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What is Ultra HD?

By J. Dellaporta
Updated May 16, 2024
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Ultra HD stands for ultra high definition. It is a prototype for a new digital video format and is also referred to as ultra high definition video (UHDV). This technology is the proposed replacement for existing high definition television (HDTV).

The highest-resolution HD monitors currently available offer 1,080 lines of resolution in a progressive-scan format — also known as 1080p video. These screens have 1,920 x 1,080 pixels and are theoretically capable of displaying every pixel of the highest-resolution HD broadcasts. These sets are sometimes called “ultra HD” as a marketing term, but in fact are part of the current HDTV standard.

True ultra HD is so named because it provides a video resolution containing 16 times as many pixels as current HD. Whereas HDTV uses 1,080 lines of resolution, ultra HD contains 4,320. It uses 7,680 x 4,320 pixels in a widescreen aspect ratio of 16x9, making for a total of approximately 33 million pixels (33 megapixels). The technology also offers improved sound quality: a 22.2 channel sound system reproduces 24 different channels of audio in three vertical layers of speakers, compared to currently available surround sound systems that use 5 or 6 channels.

Ultra HD was developed by a Japanese public broadcast company and research group called NHK Science and Technical Research Laboratories. Their aim in designing it is to present images and sound realistic enough to give viewers the sensation of being part of the scene — one reason the format is four times as high and four times as wide as HD. One screen built to demonstrate the technology spans 400 inches (1,016 cm). This provides viewers with a field of view perspective of about 100°, compared to 30° on commercially available screens. Some observers have even reported vertigo during demonstrations.

There are numerous practical problems for manufacturers seeking to bring the new format to consumers. The uncompressed video and audio recorded in ultra HD takes up high volumes of storage space — 3.5 terabytes for one 18-minute clip, requiring a hard disc weighing almost 600 pounds (272 kg). The prototype screen can use more electricity than an entire house might in one month. An early camera weighs more than 100 pounds (45 kg).

Because of these issues, ultra HD will likely be used in large venues such as museums before and if it becomes commercially available. As it is still at the concept stage, it will likely not be available to the public for some years. NHK has an internal goal of getting it to market by 2025.

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Discussion Comments
By anon263874 — On Apr 26, 2012

It took a considerable length of time for people and broadcasters to be convinced about HD. This was despite the fact that there was already enough space for trial HD channels.

The most common reason for delays in channels launching or going fta is space issues. As such it is unlikely that UHDTV will be used in places other than special events.

Given the practical problems to overcome and the need for people to buy an even more expensive tv, 2025 sounds very optimistic.

By NathanG — On Jun 02, 2011

@Mammmood - I think the challenge for consumers will be to make their way through the marketing buzz words and hype. Already, for example, I am reading reviews about the popular flip HD camcorder being called an Ultra HD flip camcorder, when there is nothing Ultra about it.

The resolution is 720 progressive shot at 30 frames a second—not even close to Ultra HD. I guess in this context Ultra is being used as part of their product name and not really a description of the quality of the video.

By Mammmood — On May 30, 2011

@drtroubles - One of the corollary problems with HD TV is not just the TV itself, but the other consumer grade products that must be compatible with it. Video games are one example, but other examples are digital camcorders. I still have my trusty TRV 900 camcorder I bought ten years ago. While I can pipe the video through my HD set, the video is itself standard video.

If I were to buy an HD camcorder, video editing would take up substantially more hard drive space. Now we are talking about leaving the HD standard to move into Ultra HD digital televisions—and subsequently, Ultra HD camcorders at some point.

I can’t even begin to imagine the recording medium you would need for these camcorders, much less the amount of storage on your computer, to work with the format in a productive way.

I think for this reason, the digital camcorder technology will be lagging behind long after Ultra HD comes to mass market.

By popcorn — On May 30, 2011

Has anyone ever seen an ultra HD demonstration? I would love to have the chance to see what technology will be like in another decade or so.

I am an avid movie fan and feel that creating a bigger more realistic experience is all part and partial to our developing new ways to entertain. Currently the new digital HD cinemas are creating new standards for film and displaying impressive quality.

I have to wonder though, at what point does the human eye stop being impressive by more pixels per inch. What would it take to get a real life resolution, so that we couldn't tell the difference?

By drtroubles — On May 30, 2011

It is amazing to see how technology is progressing. I think that with ultra HD we are going to see big changes in how things like movies and video games are produced. With the kind of detail that would be available at 7,680 x 4,320 pixels it will be impressive to see what film and game makers show us.

2025 is a long way off, and I hope that producing this technology for home use will be faster. While not many of us have multi-terabyte drives in our homes, there are those that are already getting comfortable with storing more files. I imagine that storing bigger files will become the norm. Already, things such as movie files and music files are becoming larger to accommodate the higher quality available.

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