Oct. 19, 2012 at 2:54 PM ET
No sooner does everyone finally get around to updating to a nice, big 1080p TV, but the TV makers announce that there's a new resolution in town: Ultra High-Definition. And it's way better — at least, it will be once there's any UHD content.
The new standard is 3840 pixels wide by 2160 tall — double the horizontal and vertical resolution of 1080p, which is 1920x1080. That means there are four times as many pixels on the TV: 8,294,400, to be exact.
The Consumer Electronics Association is a trade association that promotes tech and gadgets, setting standards and putting on shows like the massive CES in Las Vegas. Thursday, their "Board of Industry Leaders," which includes representatives from dozens of electronics retailers and manufacturers, voted unanimously to give the next-generation TV resolution the UHD moniker.
For an idea of how much larger UHD is than 1080p, look no further than this simple chart:
It used to be known to video and image professionals as 4K, a reference to the number of horizontal pixels on a number of high-definition cameras. Their images were 4096 pixels across, but for a new TV standard it was more practical to just multiple 1080p's resolution by two, resulting in the slightly inferior but easier to deal with 3840x2160. It's a lot of numbers to juggle, but that's what imaging pros do.
So what does it look like? Unfortunately, it's kind of hard to say; there are almost no displays that can show UHD content, and very few cameras that capture it adequately. Although such cameras exist (even smaller devices like DSLRs and the rugged GoPros shoot 4K), there's a problem: With such a high resolution, even the smallest flaws in the scene, image sensor, lens, or lighting become apparent.
Not only that, but the bandwidth in our digital cable channels isn't good enough to carry all that visual information, leading to bad picture quality and necessitating things like upscaling. But similar obstacles were encountered when TVs and production facilities moved to HD a few years ago, and they just take time and a little money to fix.
You can expect to see a few UHD TVs at CES this year (and some "4K" ones, since Sony is not accepting the new name), but the UHD standard is still in a very early stage, so buying in at this point is not recommended. But this reporter can confirm, having actually seen imagery shot at and displayed at UHD resolution, that it is definitely something to behold.
Devin Coldewey is a contributing writer for NBC News Digital. His personal website is coldewey.cc.