Getting 4K Content to 4K Screens

4K_retail_450x300Athough there is justifiable excitement around 4K or Ultra HD-resolution displays, the screen itself is just the beginning.  There is a growing realization that the 4K ecosystem around these displays — made of up of capture devices, players, PCs, content and connectivity — will directly impact the rate of market adoption.

I met with Planar’s Steve Seminario, senior director of product marketing, to discuss what he’s  learned about 4K commercial displays.

Question: Working back from the display itself, driving a 4K screen with 4K content is a matter of connectivity and source.  What are you seeing as the most popular ways to drive a 4k display or video wall?

Steve: Connecting a 3840 x 2160 resolution source to a 4K display typically involves some combination of HDMI and DisplayPort connections, both of which can receive a 4K signal over a single connection. Beyond resolution, each platform and version of the standard has a supported refresh rate and color depth. We’ve published a table online for reference. As an alternative to single-link 4K connections, some displays are able to receive a synchronized group of two or four connections in order to process and display a 4K source.

While it would be ideal to be able to take a full 60Hz 4K signal with 10-bit color over a single connection, the implementations are really not there yet today, and practically speaking, slower refresh rates and multi-connection configurations that are available now generate excellent 4K results with most content.

Question: You didn’t mention arguably the most popular digital output in the market.  What do integrators do if they want to hook up a source with a DVI output to a 4K display?

Steve: With today’s graphics cards, content servers and video processors supporting a combination of HDMI, DVI, SDI and DisplayPort outputs, it is not uncommon to have to covert one signal type to another. Luckily, there are converters available today and those choices continue to grow in the market.  Some conversion is passive, meaning there is a compact device requiring no external power. While others are active, or powered, in which case the conversion device will be larger, require a power source and typically be more expensive. The general rule of thumb is that newer, higher-bandwidth connectors like HDMI and DisplayPort can passively convert to older standards like DVI or SDI, but in order to go the other way around, it requires active conversion. Again, we’ve posted a table of common conversion types.

Question: I know integrators are often required to experiment to see what will work to drive different types of content — still imagery, high-speed video thats uses different codecs, processor-intensive applications that utilize real-time rendering or touch interactivity, 3D and beyond. What other things affect 4K performance that integrators should be aware of?

Steve:  All the things you mention play a role. We’ve found variations among the playback quality of different operating systems — even on the same PC hardware —  different player software, different video codecs or compression algorithms and, naturally, different graphic cards or processors.

Cable length is another factor.  HDMI and DisplayPort standards do not specify a maximum cable length, so testing and experimentation are required. In our experience, using good-quality cables, we have been able to successfully support HDMI up to 40 feet at 3840×2160 at 30 or 60 Hz. DisplayPort is more like 10 feet, based on our own testing. Extenders are available in the market for both HDMI and DisplayPort, but today there are certainly more choices available for HDMI because of its widespread use. Extenders utilizing coax, HDBaseT and fiber cabling support different run distances and are priced accordingly.

Question:  What’s next for 4K connectivity?

Steve:  Another area of rapid development is around network connectivity.  For network streaming of 4K, the H.265 HEVC (High Efficiency Video Coding) draft standard approved in July 2012 has set off a flurry of industry development, particularly related to the broadcast industry. Designed with 4K and 8K resolutions in mind, the H.265 HEVC standard promises to double the compression efficiency of H.264 encoding broadly used today.  At the NAB 2013 tradeshow, a number of companies discussed or demonstrated prototype implementations. While today, IP network transport of 4K video is still a future, it is one that has a lot of momentum behind it.



Jennifer Davis

About Jennifer Davis

Jennifer Davis is the Chief Marketing Officer for the international business of Leyard and also serves as the Vice President of Marketing and Product Strategy at Planar Systems and Runco International. She is a high energy, articulate senior executive who uses entrepreneurial skills to build high performing businesses, product lines, and go-to-market strategies. Jennifer can be found @jenniferdavis on Twitter and on LinkedIn at www.linkedin/in/jenniferbdavis.

2 Responses to “Getting 4K Content to 4K Screens”

  1. Jennifer Davis

    Great question, Michael. I am sure that higher resolution displays and projectors are throwing curve balls to the entire industry.

    There are a variety of ways to create screens and different materials, coatings, and processes that are used. Each with different prices attached. Although the screen manufacturers can provide you insight into what they recommend for 4k and how you will see a difference, you have to judge the quality and the value for yourself.

    As you do this, remember that in projection is more a function of pixel size, the color space, and the the direction of the light and how the screen material handles those factors, than the resolution of the projector. A 720p image on a small screen will be the same pixel size as a 4k image on a very large screen. And the clarity and brightness of those pixels will perform the same on the same material (even if the size of the screen is bigger and the resolution of the projector are higher). In two-piece projection systems, it is all about the room geometry! And keep in mind that most projection screens are specified in width, not in diagonals, like flat panels.

    Another source of information and insight are the projector manufacturers who can make recommendations. Find out what screen material (and screen size) they are using in their own demo facilities or in their trade show theaters. In our Runco business, we regularly work with Stewart Filmscreen, Da-Lite, and others and we regularly make specific recommendations for dealers wanting to make a smart choice and maximize the performance of any particular projector model.

    Good luck to you!

  2. 4K Huh, I am in the process of purchasing a Sony projector and wondering weather or not an extra special ultra high def screen is required. A number of screen suppliers are quoting some exorbitant figures, in some cases more than the cost of this projector. Is this reality as per the true cost of a piece of fabric with maybe some special paint applied? Why Would you pay 15K for a 140″ diag projector screen.??