New UHD Alliance Aims to Deliver Full Benefits of 4K TV

TV makers' New Year’s resolution: Make 4K mainstream in 2015.

Credit: Warner Bros. Pictures / Village Roadshow Pictures

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Though it’s still a luxury item for most of us, consumers have chosen the next upgrade for their TVs.

At the CES 2015 in Las Vegas, the Consumer Electronics Association (CEA) announced that sales in the U.S. of 4K Ultra HD TVs are projected to reach more than 4 million units in 2015, up from 1.3 million last year.

So far, there hasn’t exactly been a wealth of content available for consumers to try out on their new screens.

These TVs offer four times the resolution of current HDTVs, and better color and contrast are set to arrive in the near future.

The only problem? So far, there hasn’t exactly been a wealth of content available for consumers to try out on their new screens. Industry standards—the technical protocols that wend from the movie sound stage to the screens in our living rooms—have been inconsistent, meaning the expensive hardware has been underutilized.

Resolving the engineering and marketing challenges involved in bringing UHD to the mainstream is a complex process, but resolution may be just around the corner.

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On January 6 at CES, major Hollywood studios, consumer electronics brands, content distributors, post-production facilities, and technology companies joined together to form the UHD Alliance. The coalition will standardize criteria for concepts like 4K resolution, High Dynamic Range, Wide Color Gamut, High Frame Rate and Immersive Audio.

Ron Martin, president of Panasonic Hollywood Labs, said the agreement helps ensure a movie director’s vision matches what the viewer sees at home.

“Bottom line, the Alliance says we’re going to set a fairly high bar for interoperability and performance to maintain creative intent,” Martin explained.

The Alliance plans to introduce new color standards that will allow TVs to display something closer to the full color spectrum. Current Rec. 709 standards allow for about 16 million colors on existing TVs, but the human eye sees around 1 billion colors.

“We now have all the ingredients to bake a wonderful cake,” said Martin. “When you start adding these things together—a new realm of brightness, higher resolution, the wider color range—and get the frame rate up, we’re now to a point where it feels like you can reach through the screen.”

“It’s a win-win for the TV industry and the content providers,” said Jusy Hong, principal analyst for TV set research at IHS. “But the agreement also provides better, more immersive picture quality for the consumer.”

"We’re now to a point where it feels like you can reach through the screen."

Film directors like Ridley Scott are on-board for the new standards, and consumers are eager for bigger, better TVs. One drawback TV-buyers will face is that all their favorite classic movies will need to be remastered and reissued to meet the new standards.

But plenty of recent movies show off the potential of 4K Ultra HD TVs. Martin says Baz Luhrmann’s The Great Gatsby looks spectacular on these screens.

“Go back and watch the fireworks scene and your jaw will drop,” he added.