Nearly a year ago, I wrote an article on 4K televisions. It was an article explaining just what the term ‘4K’ really meant and how they were starting to make appearances everywhere. In this piece, I won’t delve back into the technical side of things - that’s not the point of this article. Instead, I’m going to look at where exactly we are in terms of 4K now that it’s 2016, nearly a year on from my last piece. Generally speaking, the tech-industry moves fast. What usually struggles to keep up with that, is consumer-adoption of new - or upgraded technology - into daily life, and 4K is no exception.

When I say, “where we are” with 4K, this really can be split into two categories; capturing 4K video; and watching 4K video. You may very well argue, when I say 4K hasn’t moved much in the last year, that 4K is in fact everywhere now - it’s in our mobile phones, every digital camera that shoots video, every DSLR and so on - and you wouldn’t be wrong. Nearly anyone with a camcorder or smartphone can shoot 4K - but only a very small number of those people can then view it. Allow me to break it down a little…

Shooting 4K

Shooting in 4K has been around for a while now. What started with big, bulky 4K-enabled video-recorders a few years ago, fast-evolved into pocket-sized smartphones capable of shooting in the super-HD resolution.  The ability to shoot 4K videos is even now still one of the key selling aspects of a lot of smartphones - despite a lot of people still not really even knowing exactly what that means. And while a lot of cameras and smartphones are able to flaunt that they can shoot in 4K, very few actually can for very long.

Capturing video in 4K requires truly huge amounts of memory - both storage and processing. Take, for example, the Sony RS-100 digital camera. This is a fantastic, compact ‘point and shoot’ camera. It can also shoot hours and hours of stunning 1080p resolution videos (remember - 1080p is still high definition - or full HD, as some call it) without breaking a sweat.It also claims it can shoot in 4K (2160p resolution - or super-mega-omg-high-massive-fantastic HD or whatever the tech firms are using at the moment). But when you use the controls to make the switch from 1080p to 4K and start to record, the device very quickly heats up and you can see it struggling to keep up with the processing demands. Now if - and it’s a very big if - there is enough memory on the memory card inside to store a whopping 3 minutes of 4K quality video, you’ll come across another barrier between you and 3+ minutes of video - the camera will overheat and shut down. Yes, despite the RS 100 being one of the best compact digital cameras around, just 3 minutes of 4K video capture, and it’s reached its technological limit and needs a nap.

This is not unique to the RS 100 or to Sony. This is the case with a lot of digital cameras around that price point and the same goes for smartphones cameras. At the moment, 4K is just too big and powerful to record for long without buying a shed load of expensive equipment. My point here is; although it may seem the ability to record 4K is now old, everywhere and cheap, when you break it down, it’s really not. It still has a long way to go before it’s as cheap and easy-access as 1080p so despite being a year on, it’s not really moved that much in the consumer world just yet. Next up….

Viewing 4K

It’s a similar story with viewing as it is to shooting; it may seem technology has moved on and that 4K is now here and in our homes - but it really isn’t. Not yet.

No matter which television or department store you go to today, you’ll really struggle to find a TV that isn’t 4K. Whether it’s 3D (ha!), curved, super-thin, super-smart or whatever, chances are, it’s 4K. 1080p televisions seem to generally hang out in the reduced to clear sections these days. And yet, when I made a point of asking twenty people I know whether they - or anyone they knew - actually had a 4K television in their homes, only one person knew someone who had one. That’s out of literally hundreds of people; only one.

Why? Well, a number of reasons. Firstly: while the price of 4K is coming down more and more, it’s still not quite 1080p price and that means it’s still more than a lot of people are willing to pay just to upgrade the picture quality of EastEnders. Secondly: not that many people even know what 4K is still. It’s common-speak in the tech world, but ask the average consumer on the high street and they’ll tell you they’ve heard of it but haven’t a clue what it is or what it means. And lastly: a lot of people (those that do know what 4K is) just don’t feel it’s that big of an upgrade. And like a lot of new technology, people are skeptical of it and reluctant to part with thousands of pounds until they see general consumer uptake first.

At the Consumer Electronics Show 2016 last week in the States, 4K televisions were everywhere, but there were also a few 8K ones. Now while 8K televisions are probably still a few years off being ready for the average consumer, as is 8K content, when people hear there’s an upgrade already out there, it makes them even more reluctant to buy current tech, in this case 4K, for fear of wasting money of equipment that could be out of date in just a couple of years.


Finally, one last hurdle for 4K is content. In media stores around the world, you can still buy DVD format movies. These are still part of the norm. Bear in mind that DVDs are not only not 4K, but not even 1080p, and you’ll realise how far behind content really is. There is currently no SkyTV 4K, no Virgin Media 4K, not Sky Sports 4K and no 4K movies in most shops to buy. There is 4K streaming available on YouTube, providing you have both a 4K resolution monitor and a damn-fast internet connection capable of carrying all that data, but generally speaking, content is not ready. So you could spend thousands on a new state-of-the-art 4K television, but end up mostly just watching 1080p resolution content for the next couple of years while we wait for everyone to catch up.

All-in-all, even though it’s nearly a year on from my last mention of it, 4K still isn’t ready to be adopted by the general public.

Maybe 2016 will be the year it makes it, or maybe I’ll return to this topic in 2017.