Before the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang began, NBC committed to broadcasting four events per day in 4K HDR. The coverage, provided by Olympic Broadcasting Services and Japan’s NHK, is being distributed by NBC Olympics to satellite, cable and telco providers, and other partners on a one-day delay. This will be the second time NBC has broadcast the Olympics in 4K, following up on the pioneering broadcast at the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio.
The Winter Olympics is the first of several major 4K broadcasts scheduled for 2018, including the Wimbledon, the World Cup, and Premier League games, The Guardian says. As 4K goes mainstream this year, here’s what you need to know about what it is, who’s using it and what’s next for this up-and-coming technology.
What 4K Is
Ultra High Definition, or 4K, is the next step up from High Definition resolution for TV, smartphone, and computer screens. Full HD TV screens provide resolution of 1920 x 1080 pixels, or 1080p, meaning there are 1080 horizontal lines of vertical resolution. In contrast, 4K Ultra HD TV screens increase this to 3840 x 2160, or 2160p. This is approximately four times the resolution of HD TV screens and 23 times the resolution of standard definition television.
These improvements make clarity on 4K broadcasts significantly sharper than that on HD broadcasts. It also often comes paired with high dynamic range (HDR) technology, which features a richer range of colors for a presentation closer to how the human eye naturally sees color.
Who Uses 4K
Entertainment is one of the major applications of 4K for both TV and smartphone users. Netflix was one of the first streaming media providers to broadcast 4K content, starting with the second season of House of Cards and continuing with many current broadcasts, such as the service’s Marvel series. DirecTV, DISH, YouTube, Vudu, and iTunes are among some of the other services now offering 4K broadcasts. As NBC’s Olympics broadcasts illustrate, major networks are also now starting to deliver 4K content. An increasing number of 4K content is also available for Ultra HD Blu-ray players.
Smartphone cameras also now support 4K photography. An increasing number of leading smartphones now come with 4K cameras, including the iPhone 7 Plus and iPhone 8, the Samsung Galaxy 8, and the Google Pixel XL and Pixel 2 XL.
Gaming is another major application of 4K. Xbox One X and PlayStation 4 Pro both now offer consoles compatible with 4K and HDR.
A fourth application of 4K is security cameras. Security cameras with 4K resolution can capture better images of suspect identifying features such as hair and distinct facial features. They can also zoom in on objects with less sacrifice of image quality than other cameras, and are better at capturing details in low-light conditions.
The Future of 4K
The use of 4K is expanding rapidly at a compound annual growth rate of 21.29 percent, with the market valued at over $47.1 billion in 2017, and on track to reach $150.2 billion by 2013, WiseGuyReports projects. One impact this is already having is increasing TV sizes. The 4K TV sets are sold primarily in 55-inch and 65-inch sizes, which are better able to display the benefits of Ultra HD resolution.
As consumers get used to 4K, Ultra HD resolution will increasingly be expected, driving demand for even higher resolution. With four times the resolution of 4K, 8K resolution displays of televisions have already been demonstrated, and 8K trial broadcasts for events such as the Olympics are already being filmed in Japan. However, experts expect it will take five or six years before 8K has an impact on the consumer market, and even then it will only make a significant difference on the largest screens, so in the meanwhile, 4K will reign.
With four times the resolution of HD TV screens, 4K is now the cutting-edge in picture quality for televisions, smartphone screens, and cameras, gaming and security cameras. It also looks to retain its position for at least the next half-decade, making this a good time to upgrade in order to benefit from applications of this rapidly-emerging technology.