4K Ultra HD Displays: What You Need to Know

If you haven’t heard by now, the 4K Ultra HD displays are coming. The movies are arriving, monitors are in production and broadcasters are getting their cameras ready for 4K television. While the technology is here and devices are beginning to appear, what does this mean to the consumer?  Earlier this year at the Consumer Electronics Show, 4K was all a buzz when it came to televisions. But what about non-television applications, such as gaming or other general PC monitor use?  While the 4K hype makes a good case for an improved television experience, right now 4K might really have more to offer for an immersive PC experience.

What is 4K Ultra HD?

4K Ultra HD can generally refer to one of two high definition resolutions.  Most commonly 4K Ultra HD refers to 3840 x 2160 pixels (referring to the approximately 4000 pixel wide display), which has exactly twice as many pixel rows and columns as 1080p (1920×1080 pixels), and four times the overall pixel count, with the same 16:9 aspect ratio. 4K Ultra HD can also refer to the currently less common 4096 x 2160 pixel resolution.

1080p and Beyond

While 1080p is common on televisions today, PCs and other information display devices have already gone beyond that. Consumers gain more from higher pixels-per-inch on such information displays than they do on a television, both because of the close viewing distance and the type of information being displayed.  For example, some smart phones are already at 1080p, tablets are at up to 2560 x 1600 pixels (Google Nexus 10 tablet), and notebooks are up to 2880 x 1800 pixels (Retina Apple MacBook Pro).  And now we are starting to see 4K desktop displays, including the 32-in Sharp IGZO (3840 x 2160 pixels) monitor, with others expected this year.

PC + 4K = Perfection

In the near future, 4K will be more applicable to PC applications than to televisions. For televisions, there is currently not much support for a true 4K display from consumer electronic video sources.  Take for example the HDMI standard which currently supports 4K but only up to 30 frames per second rate, and not the usual 60 frames per second supported at 1080p. Secondly, there is a lack of 4K content and available broadcast services. Thirdly, a large screen size is needed to take advantage 4K at normal viewing distances, which means high cost, perhaps $5,000 to $10,000.

On the other hand, in PCs the benefits of a 4K display can be immediately realized when connected to a supporting PC.  The higher resolution means a bigger work surface without a loss in pixels-per-inch.  Unlike television broadcast or a Blu-ray movie, the PC graphics generated from a PC game or productivity application will automatically increase in resolution (not just scaled) to take advantage of the 4K display. At a normal PC monitor viewing distance, the user will fully benefit from 4K resolution in a 32-inch display. Based on these foreseen benefits reasoning, this is precisely why DisplayPort supports 4K at a full 60 frames per second, while HDMI does not.

As more 4K PC displays begin to appear on the market, consumers will find the PC monitor price point (projected to be around $500 – $1,000) a bit more digestible than the price for 4K televisions. Clearly the 4K revolution is here and offers a great user experience. As you may guess, we at VESA are excited about DisplayPort-enabled 4K monitors becoming widely available. We welcome your comments in regards to what you are most looking forward to with the arrival of 4K.

– Craig Wiley, Chairman, VESA