Companies from Sony and Samsung to Netflix and Google's YOU Tubeare putting their money into TVs that pack more pixels. Several models are on display at the International Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas this week.
4K offers about four times the number of pixels compared to high-definition or 1080p. As of now, you can watch a select list of more than 70 4K films and TV shows, such asBreaking Bad and The Amazing Spider-Man, via a sony media player or a video download service.
But, content providers and online distributors including Netflix, YouTube and Amazon have announced plans to stream content in 4K, including season two of Netflit's House of Cards.
Some movies and shows are already being shot at this higher resolution, but despite the buzz, companies still have some significant hurdles to overcome.
Is Hollywood Worried?
4K is the next step beyond HDTV, says Marc Graser, senior editor at Variety. Hewrote about 4K TVs ramping up the anxiety for studios because consumers will be able to watch movies at home at a resolution close to what they see in theaters.
"If the home experience and the screen that you have is good, if not great, then you're going to be very selective in what you choose to do and which movies you decide to pay for," Graser says, pointing out that while movie theaters show images at 4096 x 2160 resolution, the newest "ultra high-definition" TVs show them at 3840 x 2160.
He says several major studios contacted him after his story was published to say that this is indeed something they're keeping in mind. This could mean more films with a wide appeal.
"The studios don't necessarily know what audiences want to see, and they have to make sure that they make movies that appeal to everybody, and so you're getting these sequels, these big franchises," Graser says. "They have to appeal to everybody in order to make more money and make the costs worth it."
Remember 3-D TVs?
Although 3-D TVs were also pitched as the future of TV, they haven't caught on widely. Graser says 4K is different because it's not just the TV manufacturers who are on board — studios like Paramount Pictures and distributors like Netflix and Amazon are too.
"With 3-D TVs, they were just thrown out there and introduced, but there wasn't really any content to watch," Graser says. "With 4K TVs, the entire industry is rallying around it, so you've got the electronics companies, you've got Hollywood... . It's being positioned in the right way where the TVs are available, the content is available and more will be available."
More Pixels, More Data
But, an image with four times the pixels means a lot more data to transmit, saysMichael Fink, a visual effects director who has worked on movies like Life of Pi andTree of Life, and a professor at the University of Southern California's School of Cinematic Arts.
"Netflix has to figure out how to stream 4K images that look good," he says, pointing out that even existing TV channels can vary in picture quality, and the ones that look better come at a cost to the cable companies. Fink notes Netflix can bypass cable systems with Internet streaming, but that means the picture quality now depends on the speed of the Internet connection. Although some popular shows like Breaking Badare available in 4K, he says it has yet to go mainstream.
"The manufacturers, the distributors, all the people involved in this side of the business haven't quite hit the magic combination that's going to get people to start accumulating [4K TVs]," Fink says. "Without software, without images to display on these, it's going to be a tough sell."