Video Engineering

What’s the Future of a Pixel?

What's The Future of a Pixel?

Walking around the Consumer Electronics Show in early January, I was impressed by the number of 4k TV displays. It seems to be a foregone conclusion that people need and want more and more pixels. But, are we sure that’s the best use of advancing technology? True, as anyone walks up to one of these 4k displays and looks at the extreme detail of the image, he or she is duly impressed. But, how many owners will spend most of their time six inches away from the display?

Apple was the first company to actively market this fact by announcing its “retina displays” in 2010. Apple’s point to the world was that there is a pixel density that is high enough that a person is unable to discern the individual pixels at a normal viewing distance. Isn’t that the crux of the matter? What is a “normal” viewing distance? Will TV sets get so large that we need 4k resolution in order to achieve non-discernible pixels at a normal distance?

That begs the question, “Is more always better?” Sometimes you don’t need “more” to make it better; you just need it “better.” If you are eating at a fast food restaurant, do you need more greasy burgers to make it better, or do you actually need better ingredients to make it better? Likewise, instead of increasing the number of mediocre pixels, how about increasing the quality of the pixels we already have? How about increasing the maximum brightness and offering more shades of brightness for each pixel? How about increasing the range of colors available to each pixel by encoding a wider range of colors? The impact of High Dynamic Range (HDR) and increased color gamut is dramatic. At a normal viewing distance, the increased quality of the pixels really makes the image pop to life, while the increase in pixel count does virtually nothing to improve the experience.

What does this mean for cable? SCTE’s Digital Video Subcommittee is monitoring these trends and creating standards for how these new technologies will be transported over cable networks. Play a part by joining the ANSI-accredited SCTE Standards Program.

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