4K televisions have undergone tremendous progress this last year, as has been clearly demonstrated at the CES 2014 show. Both Polaroid and Vizio introduced 50-inch 4K televisions with an MSRP of US$999.99. But what kind of user can really use a 4K TV today? High-power computer users, that's who.
For anyone out there who doesn't know, 4K is short for 4K Ultra High Definition (4K UHD) Television. The screen size is 3840 x 2160 pixels in size, double in each direction compared to 1080p screens. The aspect ratio has to be at least 16:9, and the standard's frame rate is 120 Hz progressive (complete top to bottom scans.) Note the HDMI 2.0 standard must be used to achieve this level of performance – HDMI 1.4 stalls out at a frame rate of 30 Hz.
The two televisions are difficult to tell apart from the descriptions available today, but there is a bit more information on the Vizio P502ui-B1 than on the Polaroid 50GSR9000. The Vizio offers a 50-inch picture with 16:9 aspect ratio and full LED array backlighting, wherein the backlight provides 64 variable intensity zones to actively optimize the dynamic range of the picture. The P502 also contains a six-core processor combining a quad-core GPU and dual-core CPU.
At present, there is very little 4K UHD programming available. Further, it seems unlikely that the cable/satellite/broadcast providers will respond rapidly with upgraded offerings. They were hit with a huge upgrade expense in going to (somewhat crippled) HD, and right now the bandwidth just isn't available. But keep track of progress with the HEVC (High Efficiency Video Coding) codec, which would allow enormously compressed video streaming (an early unit is installed in the Vizio 4K TV).
Only a few very-high-end videodisk players are capable of 4K UHD service, and these do not use a standard format. Surprisingly, it turns out that the Blu-Ray system can be used for 4K source material. Unfortunately, the discs would be incompatible with standard Blu-Ray players, as the higher bandwidth requires additional dye layers in the disc. Still, this may be the first affordable 4K UHD programming source.
Of what use, then, is a 4K UHD television? A great deal, if you have any need for high-resolution computer graphics. I currently use a 50-inch HD television as my main computer display, and find it a great assist to my technical work, as well as allowing multiple windows to be used efficiently for my writing. But I can still see those 0.02 inch (0.5 mm) pixels at my 20-inch working distance.
Videocards capable of 30 Hz 4K UHD display start at about $500 street price, jumping to 60 Hz at about $1K. However, a formal computer display with 4K UHD-level resolution is a costly device. A 32-inch display capable of 60 Hz 4K UHD display resolution costs upward of $3K. While smaller displays have just been announced at lower prices, they are 28-inch and smaller, whose 0.005-inch (0.12-mm) pixels are a waste of 4K capability.
I can't offer an opinion on the use of 4K UHD televisions for computer gaming, as that is an indulgence in which I no longer wallow, although I did thoroughly enjoy a good deal of wallowing back in the day. But I will say that, even if January of 2014 is not quite time for my 4K upgrade, I am certain it will happen in 2014. I find visible pixels an irritant. The market will probably be filled with people who bought 4K TVs without really thinking about the lack of programming. However, people who think in advance about their uses for such a beast will likely avoid premature purchase and dissatisfaction.