Why ultra-high-resolution video isn’t for everybody
By Nick Shaw, Anna Valley Integration Director
Ultra-High Definition, Super Hi-Vision, QFHD, 2160p and 4360p are all terms used to describe enormous video resolutions that didn’t exist until recent years, but now dominate most discussions around production and displays.
It’s not surprising that this topic is generating so much chatter, because it’s a big business.
According to online statistic company, Statista, 172 million UHD TVs are forecast to be sold worldwide in 2020, and a report by Transparency Market Research predicts that the global fine pixel pitch LED display market will reach a value of US$3.1 billion by 2024. As these technologies become more popular, they’re produced in bigger volumes and the price drops, making them more accessible to consumer and commercial markets.
Given this information, you’d assume that any savvy AV professional looking to future-proof their infrastructure should immediately sign a purchase order for ultra-high-resolution displays. In reality, however, these products are only a viable solution for a small percentage of corporate AV situations – and the cost of the display is not the only, or even the most significant, deterrent.
Choosing the right display is the first hurdle. LED screens have become increasingly popular in the commercial display market, thanks to their brightness and versatility. These displays are built from panels that contain any number of individual pixels – the fewer pixels on a panel (or the bigger the gaps between pixels) the more panels you need to build a high-resolution display. If you consider that the highest resolution LED panels currently available have a gap of 0.7mm between pixels, and that 8K content has an aspect ratio of 7680 x 4320 pixels, this means that displaying 8K content at a 16:9 aspect ratio on an LED screen, would require a 5.5m wide LED wall. At the more affordable pixel pitch of 2.5mm that LED width increases to over 19 meters – clearly not a viable solution for your average corporate installation.
When it comes to LCD’s and large format displays, screen size isn’t as much of an issue – 4K displays average out at around 70” and Dell is planning to ship a 32-inch, 8K monitor later this year. But squeezing 33.2 million pixels onto smaller screens means that you’re faced with pixel densities of up to 275 pixels per inch. Will anyone even see this kind of detail unless they’re standing with their nose pressed up against the screen?
The next consideration is content. The higher your resolution, the scarcer content becomes and the more expensive it is to produce. Broadcasters and streaming services only share their premium programming in UHD so, if you’re planning on showing broadcast content on your ultra-high-resolution display, there may be limited channels to choose from. Shooting your own UHD content isn’t prohibitively expensive but the media files produced on a 4K shoot are four times bigger than those from an HD shoot and storing, editing and distributing files of this size can exponentially increase your post-production costs.
These massive file sizes are also responsible for inflating the cost of displaying UHD content. The difference between the processing equipment needed to support an 8K display and the processers needed for an HD display can run into six figure sums alone. Another significant, but often overlooked, cost is for the power that big LED screens use to display ultra-high-resolution content. While an HD screen might run on a single phase of electricity, an 8K screen can easily require multiple 3-phase supplies – which may mean spending money on improving the electrical supply as well as higher electricity bills once the integration is complete. Higher resolution screens, and the additional processors needed to support them also generate more heat and can make it necessary to increase your air-conditioning capacity.
At least fifty percent of our clients that approach us with a request for UHD displays end up choosing HD when they realise the implications and costs of their original plans. As AV professionals, we’re all concerned with the pace at which technology is changing and how this can impact our ability to plan for the future, but choosing the best AV solution for your organisation – for your current and future needs – isn’t always as simple as buying the most advanced technology available.
This article was first published in AV Technology Europe‘s November 2017 edition.
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