4k Resolution

If you have bought a TV or projector in the last few years it will almost certainly be 1080p ready. While 1080p is great for large screen TVs, larger projection screens quickly shows the limitation of this format.

Above you can see the same source material on both a 1080p and a 4k projector. As you can see 1080p content simply looks better when played on a 4k projector.

As the photos illustrate, the exact same source, on the same screen produces a much sharper, clearer image using the 4k projector. With pixels 25% the size of 1080p projectors, pictures are produced with 4 times the resolution. As a result much larger images can be enjoyed with no loss of quality. Alternatively, far shorter viewing distances can be enjoyed with the same size of screen.

home cinema projector

Is 4k Just Another Gimmick

Unlike 3D, which many viewers find distracting, the increased picture quality that 4k resolution provides offers a genuine improvement in viewing experience. For the first time this allows film enthusiasts to enjoy picture quality at home that is comparable to the very best cinemas. As such we are convinced that this new format is absolutely here to stay.

With recent commitment from Hollywood’s big names such as Peter Jackson, Ridley Scott and Tim Burton, the 4k format is not going to go away.

What is the Maximum Screen Size?

With 1080p projectors, the limitation in the size of screen that could be enjoyed was created by the size of the pixels that made up the image. With screens much beyond 8 foot wide, pixels could be seen which compromised picture quality. With 4k resolution, pixels are 25% the size of 1080p projectors - 4k pixels are simply too tiny to see. As such we are now installing screens sizes up to 18 foot wide.

Why is there no 4k Content?

Digital projectors that capture 4k images are available now and being used in film production. As Sony are one of the world’s leading production companies and they also manufacturer their own projectors, they are expected to be one of the first film companies to provide native 4k content to the home user. Until then the incredible picture quality that you can see in the photos can still be enjoyed through their own “Reality Creation” which simulates 4k content from lower resolution source information. The far lower cost of producing and distributing movies digitally rather than on film is another factor that makes the arrival of 4k resolution and other higher resolution sources inevitable.

Where can I see the difference between 1080p and 4k resolution?

As ever, the only way to decide if 4k resolution really is a significant improvement over 1080p is with a thorough demonstration of both formats. A larger screen size makes comparing and evaluating both technologies quick and simple. To help with this, at Gecko we have installed a new 5m screen in the largest of our 3 screening rooms, where you can compare 4k resolution with Sim2 Projectors and Runco Projectors.

1080p vs 4K Simulated picture with 1080p pixel sizeSimulated picture with 4k pixel size

Do I Need a Different Screen?

If you have a flat white screen it will be perfect for 4k projection. Vinyl screens with acoustic perforations and some woven screens however will compromise picture quality. Where the best picture and sound quality is required we typically recommend Seymour AV screens as providing the best combination of acoustic and video performance. These screens are also excellent value for money.

Do I Need New Cables / Sources?

You can enjoy you existing TV and film content with improved picture quality on a 4k projector now, however when films are shot and released in 4k it is almost certain to be in a new format that will further improve picture quality. According to Sony, existing HDMI 1.4a cabling has enough bandwidth to pass 4k content.

Anamorphic & Widescreen

Because of the relatively low resolution of 1080p projectors, to get the best from Widescreen 2.35 content, secondary anamorphic lenses are required to try and improve picture quality and brightness. Good quality anamorphic lenses, the additional video processing and the motorised sleds required to get the best with these lenses are seriously expensive.

Because of the huge improvement in resolution that 4k projectors provide, widescreen images can be enjoyed on 4k projectors without the need for secondary lenses and scaling. This makes them the perfect choice for watching 16:9 TV shaped images and 2.35 Widescreen films at their best.

Brightness / Contrast and the Auto Iris

Maintaining high brightness and contrast in an image is critical to good picture quality. Few projectors have lamps more powerful than 300w, which limits projector output and therefore the size of image that can be created.

The Sony VPL VW1000E that we have compared with Sim2 projectors and Runco projectors for this article uses the first Auto Iris that we can recommend. Just like the human eye, the iris on this projector opens and closes to maintain optimal brightness and contrast for the content being shown. As a result this projector can produce bright, well saturated images on very large screens sizes without the need for the type of huge, noisy and very expensive projectors that were required in the past.

Reality Creation

Currently there is no content that can be played back in 4k resolution; however the improved picture quality that 4k projectors provide can still be enjoyed with the right video processing. Sony have been manufacturing their own 4k chipsets since 2005 and at the same time have been developing one of the industry's most effective up-scaling technologies called 'Reality Creation'.

'Reality Creation' is not a simple scaler or line doubler, but the insertion of frames based on their analysis of their huge data banks of full 4k content. When correctly used this remarkable technology creates a huge improvement in picture detail and sharpness.

Comparing 4k with Film

The Digital Cinema Symposium presented by D3D Cinema and Moody Gardens held in Galveston, Texas marked the first time that 4K digital and 70mm film projectors were set up in a side-by-side comparison to assess and compare the qualities of each format and technology.

Films are very rarely shot in 70mm due to the huge cost of the film stock however this format provides the best possible images available from film.

The format of the shootout entailed simultaneous projection of both film and digital formats on a split-screen to enable experts to compare and contrast the two technologies. The split-screen demonstration was revealing, accentuating the anomalies of film-based projection such as noticeable vibration and dirt, effectively lowering the perceived resolution of the image, while the digital version featured excellent colour depth, a cleaner picture, and greater image stability.

“Film purists thought that we were years away from a day when digital would equal or surpass large-format film presentation. However, in an informal straw poll of roughly 120 industry veterans in attendance, an overwhelming majority favoured Barco's 4K digital version, both in terms of image quality and overall presentation,” says Andy Wood, senior vice president, D3D Cinema. “This is an incredible milestone for our industry, elevating digital as a viable giant screen exhibition solution among some of the world's finest cultural institutions.”

Case Study: Comparing £100,000GBP Runco VX44D 1080p v £17,000GBP Sony 4k Projector

The projectors being used were the first 4k consumer projector from Sony, the VPL VW1000ES (£16,800) and the 3 chip 1080p DLP Runco VX44d (£80,000). Both projectors were fed the same source and shot on to the same 4.5m wide screen.

More 4k Facts

  • In the USA, 47% of 3D commercial cinemas chose Sony projectors
  • More Hollywood Studios are supporting 4Kwith recent additions including Paramount, Warner Brothers, 20th Century Fox, and Sony Pictures.
  • 4K Film Releases are Increasing – with recent releases including The Green Hornet, Battle: LA, Priest, Bad Teacher, 30 Minutes or Less, with upcoming titles to include Straw Dogs, Restless, Moneyball and Premium
  • Currently (Feb 2012) Runco Projectors, Sim2 Projectors and Digital Projection do not offer higher resolution ‘4k’ projectors. The Sony VPL VW1000ES is presently the only home cinema projector with 4k resolution – giving four times the resolution of 1080p projectors.

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