4K Ultra HD is sneaking up on the entertainment industry with speed and ferocity, but will media streaming services looking to employ this quality be able to keep up?
“This isn’t like going from standard definition to 1080p or HDMI, which took a good five to seven years to come to fruition,” says Joe Whitaker, founder and president of Joe Whitaker Designs and The Thoughtful Home. “4K is coming fast. In two years, we have it. Everybody’s using it.”
4K has certainly become a major buzz word in the industry—a vibrant visual technology that allows viewers to experience theater-quality images in the comforts of their own home.
“It’s not like 3D televisions, which had a splash at CES but then never really materialized,” says Stephanie Casimiro, marketing director at Metra Home Theater Group. “4K is being content driven. Customers are actually asking for it.”
They want to use 4K for streaming, which is also a major trend in media consumption and the focus of this series. In part one, we explored the luxury options out there for hi-res audio and the types of networks best suited for streaming such caliber.
4K faces similar issues. While the content is available and this quality can be achieved in many ways, is network infrastructure able to accommodate streaming specifically?
“You have all these things that are recognized as not the future of home theaters, but the now. This includes, at minimum, 4K, 4:4:4 color space and 60 frames per second,” says Whitaker. “What we get from the streaming is not that color space and not that level of quality. The infrastructure hasn’t caught up to the expectations of that dream—luxury home theater.”
Is Wireless Enough?
How will the infrastructure begin to adhere to the standards required of 4K streaming?
Stephanie Casimiro firmly believes that streaming is the future of 4K. However, it all depends on the wireless connection, which she doubts as currently being capable of “True 4K.”
“The Internet is lagging behind, which is unusual,” says Casimiro.
There is also pre-wired network infrastructure, which Joe Piccirilli, CEO of Rosewater Energy Group, believes is the best option for achieving the potential of 4K. He notes that, especially in new constructions or any place capable of retrofitting, people are best off going wired.
According to him, wireless is for situations where you have forgotten to retrofit or simply can’t do wired.
“But on its own, wireless just isn’t enough,” says Piccirilli. “That doesn’t mean there won’t be some breakthrough in packet technology that none of us know about yet, except somebody in their garage, right now, who’s 13 years old.”
Piccirilli adds that even if your luxury clients can’t afford or immediately desire a home theater, they will want their home retrofitted regardless.
“When they are able to get it, they are going to want it,” says Piccirilli. “The builders have to be prepared to offer a house with the infrastructure that will accommodate the demands that streaming audio and video are going to place on the home.”
Achieving 4K Now
While networks are still playing catch up to streaming possibilities, 4K quality can still be achieved. Home theaters can integrate 4K projectors or televisions, and studios have begun releasing 4K Ultra HD Blu-rays that can accomplish this level of visual value.
“I believe there will be a slight—and I say slight, because it won’t be too long before streaming catches up—a slight resurgence of physical media due to the expectations of a consumer in a luxury home theater,” says Whitaker.
He compares it to when 1080p HD Blu-ray players became a core component of the market while streaming services like Netflix and Vudu were still streaming in 720p.
“Right now, you’ll definitely see more use of Blu-ray players in home theaters,” agrees Casimiro. “But I believe streaming is the future.”