4K monitors’ future bright because ‘people love pixels’

The falling price of ultra high-resolution displays, commonly called 4K2K or simply 4K displays, is leading to the same chicken-and-egg conundrum high-definition TVs faced a few years ago: Which comes first, the content or the hardware?

Sharp recently announce availability of two 32-inch professional 4K LCD monitors, one a touchscreen model, at under the $10,000 mark. Typically, 4K monitors range from about $12,000 to $66,000, according to Xbit Laboratories. A 4K monitor’s resolution is 3,840 by 2,160 pixels, almost four times the resolution of an HD 1080p display.

Sharp’s PN-K321 and touch-enabled PN-K322B (available in July) are based on Indium Gallium Zinc Oxide (IZGO) technology. According to Hiroshi Kobayashi, product manager of Sharp’s commercial display unit in Canada, they are professional-grade monitors, suitable for 24-by-7 use and warranteed for three years. The display is thin — 35 millimetres wide at its thickest point — and accepts display port 1.2 and HDMI 1.4 inputs.

Kobayashi called out graphic design, gaming, broadcast and financial applications as potential markets for 4K display. “It’s for specific individuals who really need to focus on the details of what’s in from of them,” he said. “The proof of the pudding is when you sit in front of the screen and see how rich and detailed the colours are.”

Computer-assisted design and manufacturing is another potential market for 4K interest. But within that broad range of applications, most of the interest is on the imaging side — film, TV, games, large-format print — said Rob Hoffmann, senior marketing manager with Autodesk in Montreal.

“That’s where the bulk of the demand is coming from,” Hoffmann said. Lower prices are part of the trend of “democratization” of artist’s tools that has been going on over the past few years; whereas in the past only big-budget operations could afford them, now, almost anyone with the passion to pursue it can get those tools.

“(Lower monitor prices) will definitely spur the desire for people to at least look into 4K,” Hoffmann said.

Whether to work in 4K or not is dependent on the destination of the output, and how long the user is prepared to wait for a rendering. Render times aren’t an exact science, he said — they depend on the options, filters, effects, etc. that are selected during editing — but will likely be a minimum of four times as long as a 1080p render.

The trend toward higher and higher resolution is inevitable, according to Hoffmann.

“Let’s face it, people love pixels,” he said. “We all know we’re going in that direction.”

4K video is at a similar juncture that high-definition TV was at several years ago, Hoffmann said. Who will buy the technology if there’s no content for it? And who will produce content if no one’s buying the technology?

One challenge of producing 4K content for commercial use is the huge file sizes associated with it. According to Deloitte, streaming an uncompressed 4K file would require a half-gigabit-per-second connection.

“Downloading an uncompressed 4K movie would take days over a standard broadband connection,” according to a Deloitte report. “But few consumers would ever download an uncompressed file. A one-hour compressed 4K film is about 160GB and would take seven and a half hours to download on a 50 Mbit/s broadband connection.”

Still, Hoffmann says, adoption is a matter of when, not if.

“It’s still a little bit early to say,” Hoffmann said. “You kind sit back and let the adoption happen.”

Sharp’s Kobayashi wouldn’t predict a timeline, either. “We’re just going to have to gauge (demand) as we go along,” he said.

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Dave Webb
Dave Webb
Dave Webb is a technology journalist with more than 15 years' experience. He has edited numerous technology publications including Network World Canada, ComputerWorld Canada, Computing Canada and eBusiness Journal. He now runs content development shop Dweeb Media.

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