4K BluRay, What?

Sony has released a $249 4K BluRay player.  Initially I was surprised and confused by the news.  Then my ‘hype-antenna’ got flagged.  What is 4K BluRay?  Before I address the hype-flag, let’s examine the 4K in the player’s description.   (Note: K = 1000)

The 4K refers to horizontal resolution; the number of pixels that make up each line of video.  But it has different definitions depending on where you hang your TV.

If you hang out in a commercial theater, 4K digital video is defined by the Digital Cinema Initiative.  The DCI specification for 4K digital video is 4096 horizontal pixels by 2160 lines.  In addition, DCI 4K is supported by films makers.  They have created a substantial catalog of 4K films that are currently being projected in many theaters.

If you’re a home theater enthusiast the 4K situation is less clear.  Some manufacturers have adopted the DCI standard of 2160 by 4096.  Others define 4K as 3840 pixels per 2160 lines: twice the HD standard of 1920 by 1080.

Did you notice that 3840 pixels is less than 4K?  But it’s almost 4K.  Because of the ‘almost’ qualifier, some refer to this as Faux 4K.  Others have dubbed this standard as QuadHD.  I have also seen this labeled as UltraHD.  And yes, the DCI’s 4096 pixels is more than 4K.  But who’s counting?  As an aside, UltraHD is also being used by others to describe 8K video.  I know, it just doesn’t stop.  We’ll leave 8K for another time.

Almost 4K, or more than 4K, is a lot of pixels with an obvious benefit.  The pixels are less visible on larger screens.  That’s good.  Yet there’s a catch.  Consumer sources of 4K video do not yet exist.  Current Internet streaming and BluRay do not support 4K video resolution.  And a 4K disc (PurpleRay?) does not seem to be on the home video horizon.

Here’s the bottom line.  4K TVs exist but 4K home video sources do not. Therefore all 4K televisions/projectors must include 4K up-conversion-scaling to avoid a blank screen.  This process sums, divides, and rearranges HD and NTSC frames to cleanly fill each pixel of a 4K TV screen.

Now let’s return to the Sony 4K BluRay player that flagged my hype-antenna.  It’s clear that the 4K tag on this BluRay player cannot refer to a disc or a video streaming app.  It can only refer to scaling.  Given that a 4K TV/projector must already include 4K scaling, why would you want 4K scaling included in this $249 player?  Is Sony suggesting that the scaling of their $249 player is better than the scaling of their $35,000 LYCOS DCI 4K projector?  Are they insinuating that their player’s scaling is better than, or even compatible with, the JVC Faux 4K DILA projectors?  Will their player’s scaling outperform the scaling of the 4K OLED TVs scheduled for a Fall 2012 release?  Frankly, the answer to that last three questions is No.

It is my opinion that the 4K tag has been added solely to flood the retail ethos of confused box stores, on-line noise makers, and even more-confused consumers, with misleading hype.  It is an almost-4K-lie or Faux-4K-truth.  At best, this 4K may be only an attempt to shore up interest in a fading company with an almost empty $249 box.  To be fair, the Sony may turn out to be a decent BluRay player with cool features.  But Ed’s AV Blog is not buying it.

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