Big Screen 4K: The Challenge vs. The Reward

A few years ago, it was the shift toward high definition. Now 4K is the big ‘it’ in display technology.

Mark Stross
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For those of us in the business of creating clear video displays, the bar has been raised … again.

A few years ago, it was the shift toward high definition. Now 4K is the big “it” in display technology. 4K has twice the horizontal and vertical resolution of the 1080p HD format, with four times as many pixels overall. More pixels create crisper content and legibility from a closer distance. 

While improved imagery may help sell more televisions, higher resolutions also play a role in maximizing the investment in digital billboards, venue video screens and other large format commercial applications.

Large format displays, specifically LED video screens, have become more affordable over the past several years. Lower manufacturing costs and new technologies enabled the deployment of true physical pixel HD video screens, including outdoor surface mount (SMD) displays. By utilizing physical pixels instead of processing technology, large format screens are now being deployed in true high definition and greater-than-HD resolutions.

Video screens featuring physical pixels, compared to special processing to achieve high-definition quality, create the ability to display higher resolutions while improving clarity and off-angle viewing.

Why Higher Resolutions?

Some in the industry dispute whether or not you can see a difference between 2K and 4K on smaller screens. However, most agree that as displays get larger the benefits of a 4K picture are easier to identify. It’s really quite simple: the more pixels that make up an image, the more detail becomes noticeable. Consumers will perceive elements such as logo treatments, smoother curved lines and other important branding details.

Larger screens with tighter pixel densities not only feature better quality images, but also create a more flexible canvas. While higher resolutions create better visuals across the entire display, owners and screen operators can break the screen up into smaller sections, each of which can feature crisp monetizable content.

Related: Will 4K Live Up to the Hype? Or Flop Like 3D?

If you place side-by-side two large format screens measuring the same square footage but featuring different pixel counts, the display utilizing fewer pixels with a larger space between them will actually have less real estate. This is because the screen with fewer pixels will need more square footage to create a crisp picture, specifically for logos and other messaging that features specific branding elements. Meanwhile, the screen with a tighter pixel pitch can utilize a smaller area to generate the same brand impact, allowing for more flexibility when segmenting the canvas.

The Challenge

In order to receive the full benefit of an HD, 2K or 4K screen, the less the content is compressed the better. Typical large high definition displays feature compressed content of 3:1 or 6:1, while basic take home Blu-ray discs are running between 20:1 and 50:1. Meanwhile the average cable box uses H.264 Hardware MP4 with about a 10 to 50 percent compression ratio.

One of the main issues with less, or no compression at all, on a greater-than-HD screen is the file size. The average 60 second animation rendered at twice the resolution of HD takes at least two to five times longer to render due to the lack of optimization beyond HD in most rendering engines.