The opening day of CEATEC 2011 saw two of Japan's biggest technology companies, Sony and Toshiba, announce Ultra HD products that will be available in the shops this December.
Toshiba revealed its 4K glasses-free television for the Japanese market, the Regza 55X3, while Sony showed off its Ultra HD (formerly 4K) home projector, the VPL-VW1000ES.
If that last sentence gave you a case of déjà vu don't worry, as both of these products have already been announced – Toshiba's at IFA 2011 (under the guise of the 55ZL2) and the Sony projector at this year's IBC. Sharp also showed off its 4K television at CEATEC but this is still a prototype at the moment.
The difference between these products being shown off in Japan rather than Europe, however, is that they will be available before the year is out in a country that is on the cusp of offering 4K television transmissions.
Japan has always been at the forefront of broadcasting 4K. In 2005, alongside the US it made the first 4K transatlantic, real-time transmission. This involved sending a still 4K image to the University of California in San Diego from the Keio University in Tokyo via an optical fibre network.
Since then Sony has pioneered 4K projection in cinemas and many major releases in Hollywood now us 4K as the de facto standard. In fact there are now 10,000 4K projection systems installed worldwide.
Given that Japanese broadcaster NHK is already trialling Super Hi-Vision resolution with the BBC for the Olympics in 2012 – which is a whopping 7,680 x 4,320 pixels, 16 times that of 1080p – Japan will get 4K transmissions first.
But do we really need 4K? If the world is to embrace 3D properly, then the answer may well be yes.
Alongside the Toshiba Regza 55X3's ability to playback 4K, it is also a glasses-free 3D TV. For glasses-free 3D to work properly – and as you may have read from our demos at IFA, we're not saying glasses-free works as of yet – the picture quality has to be perfect for a home setting, and 4K is definitely close to that, being that it is equivalent to 35mm film. This doesn't mean you see 4K 3D, though, as the picture has to be split for the effect to work but if you have more pixels in the first place, then the finished effect is inevitably better.
And, if say LG, took this technology and added it to its FPR range of passive 3D TVs, then what you would be seeing would be 1080p quality footage beamed to each eye – effectively eliminating the quality argument which is stopping true HD enthusiasts snapping up passive 3D in the home.
Unlike 3D, however, 4K can never be seen as a gimmick as it offers a quality of picture that's difficult to scrutinise.
Once broadcasters take hold of the technology – and standards are already being written– it will push movie companies to remaster their 35mm content in 4K.
Couple this with the movies already shot in this format and there is a modicum of content for 4K to flourish in the living room.
There are a number of caveats, though. One stumbling block for 4K is the price. Toshiba is quoting a price of around 900,000 Yen (£7,500) for the Regza 55X3; Sony is pricing its projector at twice this, at 1.68 million Yen (circa £14,000).
In the UK 4K products will arrive around the same time as Japan – but we will have to wait a long time before any broadcaster thinks of piping content through in this quality, as the infrastructure just isn't there. Given that 4K sets will be able to upscale Blu-ray, however, the quality you will be able to get will be better than anything seen in the home before. Even with this in mind, however, 4K in the UK will be for very early adopters, the custom install market and the rich only.
Toshiba is hoping, however, to shift 1,000 units a month of the Regza 55X3. If it manages this, then it will manage in a year to install 4K into more homes than what is in cinemas worldwide.
This is high hopes for a technology that's burgeoning in the cinema market but is brand new in the home. And with the economic climate as it is will be something of a battle, even with both Sony and Toshiba on board.
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