The first glasses-free 3D TV, the Toshiba 55ZL2, hit the shelves in Britain this year. In a double-first, the top-of-the-range TV set is also the first 4K pixel TV to go on sale in the UK. With an RRP of £7,000, there’s just one catch – no 4K content actually exists yet. So is our screen resolution lust getting out of control?
Viewers can currently watch full HD programming via dedicated high definition TV channels like Sky HD. That’s a resolution of 1920 x 1080, producing images made up of around 2 million pixels. But 4K TVs, also called Quad HD or Super HD, have a resolution of 3840 x 2160 and up, to deliver an 8 million pixel image.
4K content is lacking, to say the least, but Hollywood have been getting behind the new super-resolution technology. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit, The Amazing Spider-Man were all shot in 4K, and the upcoming M. Night Shyamalan’s After Earth will be shot in 4K too. As well as shooting movies in 4K, the Hollywood majors have been increasingly mastering movies at 4K, both in terms of commercial releases and movie restoration.
So the willingness is there at the content creation stage, however, with only one 4K video playback device currently on sale that actually allows us to play back this content, accessibility is severely limited. The only other option for users at the moment is via ultra high resolution graphics cards, allowing 4K play-out for PCs via four HDMI or SDI outputs. Sony are currently working on a converter that would allow 4K content input to be processed for 4K output using a single HDMI connection, but this is just in the test phase at the moment.
With 4K only in its infancy, plans are already underway to bring us 8K content too.
Ultra High Definition Television (UHDTV, 8K) has a resolution of 7680 × 4320 (33.2 megapixels), in comparison with standard HDTV, which has a resolution of 1920 × 1080 (2.1 megapixels). It’s a 16x leap in quality, and the new medium has been in development in Japan since 2003. The aim is to make UHDTV available to homes between 2015 and 2020, although China and Japan may get it as soon as 2013. Meanwhile the BBC Research & Development continues to test the new UHDTV technology via huge display screens in London, Glasgow and Bradford such as the London 2012 Olympic Games.
While the days of watching 4K movies or TV content at home may be more than a little way off, requiring a revolution in 4K-capable hardware, the new autosteroscopic Toshiba 55ZL2 does deliver on the 3D front. Whereas earlier glasses-free 3D sets required the viewer to sit precisely in front of the screen to benefit from the 3D effect, the new Toshiba model uses a system of lenses within the television to ‘aim’ separate beams of parallax 3D at each viewer. This means that up to nine 3D views are filtered through at once, allowing more viewers to enjoy the 3D content on display.