Where’s the Money in 4K?

What markets are poised to be full of crystal-clear 4K displays by the end of this year? And what obstacles to large-scale adoption remain?

As mentioned, video walls are another prime spot for 4K because the individual displays can be combined to create a 4K image, even if the individual screens themselves are not in 4K.

“There’s quite a bit of money on the line, so people want the very best,” says Barnett. “The source content often lags a bit, but before long, PowerPoints will be in 4K.”

Brawner expects to see plenty of 4K displays coming to a mall or shopping center near you over the next 12 months as the price falls and the number of UHD offerings continues to increase. “As the price comes down, it’s easier to adopt it and, maybe more importantly, easier to sell,” he says. “Integrators like things that are easy to sell and we’re getting there when it comes to 4K.”

Behind the Scenes

Josh Srago, manager of AV engineering at ICS Integration, says most of the 4K products that have come out in the past year or so still operate on HDMI and can’t work with 4K.

Many of them don’t have the proper display port, he says, adding that he wonders if the HDMI 2.0 standard will truly support 4K bandwidth.

When it comes to displaying 4K content for digital signage, “you need a network that can distribute massive amounts of data,” says Srago. “I don’t think a lot of people are looking at 4K in terms of the infrastructure right now. They haven’t had to think about signal distribution in a while. It’s now reaching the point where we have to think like IP security camera guys.”

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Even for applications such as fitness studios, where DirecTV says it will be broadcasting in 4K, Srago sees issues in that the content won’t be live because of distribution complications. He sees potential for 4K to take off in medical, digital signage and simulation applications, but thinks “there’s not much added benefit” to 4K in corporate boardrooms and the education market “may not be able to support the cost.”

Brawner agrees with Srago that “infrastructure is definitely the weak point right now” when it comes to 4K. “Most companies are saying they do 4K, but the client isn’t getting full color,” he says. “A lot of people don’t realize they’re not getting the full benefit of the technology.”

True 4K distribution networks are “prohibitively expensive because so few companies are doing it,” says Brawner. Pro Audio GA typically recommends its clients wait a couple of years when the price of the distribution network drops to install the full infrastructure at a more reasonable cost.

Brawner isn’t as concerned about the talk of a lack of 4K content, particularly in commercial installations because much of that content is created by the client or the integrator anyway. He acknowledges that’s a “critical” aspect to 4K adoption on the residential side though.

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Last year, says Barnett, “was the year we went through our products and made sure they had the speed they needed to handle the content,” including putting out its first full 4K distribution system in April. “You need the plumbing to be fast enough, whether you use it that way or not.”

The cost of displays continues to drop, falling from about three to four times the cost of 2K a year or so ago to about double the cost today, says Barnett.

The biggest money maker could come in the actual infrastructure, with extended cable runs creating a place for specialty cable to provide the necessary bandwidth.

“When you put a particular type of cable in the wall, you’re making a bet you won’t be changing that cable anytime soon, or at all,” says Barnett.