4K TV promises to be four times clearer than high-def

Updated 2:25 PM EDT, Thu May 2, 2013

Story highlights

New wave of 4K TVs offers picture four times sharper than HD

Sony is already on the market with a 84-inch model for $25,000

One complaint so far is that there's not much content shot in 4K

LG, Sharp, Panasonic, Sony and Samsung all have sets in the works

(CNN) —  

Are you starting to take for granted the popping colors and hyper-detail of your HDTV? Fear not. 4K television is on the way, with screens that promise four times better resolution than today’s best high-definition offerings.

A standard high-definition TV has a 1080p resolution, meaning more than 2 million pixels per frame. The new wave of 4K TVs have more than 8.8 million pixels, providing greater accuracy of detail; clearer, sharper pictures; and greater contrast and color than regular HD.

So far Sony is leading the pack with a giant 4K model already on the market with others hitting stores soon. But other manufacturers aren’t far behind, meaning some living rooms might soon feel a lot more like going to the theater for a blockbuster.

Sony is hoping that consumers will be willing to pay for that experience. Last fall, the electronics giant unveiled a 4K television that measured 84 inches diagonally and cost a hefty $25,000. Now, they’re rolling out smaller and less expensive models, as well.

The knock so far has been that there’s not very much content out there yet that can actually take advantage of 4K’s higher-def display. But Sony says it’s working on that, too, as the technology becomes more mainstream.

“The digital cinema set started to focus on 4K. Even films that are being shot in 4K, you’re going to the movie theater and not even realizing it,” Rob Manfredo, a Sony spokesman, said. “They are showing you an upscale version of that movie on a 4K projector. Because movies and the movie theater experience has gone in that direction and consumers want that same experience in their homes, it was a logical step for us.”

Manfredo said that with fewer consumers purchasing televisions under 40 inches, bigger is becoming standard and the resolution had to improve.

Sony will release 65-inch and a 55-inch versions that can be in homes starting this month, coupled with a video player set for release in June that can show movies produced in 4K.

“What 4K allows is for bigger screens to look just as good as they’re supposed to and allow consumers to get closer to the TV for a more immersive, home theater experience – something more similar to what it’s like to go to the movies,” Manfredo said.

While Sony is the most prominent company getting into 4K, they’re not alone.

Chinese tech company OEM Seiki is rolling out a cheaper 4K television for $1,500. It doesn’t have many fancy features, which accounts for the price, and it comes on the heels of other simple and cheap offerings out of China. LG, Sharp, Panasonic and Samsung have all turned heads with eye-popping displays at tech gatherings, as well.

The 4K picture starts with the camera, which can capture details better than standard HD cameras. Manfredo said the image sensor in the 4K camera is far larger than an average video capture device.

But don’t think of this like Peter Jackson’s attempt at 48 frames per second with “The Hobbit,” which was jarring for some viewers. Manfredo said the amount of digital data being captured with 4K cameras is the main difference. The end product with a 4K camera and television is going to visually be clearer, crisper and more detailed than something shot at 48 frames per second, he says.

The “wizard behind the curtain” in the 4K television is a multichip processor called the 4K X-Reality PRO Picture Engine. Not only does it render native 4K into a sharper picture, but it also analyzes frame-by-frame non-4K signals to get them to look as good as possible.

That means even content not shot in 4K will look better, Manfredo said.

“If you are watching a Blu-Ray, which is as pristine as it’s going to get for 1080p resolution, it’s going to upscale it to pretty darn near 4K,” he said. “If you are watching a 720p broadcast of ESPN, it may not get as close, but it’s going to look a lot better.”

Right now, there are no cable channels or satellite providers offering 4K broadcasts, but Sony is in talks with DirectTV, DISH and FIOS about adding those channels. A new 4K video player is coming out in June that will include 10 movies and 40-50 shorts rendered in 4K resolution. Later this summer, Sony is launching a digital download service offering a wider variety of 4K content.

Manfredo said there are more than 100 movies in native 4K resolution.

When the 84-inch 4K television was revealed last fall, many said it was too big – both the size of the screen and the price tag – to appeal to the home consumer. Manfredo said Sony has been able to reduce the costs to something comparable to the cost of a premium HD television.

“For $5,500, you can have a 4K television and 4K movies in your house come June of this year,” he said.

While major motion picture companies have been leading the charge to 4K, home film makers can make their own 4K movies or pictures if their camera is good enough. Manfredo said technically, any digital camera that is higher than 8 megapixels is considered 4K.

“But no one has a television in their house that was able to see all that resolution their cameras were picking up,” he said. “(4K TVs) can let you see the pictures as you saw them.”