All about UHD - Are you ready for Ultra High-Definition? - Stuff

All about UHD – Are you ready for Ultra High-Definition?

It doesn’t feel like all that long ago when we were getting all excited over the existence of HD content, attempting to learn the difference between 1080p and 1080i video, and figuring out what ‘HD-ready’ actually meant so buying a TV became less of a lost-at-sea experience.

The nature of technology means we’re doomed to keep repeating this process (Curses! Constant education is required!) if we’re to keep up, and HD has to take a backseat now that everyone knows what it is. These days it’s all about 4K and UHD, something that hasn’t taken all that long to hit South African shores. (We’re catching up!)

It’s been almost two years since the term UHD came into existence. It stands for Ultra High-Definition and it means that your TV panel (or smartphone screen, if you’re lucky) is about to kick the poo out of your old 1080p display. But there’s also 4K, which is a different beast.

Samsung Curved UHD TV

What’s the difference between 4K and UHD?

The resolution and aspect ratio, mostly. Or, if you’re not being too technical, there’s almost no difference between the two.

What, what?

Depending on where you’re standing, UHD and 4K are interchangeable or they’re very different things. If you’re in a store looking to buy a 4K/UHD television set or video camera, you’re going to be swapping the two terms around. But UHD and 4K have specific meanings.

UHD means that a screen will have a minimum resolution of 3,840 x 2,160, which is what you’re going to find in everything from Samsung, LG and Sony’s stables — no matter what size the actual screen is. 4K, though, is a bit larger. It clocks in at 4,096 x 2,160, but that’s not such a great resolution for a TV considering what we’re used to watching, which is usually a 16:9 aspect ratio.

Is there an easier explanation for it?

Yup. UHD is exactly double your Full HD size vertically and horizontally (3,840 x 2,160 compared to 1,920 x 1,080), which translates into four times the pixel count. 4K is a teensy bit larger and is fine for the movie industry, who use it when they’re working on making content for widescreen TVs.

Great, got it. Now, why should I care?

That’s actually quite an easy one. You’ll find visual snobs that will tell you that the human eye can’t really tell the difference between a UHD image and an older HD image when the screen is in motion and they’re partly correct. If you’re sitting in the same place through both, there’s not a lot of difference. Unless, that is, you’re quite close to the screen or whatever is onscreen is very detailed — which would be the case if you’re watching actual 4K content. UHD has smaller pixels, so details are more detailed and stay that way as you approach the screen.

But, like HD, getting too close will ruin the illusion and you’ll start to see jagged edges. But you can get closer before your dreams are shattered like a glass ornament in an industrial blender.

That’s a bit… dark. Um… where can I get a UHD TV?

They’re available in South Africa at the moment and have been for some time. But the earliest models that we had in the country were a little… expensive.

How expensive?

Sell-your-house expensive. We don’t want to talk about it.

That implies something has changed. What will it cost now?

It starts at the prize of a halfway decent second-hand car and climbs from there. A 55-inch UHD TV from LG or Samsung will set you back about R35,000. That’s a bit pricey, considering that a Full HD panel of equivalent size will set you back about R10k but it was worse a while back. But then there’s the pricing as UHD TVs get larger…

Uh oh…

Yup. Oh, it’s not too bad. Ahem. An 84-inch UHD panel will cost you around R200,000 and let’s not even mention the 105-incher from Samsung.

105-incher?

Glad you mentioned it. We don’t have a price for it this side of the planet (yet) but these curved screens — which will be made to order — will cost Americans $120,000. That’s about R1.3 million, for those keeping score at home.

Yikes.

Yikes indeed.

So there’s a lot of 4K content available then?

About that… Netflix is broadcasting some of their shows in 4K, though you’re going to need a monster internet connection to stream it in South Africa. Not that we can officially condone doing so. But that’s your best bet, unless we get local 4K broadcasts and that’s probably going to take some time to happen. We’re still working on widespread HD, after all.

Otherwise, there are probably other avenues that you could take when it comes to 4K video but there are not a whole lot of options yet. Most UHD TVs will upscale standard HD Blu-ray video so it’s not all bad but it won’t look as good as native 4K video.

But it’s worth it?

Oh yes. Now if we could just replace every screen in our homes with something UHD, that would be awesome.

Stuff South Africa's online editor and print assistant editor, Brett Venter has churned out more words on more titles than most journalists will in a career. He's kind of shy.

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