4k Resolution: Does It Matter?

I’m sorry, it’s silly that I make a post about 4k resolution here (a blog about game development and crowdfunding), but I’ve wanted to talk about this for months.

If you don’t know, 4k refers to the next revolution in television displays. We’ve already seen 3D tv as a failed experiment, we’ve seen Smart tv slowly get bargain prices, and now 4k is coming along. It refers to roughly four thousand horizontal pixels in the screen, which comes out to roughly 4x as many pixels as 1080p, our current max resolution. 4k tv has actually been around for almost a year, but hasn’t caught on yet either, due to a lack of content.

Is 4K worth it?

Personally, I say yes… sort of.

Many people claims that 1080p was “perfect” when Bluray first came out, and that they would never need anything better. I think they said the same with DVD, and probably said the same with VHS. It’s funny, when DVDs came out, the reason to buy one was “it has better picture quality, better audio quality, more bonus features and interactivity, and can even let you play simple games!” When Bluray came out, the reason to buy one was “it has better picture quality, better audio quality, more bonus features and interactivity, and can even let you play simple games!” (Maybe this was just Disney’s marketing, but it was still kind of funny).

So I held off on Bluray for a long time, only to start last year to watch a few. The quality is better, sure. But some films also don’t need it. For example, I’ve seen the anime film “Redline” on both Bluray and DVD: one would think the sharp color palette and black-y inks would make this a poster-child for Bluray. And yet, I could barely tell the difference, only seeing a difference if I paused the movie or saw a lot of tiny effects like confetti in the background. Another example is the “Indiana Jones” series, which I’ve seen on Bluray and VHS: I’m sure the Bluray was better, but I couldn’t tell, and probably couldn’t care less, because the movie itself is the reason to see it.

So, clearly the image quality is good at making mediocre films seem less mediocre. A truly great film worthy of your collection is going to be fun to watch regardless of the quality. And yet, some films do benefit: animated film “The Illusionist” really shines in 1080p. So it does depend on the film, on the details in the background, on the transfer onto the disc. Honestly, CG films would probably benefit the most here.

But many people noted that 4K MONITORS are the way to go. My 1080p desktop monitor is fine, but a 4K monitor could help show more things on the screen. Imagine a 40″ monitor that effectively shows the same amount of stuff as four regularly-sized 1080p monitors: I could have Maya, Unity 3D, Photoshop, and Youtube open all at once! Productivity level = increase!

But back to film: is there a difference? Most people argue that better than 1080p for film is unnecessary, but I disagree. I do think my Blurays could look better. From my 27″ 1080p screen, I need to sit about five feet away before I think the picture is perfect. That’s too far for a mid-size screen for me. If nothing else, I can keep my films in 4K and tell myself that this is the pinnacle, that I will never in my lifetime need better resolution. Better 3D, color, sound, etc. might be the focus after that.

Will 4K catch on?

This is a trickier question. I waited a long time before adopting Bluray because I thought it came really quickly after DVD, and that I might skip Bluray for the next level. But almost a decade after Bluray, and after a year of 4K tv, we still don’t have any real 4K content.

The only content we have is coming from ONLINE. Youtube, Netflix, and other sites already introduced 4K streaming. I never considered Youtube ideal, although that might be my monitor’s quality. Not to mention, Internet is still not widely available or fast enough for this to be viable for at least another decade. But the point of having the best quality possible is to store it and archive it, and make an event of it when you sit down and watch it. We need PHYSICAL media. Where is it?

Apparently, the Bluray Foundation did agree on a format after a no-show at CES 2014, and we are hoping to see some discs hit the shelves before the end of the year. Even then, I’m concerned. Some films only a decade old were made in theatres for 1080p, not 4k. Upscaling and sourcing from original cel-film has done well for older films, but the middle section from 1985 to 2005 will probably contain films that barely warrant a 4k transfer from the original quality.

Not to mention, many films I loved are still not available on Bluray yet (although quite a few of Dreamwork’s old catalogue are finally getting a release this year). What are the odds that every film you want will ever get a proper 4k release? Very unlikely.

And computer use? 4k monitors would be great, if you have a proper graphics card. Even high end cards today couldn’t play demanding games at max quality on a 4k screen.  It doesn’t help that new consoles will see a higher level of demand from PC games this year.

The fact that the PS4 and XBOXONE don’t support 4k gaming of any kind is telling. Even 4k video is in question since 4k Blurays are so late to the party.  It’s a huge missed opportunity for adoption rate. Even though 4k is the easiest thing for people to adopt, the same as 1080p was to adopt from a 720p tv.

Of course, some games might be great in 4k. For example, my hand-drawn 3d game “James – Journey of Existence” would shine with 4k, and I’m certain graphics demand is more than low enough for most PCs to handle it with a 4k montior. Only RAM would be a concern there, since Unity 3d has yet to adopt a better 64-bit compiled game system, and 3.2 GB is a low limit for me to keep sprites at a high level of quality.

Only time will tell if 4k sees the light of day. But that window of opportunity is passing fast…