a. 24-bit if counting all three colors) for a long time - still the standard for Blu-Ray. You may remember sometime back the discussions about "deep color"... that was a 10-bit system. Hasn't happened yet for consumers. "But", you say, "8-bit color yields nearly 17 million hues" .... yeah, but 16-bit color yields 280 TRILLION colors! Why not ratchet up to 10 or 12 bit color when we have the chance for a new standard?
Now to the issue of color matrix, or sub-sampling. You may have seen numbers in the literature like 4-4-4 or 4-4-2 or 4-2-0 when talking about the components of a video signal. The 3-digit code refers to the amount of subsampling that goes on to efficiently move images around from one box to another. We simply "steal" some information from one or the other or both color difference signals which nets lower color resolution. Remember all the "upsampling error" who-ha awhile back? It all had to do with trying to put the stolen bits back together to get to 4-4-4 so the display can then convert to RGB.
Confused yet? All you need to know is the less we steal during subsampling, the fewer errors (artifacts) we get in the upsampling. Although we may never get 4-4-4 due to bandwidth constraints, we might wish for 4-4-2 at the source as long as we are crafting a new "4K standard".
Lastly comes Color Space.
Anyone who has read a proper review of a TV or display panel, has seen the infamous CIE color chart which shows where the manufacture choose to put the colors Red, Green and Blue. The resultant triangle on the chart defines the only colors you will see from that display ... ever.
For Blu-Ray and high definition broadcast, we have settled on a standard place for R and G and B and we call it Rec. 709 (standard definition was Rec. 601). Rec. 709 defines a bigger triangle than Rec. 601. Bigger triangle means more colors. Why not ask for a bigger box of crayons in the new specification? Such larger triangles already exist. A very popular one is called Adobe color space. Photographers often work in this space. How nice would it be if they could display the fruits of their labor accurately on the big screen in the living room?
We could leap again to something called DCI (Digital Cinema Initiatives) color space, but that is another, longer story. Suffice it to say, that one has a HUGE pallet and supports, no, insists, on 12-bit color.
If the Bijou can have it, why can't we?
So the net is, why not take a deep breath and formulate the next standard with an eye toward truly improving several aspects of picture fidelity, rather than just lock down on improved resolution, and doing it so quickly that consumers are left with too many unanswered questions.
If the object is to sell the next generation hardware (and I promise you it is), why not give the consumer something so compelling we will all apply for a 2nd mortgage to make it happen? The technology is here now. We just need the executive vision and the marketing green light.
If we (they) don't get it, then board up the windows, Martha, and head for the basement. Yet another storm's a comin'.
Posted by Terry Paullin, February 8, 2013 8:00 PM
About Terry PaullinAfter 25+ years as a Silicon Valley Executive, most recently as President and C.O.O. of Crosscheck, Mr. Paullin decided to follow his passion to the emerging Home Theatre industry. In 1994 he formed Front Row Cinema to design, build and calibrate Home Theaters for private residences. Nearly 600 theaters later, he remains engaged in the Industry in the following ways.
Builds dedicated (single purpose) Home Theaters and "Theatre Environments" (rooms used for other purposes as well).
Teaches Imaging Science and other courses for the Imaging Science Foundation. Mr. Paullin has taught CEDIA accredited classes to the installation community at both AVAD and ADI.
Consults to Industry on the topic of Imaging Science (Pioneer, Optima, In-Focus and several others under non-disclosure). Mr. Paullin has served on the Board of two companies and the Advisory committee of two others.
Has written articles/product reviews for major industry publications, including Widescreen Review, The Perfect Vision, The Ultimate Guide to A/V, WIRED magazine and CEPro and has maintained a monthly column (One Installer's Opinion) in Widescreen Review for the past eight years.
Mr. Paullin has a B.S.E.E. degree from Long Beach State University and performs ISF monitor calibrations for private individuals.
Mr. Paullin also maintains 3 theaters in his home for testing, comparison, performance verification, and reference viewing.