Consumer electronics companies have a different set of challenges from that of cinema owners. Consumer companies build revenue by pitching consumers to buy fancy new gear, unlike cinema owners, who attract audiences with new content. 3D pervaded the annual CES show in Las Vegas for the past few years. This year, it was 4K and giant screens.
Giant screens are becoming more interesting, as the industry focuses not only on size, but on better blacks in its displays. Beautiful OLED and LCD technologies were on display by every major manufacturer. But among the many display technologies shown, however, one display technology stood out above them all: DLP with laser illumination. DLP short range projectors, having impressive keystone correction and targeted for the commercial market, were on display, illuminated by laser light. Without doubt, these were absolutely the worst looking displays seen at CES, for reasons that should be clear to readers of our reports. That’s the “good” news.
The “bad” news is that the consumer industry is further blurting its technology with that of cinema. In the eyes of consumer industry pundits, the push for fancier displays in the home eventually eliminates the need for cinemas. That 4K is becoming a buzz word in consumer electronics contributes to that story. Which says a lot about whether or not cinemas should push technology at all to the consumer. To date, only one manufacturer, Sony, puts a trailer in cinemas that says “4K.” Amazingly, those cinemas didn’t foresee that they would be promoting a soon-to-be consumer buzzword.
If there’s any doubt, this publication will continue to say that 4K has little benefit in cinemas. Only those that seat the audience close to the screen to make cinema immersive, such as IMAX, can possibly benefit. In the vast majority of cinemas, 4K can only be seen from the front rows, which are the rows least valued by customers.
The one argument for 4K in the cinema, and an argument that equally perplexes an introduction of the format to the home, is that of frame rate. The benefit of having one without the other is somewhat limited. This is because we want to look at moving images, as opposed to the static, or slowly moving, images, that manufacturers show off their 4K wares with. Higher frame rates provide the viewer with more images to view in the presence of motion. Likewise, finer movements on screen are best seen when more pixels are employed.
There are other hurdles to bringing 4K to the home. Popular cable and satellite distribution channels to the home have limited data pipes to work with. Higher resolution images require high compression, reducing much of the expected benefits in quality. Streaming media over Internet has the same issues. That leaves Blu-Ray, where 4K is being given consideration as the next generation format. Of course, the step of standardization, and the subsequent step of implementation to the home, would take up to 10 years to accomplish significant market penetration. It only gets more complicated when higher resolution is coupled with higher frame rate, as the amount of data to be stored multiplies. In turn, the technology needed for an appropriately sized distribution disc has yet to materialize, something no amount of standards will fix.
This points to the major difference between technology in cinema, and technology in the home. Consumer technology requires deep penetration in the marketplace to make a difference. Cinema technology, on the other hand, doesn’t have to have a broad footprint to make a difference. Let the pundits make all the noise they wish. And take that “4K” trailer out of your playlists.