Why 4K/UltraHD/2160p television will never become the common standard of American television

You may have heard about 4K, Ultra HD, or 2160p television (they’re all the same thing, and I’ll refer to it as 4K in the rest of the blog post for simplicity). Next month, television viewers with a 4K television set, DirecTV satellite television service, and the right DirecTV programming package and equipment will be able to watch a special feed of The Masters golf tournament that will provide coverage of holes 11, 12, and 13 of the Augusta National Golf Club’s main golf course in 4K. The Masters is an interesting choice for the first live 4K television broadcast in U.S. history that I’m aware of, since The Masters has historically been behind the times when it has come to golf broadcasting technology and practices.

There are several reasons why I believe that 4K will not become the standard format of American television broadcasting, or, for that matter, video broadcasting and streaming in general:

  • Most 4K televisions are very large – I live in a house that is approximately 1,000 square feet in size, and it would be difficult to fit a 4K television in any of the three rooms we currently have 720p/1080i-capable HDTVs. Very few 4K-capable television sets are smaller than 40 inches, and many of them are much larger than that.
  • Making 4K-compatible computer monitors (especially the case for laptops), tablets, and smartphones is very difficult, if not impossible – These devices have screens that are much smaller than the screen of a typical 4K television set. Try fitting 8,294,400 pixels on a smartphone screen, and you’ll get a general idea of what I’m talking about.
  • Our television infrastructure was built for 720p, 1080i, and 1080p, not 4K – Transmitting a 4K television signal takes up a lot more of the available bit rate than 720p, 1080i, or 1080p. If it’s even possible to transmit 4K over-the-air, transmitting an over-the-air 4K signal would take up most, if not all, of a 6 MHz over-the-air digital television transmission channel’s bit rate, leaving no room for over-the-air subchannels in any format. Cable and satellite television providers use most or all of their available bitrate to provide hundreds of 720p, 1080i, and 1080p channels and other viewing options, so it would be extremely difficult, if not impossible, to provide more than a few 4K options to their viewers.
  • It would require faster internet connections to stream 4K video over an internet connection – I have an internet connection that provides roughly 18 megabytes per second of combined upload/download speed, and I have little trouble streaming 720p, 1080i, or 1080p video. However, streaming 4K video would require a considerably faster internet connection.

While 4K will probably become commonly used in some practices, such as movie theaters and video games, to expect 4K to become the television industry standard for broadcasting television is laughably absurd.

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