Unravelling 4K: Does Color Trump Resolution?

Video expert Joel Silver explains why 4K is a piece of the puzzle, but not the next-generation standard bearer for high-performance video.

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Ever since the failure of 3D as a long-term movie and TV sales driver, both Hollywood and the consumer electronics industries have determined that 4K, or Ultra HD, provides the best opportunity to drive video product sales.

Since both industries began to focus on 4K, momentum for the format has been steadily gaining steam. Highlighting that momentum was the buzz it generated at two of the biggest tradeshows of the year — CES and InfoComm.

Both events featured a number of 4K products and the interest for the format on each respective show floor was noteworthy.

Taking a step back from all of the 4K enthusiasm is Joel Silver, president of the Imaging Science Foundation (ISF) and one of the A/V industry’s preeminent video experts. For well over a year, Silver has been cautioning installers that there are other fundamentals in place that should take a higher priority than resolution.

4K Part of the Larger Picture

Silver is excited for the future of video and the performance potential that exists with some of the upcoming initiatives the professional and consumer markets are working on, but he points out that 4K alone won’t push video standards into breaking new ground.

“Having 4K is one part of UHD and [next-generation, high-performance video], but it is not the most important part and people don’t get that,” says Silver. “It is part of the roadmap, and there are two flavors of 4K, which is exciting, but there is a committee looking at HDR [high dynamic range].”

Related: InfoComm 2014, the Year of 4K

The reason why HDR is so important for the next generation of video quality, Silver says, is the public has lived with the same temporal resolution since 1939. In the near future he notes — around 2017, 2018 — advances in color gamut will really drive innovation.

“Going from 2K to 4K is an improvement, but it is not revolutionary,” he admits. “But the new colors, that is something. There is a lack of understanding concerning the rollout of 4K. I would much rather have a dynamic 2K HDTV than more pixels. Something with great blacks or great HDR, that is more impactful. Resolution is only apparent when you are close.”

Underscoring what is happening in the video world, Silver emphasizes that 4K is just the first part of a new system. “Frankly [4K] is the least impressive part of the roll-out,” he boasts.

Color Space Advances Key to Quality

According to Silver, the underpublicized part of the impending video industry’s format updates is the expanded color gamut that could become a part of their final specification.

“The 2020 color space (the International Telecommunications Union Radio Communications ITU-R BT.2020 recommendation) is going to be great for laser color space, but it will be difficult for older TVs.”

Related: Planar Doubles Down on 4K, Launches 98-inch Display

“Flat-panel TVs will be expensive,” he continues. “The broadcast space already uses [the spec]. I have a 17-inch HP laptop that was part of a venture with DreamWorks and it includes Rec 709 capabilities and the Adobe Color Space that is much better than HD. The laptop also does DCI (Digital Cinema Initiatives).”

“I can in a two-minute demo show pictures in three different color spaces. Improvements in color gamut are instantaneously superior to the average viewer. Showing Adobe Color Space over Rec 709 is noticeable. Glancing at 4K, the average person doesn’t see [a noticeable difference] because it is just resolution.”