Display technology getting ahead of the market

By Jeff Hecht
Peter Jackson's decision to shoot The Hobbit at 48 frames per second brought optical technology into many holiday-party conversations, at least among technologists and movie buffs. Together with demonstrations of video screens with horizontal resolution of 8000 pixels, it raises the question of whether the cutting edge of large-screen display technology is getting too far ahead of the market.

From the production side, it makes sense to record a movie in the best quality available at reasonable cost. It's easy to reduce resolution or frame rate to current mass-distribution standards. Theaters can charge extra for the highest quality screenings, as they have done for 3D. And archival copies should be compatible with the next generation or two of technologies.


From the display side, reviewers had mixed reactions. They found some parts spectacular, but sometimes too revealing. As Lucy O'Brien wrote on the gaming site IGN.com, "The problem with doubling the frame-rate in The Hobbit is a problem of scrutiny; you can see all its tricks. "

The push for higher video screen resolution comes largely from the consumer electronics industry. Aided by government mandates to convert to digital broadcasting, the industry persuaded the public to switch to flat-panel high-definition televisions showing 720 or 1080 lines, corresponding to widths of 1280 or 1920 pixels respectively. But the public largely passed on 3D television , and in uncertain times they have been slow to step up to larger screens, so manufacturers have slashed prices to bolster sales.

Two ultra-high-definition formats are in development. One that doubles resolution is called 4K, for a nominal width of 4000 pixels (actually 3840 x 2160 pixels). An alternative called 8K quadruples resolution to a nominal width of 8000 pixels (actually 7680 x 4320 pixels). Some 4K equipment is available, and 8K has been demonstrated. However, big challenges remain, writes Pete Putman of Display Daily , including lack of production equipment and cameras, high screen costs, and the need for much more bandwidth to carry the larger files.

Unlike 3DTV, ultra-high-def won't give you a headache or require special glasses . It makes sense for future-proofing video production, and it could be a selling point for video venues or sports bars.  But for now, ultra-high-def has gotten far ahead of the home television market, which is getting to like today's low prices.
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