AV 101 - Session 3 - What the Heck is 4k, UHD and HDR?
And why do I want it?
Im glad to bring you the third session in our AV 101 series, “What the Heck is 4k UHD and HDR and do I Want It?” As I have mentioned before in the AV101 article series, there are a ton confusing terms and acronyms in the audio/video industry. This can make it extremely difficult to understand what you are buying and what you need to get the best performance out of your system. Today we are going to try and explain another set of terms and what they mean to your Home Entertainment experience; 4K, UHD and HDR.
At its core, 4k / UHD (Ultra High Definition) mean better resolution (2160p), almost 4 times as many pixels as the current 1080p format. Now before we go into too much more detail I want to give a brief explanation of the difference and use of the terms 4k and UHD. Technically, 4k is a cinema standard and UHD is a consumer format with slightly different resolutions. However, in all reality this change is not noticeable so most manufacturers of televisions have chosen to use the 4k moniker for what are UHD displays. For the purpose of this article I will use the term 4k when referring to UHD equipment unless otherwise noted.
So what does 4k give me and why do I want it? As I mentioned before, 4k delivers a massive increase in resolution. Images are sharper and look even better from almost any distance. It has the “retina effect” in that pixels are almost invisible. Now as far as 4k sources available, pickings are a bit slim at the moment. Netflix has a limited selection of 4k video as long as you have a fast broadband connection (25Mbps consistently). Satellite and cable providers are rolling out 4k programming as well, but mostly just for movies. UHD players and discs are making there way into the marketplace and offer probably the best solution for getting the most out of your shiny new 4k TV set currently.
That being said, all of the higher quality TVs available have 4k included, and the content is coming, so it makes absolutely no sense not to go ahead and get a 4k/UHD capable TV now.
Lastly, I want to talk about HDR or High Dynamic Range. HDR is a new specification that is about boosting brightness to better provide more range between dark and light. HDR video pops off the screen and has to be seen to be believed. Doubling the brightness of a non-HDR set makes the images look amazing. Having recently attended the CEDIA trade show and seeing several demos of HDR in person, I think the move from SDR to HDR is more impressive than the move from 1080p to 4k. Realize that in reality all HDR capable sets will also be 4k, but not all 4k sets have HDR capability. I have included some comparisons of SHD vs UHD in this article but for an amazing demo check out the Dolby Vision website.
However, once again the video has to be encoded with the HDR video signal, and once again we have some competing formats, like Dolby Vision and HDR-10. Unlike the Blu-Ray vs. HD-DVD battle, manufacturers are looking to make most displays cross compatible. Also, since the HDR standard can be open to a bit of interpretation, you can see cheaper manufacturers advertising HDR but using a poor implementation. Luckily the TV manufacturers are developing a consumer standard called Ultra HD Premium that guarantees that you are buying an exceptional TV that performs extremely well.
So to sum everything up, yes, you want 4K and if you can afford it, you most certainly want HDR. While the sources are slim, they are coming and making sure you have these in your new flat panel keeps you from having to buy a new TV once you see the effect these new standards have on your viewing experience.
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