The reason I love my job is because I’m a tech geek. No shame. I was happy to help my Aunt buy a laptop last week, not just because I’m a helpful nephew but because it meant I could look at all the other gadgets on offer. So, as they ironed out some of the finer points of their purchase, I was drawn to the shiny new TV screens like a magpie.
Enter ‘the noise’. By noise, I mean the stereotypical facts fired off by a TV salesman: 65 inches, 4K, OLED screens with dynamic movie modes, sharpening… sorry, I may have lost you in tech gabble there. Noise.
For the gadget and tech lovers among you (I class myself in this bracket, within these brackets), you may be tempted to go out and buy one of these shiny new 4K TVs. However, there are some fundamental facts you need to be aware of.
First off, what is 4K? 4K offers four times the pixel amount as full HD, effectively offering four times the detail. So you can see why everybody is excited about it.
The next question is who in the UK is currently broadcasting in 4K? The answer to that is NOBODY. Sky held a trial in September 2013, and produced the David Attenborough film ‘Alive’ in 4K. They have yet to broadcast it in 4K, however. The BBC tested their 4K technology behind closed doors in 2014, showing the FIFA World Cup to a select audience. They had another attempt in the same year, broadcasting the Commonwealth Games in 4K. Don’t get too excited – you could only see it at the Glasgow Science Centre.
What about the rest of the world? Well, Korean television broadcast the Sochi Olympics and FIFA World Cup in 4K. By 2018, Korea aims to have 8K broadcast. Japan are on a similar schedule, committing to five commercial broadcasters transmitting in 4K by 2018.
So what’s holding up the creation of 4K content? In a survey conducted by the BBC in January 2014, they found that only 10% of viewers would benefit from "better than HD" quality content based on current viewing habits - rising to 22.9% if people were to buy the size of TV that they say they want (a noticeably larger one). Content isn’t being created because viewers aren’t buying the TVs, and viewers aren’t buying the TVs because there isn’t enough content available. It’s down to the content providers to break the stalemate and produce the content to increase the demand for 4k TVs.
“But wait, Netflix is streaming in 4K and YouTube and Amazon Prime are saying they’re going to release 4K content.” Right and wrong. 4K is what we see in the cinemas; what’s being touted as 4K by Netflix is actually a bit smaller: it’s UHD (Ultra High Definition). These phrases have been used as though they’re interchangeable; they’re not. Netflix recommends a minimum internet speed of 25Mbps to receive UHD images. Happy days if you’ve got fibre broadband: it’s not quite 4K but it’s better than HD.
And that’s part of the problem, the pipeline for delivering 4K content is just too small for the majority of us. Until there’s a) plenty of decent content, and b) the necessary infrastructure to deliver 4K, I’d wait before you splashed out on that new 4K TV. And like all new tech, the longer you wait, the lower the price drops.