What the 4K "Ultra High Definition" Standard Means for Your Next TV

By Wesley Fenlon

The next generation of TVs will conform to a 3840x2160 pixel standard, but content still has a lot of catching up to do.

The Consumer Electronics Association is showing 4K some love: on Thursday the organization announced an official name for the next-gen standard that we got a glimpse of at CES 2012. How will the layperson know that 4K is better than the high definition TV they own now? Because it's not just HD (720p) or Full HD (1080p). It's Ultra High Definition!

The Ultra HD moniker aims to "help consumers and retailers understand the attributes of this next generation of superior television and display technology," but we're not sure many people could tell you the different between HD and Full HD and qHD. The CEA slapped a name on 4K, but they also gave it some clear guidelines that will benefit consumers: Ultra HD TVs will have an aspect ratio of at least 16:9 and contain, at minimum, 3840x2160 pixels.

Sharp 8K TV prototype we saw at CES 2012.

The standard also requires TVs to have at least one digital input that can handle 4K resolution without upconverting, which may require a new version of HDMI. The current version of HDMI, 1.4, can handle a resolution of 4096x2160--but only at 24 frames per second. HDMI 2.0 is expected to be ratified by the end of 2012.

Ultra High Definition sets the standard for the next generation of HD televisions, but it doesn't guarantee a strict definition of what "4K" actually means. For example, a 1.85:1 film shot at 4K resolution will measure 3996x2160 pixels, while a 2.39:1 film will measure 4096x1714 pixels.

The "Ultra HDTV" standard for broadcast television, expected to hit airwaves around 2016, will at least line up with the 3840x2160 television standard...for 4K. Ultra HDTV also denotes an 8K standard that's even higher resolution.

Confused yet? That's okay--despite the buzz around 4K, there's no content to go along with the TV resolution yet. Blu-ray only supports 1080p. Some films go through the editing and production process at 2K, even if they're shot at a higher resolution. But hey: at least Youtube is ahead of the curve.