The Beauty of 4K
Even in a tech world seemingly dominated by AI, voice computing, and other intriguing new developments, there’s one thing that’s still hard to beat: a great-looking, large display. Being able to see the cinematographic nuance of a well-lit scene, the fine-grained details of a high-resolution photo, or just a razor-sharp image of whatever you happen to be viewing, there are few things as satisfying as taking in the glories of a beautiful 4K display—whether it’s on a TV or a PC. That’s particularly true if you can enjoy the enormous color range on an HDR (High Dynamic Range)-enabled screen, offering the billions of colors possible with 10-bit color instead of the traditional 16.7 million colors of 8-bit color.
In fact, US consumers seem to agree. As discussed on a recent Techpinions podcast (US Consumer Electronics Trends: PCs, TVs, Headphones, Smart Home and Wearables), the very mature TV industry is still one of the largest categories in all of consumer electronics, with sales expected to increase this year thanks in large part to the move to 4K TVs. Not only that, but the often-overlooked PC monitor market is also very robust. Admittedly, not all PC monitors offer 4K resolution, but many of the large monitors driving sales in the category do. Plus, others offer higher resolutions than we’ve been accustomed to, because consumers are hungry for larger (and finer) screen real estate.
In the world of TVs, the market activity is all about 4K and, for many, 4K HDR. There’s been an explosion of low-cost, large-screen (50”+) options offering this resolution from many different vendors, as well as continued refinement and enhancements for higher-end models.
Some of the latest offerings in the higher-end TV market come from Sony, which introduced its new Master Series line last week in New York. The A9F OLED-based model (available in both 55” and 65”) and the Z9F LCD-based device (available in both 65” and 75”) are top-of-the-line 4K HDR TVs that feature the company’s new X1 Ultimate processor—a Sony-designed piece of silicon that optimizes the image quality for the unique characteristics of the display panels integrated into these sets. Though not always recognized for its silicon expertise, Sony has actually been designing key semiconductor chips for integration into its devices for more than four decades. (Sony is also a leader in image sensors for smartphones, digital cameras, robots, IoT devices, and increasingly, autonomous cars.)
The X1 Ultimate, in particular, delivers on the full color range potential of HDR. Unlike fixed pixel counts, such as the 3,840 x 2,160 dimensions of any 4K TV, there are several ways to implement HDR. As a result, not all implementations of HDR are equivalent—even on TVs that use the same raw display panels. With the X1 Ultimate, Sony offers resolution and color enhancements dynamically on a per object (not just per scene) basis. The X1 Ultimate is also capable of leveraging the LED backlights used on the LCD-based model to deliver a higher contrast image and, on OLED panels, of manipulating what they called Pixel Booster technology for a broader range of colors.
In addition to their imaging enhancements, the new Sony Master series TVs also have a number of refinements related to calibration, both for location and content. Calibration is the process of ensuring that the detailed color and brightness settings are optimized for the physical environment in which the TV is located—accounting for local lighting, etc.—as well as the content being played. One particularly unique capability on the new Master Series is a Netflix Calibrated Mode—a Sony exclusive feature that optimizes the display for each piece of Netflix-originated content with appropriate metadata embedded in the signal. (Like most recent Sony TVs, the Master Series are smart TVs based on Google’s Android TV platform and feature a built-in Netflix app—as well as apps from many other over-the-top (OTT) content providers.) Basically, this mode ensures that you automatically view any Netflix-generated material exactly as its creators intended—a bit of geeky TV tech, but definitely cool if you want accurate color and brightness renditions.
Of course, as mentioned earlier, the benefits of 4K go well beyond TVs. I’ve recently been enjoying Dell’s new XPS15 2-in-1 notebook with a 4K resolution, 10-bit color display that’s powered by the unique Intel/AMD collaboration chip uncreatively titled the Intel 8th Generation Core Processor With AMD Radeon RX Vega M Graphics. In an industry first, the chip combines an Intel CPU with a discrete AMD Radeon GPU integrated into a single module and connected by a new high-speed bus called Embedded Multi-Die Interconnect Bridge, or EMIB. The net result is a powerful (though also power-hungry) notebook with extremely responsive graphics suited for the most demanding applications and games. HP also offers a version of their popular Spectre notebook line, the x360 15T, with this new Intel/AMD combo chip and a 4K display.
For standalone monitors attached to desktops, or functioning as additional displays for notebooks, there is a wide range of 4K HDR monitors from Dell, Samsung, LG, Asus, HP, Benq and others. Beware that not all graphics cards or notebooks offer the ability to drive a 4K HDR display, so you have to do your homework. However, if you have a PC that does support it, the visual results of a 4K HDR monitor are well worth it.
Looking ahead to the future of both entertainment and computing, there are certainly going to be other means of consuming content, interacting with our data, and manipulating applications than large, high-resolution displays. You’ll be hard-pressed, however, to find something quite as beautiful and compelling as a big 4K screen.