I love these shows that have sprung up lately about companies and/or individuals prepping for the supposed end of the world. I don’t love ’em because I’m a believer that the end of the world is imminent, I enjoy them because of the extremes these individuals are willing to go to in order to do what they feel is necessary. There are some parallel themes between these so-called preppers and us home theater enthusiasts. Like preppers, we enthusiasts are about to have a technological shift forced upon us in the form of 4K and, as with any new or emerging technology, it is important to separate fact from fiction, reality from fantasy. I therefore decided to think like a prepper and put forth my best advice for weathering the 4K apocalypse.
At present, there are a few true 4K displays available to the general public, but for most of us, they’re simply priced out of the realm of reason, let alone the market. Even if you did have the money, I would warn against buying anything that wasn’t full D-Cinema-compliant, for there are still a number of unknowns when it comes to what our consumer 4K standard is going to look like (though we have a good idea), suffice to say we know it won’t be superior to D-Cinema 4K. Unfortunately, D-Cinema-compliant 4K displays, like SIM2’s new Christie sourced DLP projector or some of Sony’s CineAlta SXRD projectors, are even more expensive than the so-called mainstream 4K or QFHD displays being rolled out now. Also, with time, technology gets cheaper and more readily accessible, and 4K is no different.
Which brings us to 4K upscaling devices. Ranging from Blu-ray players to AV preamps and receivers, the industry is saying hello to more and more upscaling players in preparation for 4K’s homecoming. The problem with 4K upscaling is this: where are you sending that 4K upscaled signal? If you answered your HDTV, you’re correct, meaning all that upscaling didn’t do you any good, for it was immediately downscaled back to HD once it hit your display – if it played at all. Some argue that 4K upscaling is not a waste once you plug it into a native 4K device, and to this argument, I say, you’re half right. You see, all 4K displays (much like HD ones) automatically upscale to 4K – they have to. If they didn’t, your newly purchased 4K display would look mighty silly when showing HD content, for you’d have a small image surrounded by very large black bars, both top and bottom and side to side. Remember, 4K, or QFHD, is four times the resolution of HD, meaning you can fit four full-HD images inside QFHD’s native resolution. Without auto upscaling, three of those four quadrants would be devoid of information. Make sense? Supporters of upscaling 4K devices will tell you that it is possible that the source will do a better job of upscaling than the display, and they might be right. However, I’d rather that be have a true native 4K source than an HD one that merely upscales and outputs to 4K. When and if a consumer 4K standard is ratified, those 4K upscaling players purchased today will be little more than fancy HD-only devices, meaning, once again, you’ll have to buy a new 4K-capable product. Remember, we’re prepping for the inevitable by stockpiling useful tools, not running around like headless chickens.
So where does that leave us? We know 4K is coming. How do we best prepare? The most economical way is to wait and see what happens. But we’re preppers, we don’t react, we act. Well, for starters, I’d think about investing in front-projection rather than direct-view displays. The reason for this is that a screen is a screen, 4K or not. Hell, white drywall is 4K-ready and is available at Lowes today for about $15 a sheet. You can buy a large screen of any material and point an inexpensive HD projector at it now, and enjoy home theater in ways you may never have thought possible. Then, when 4K becomes more economical, you need only to upgrade your projector, which may be more cost-effective than having to buy a new, even larger QFHD display. As for components, don’t look for products touting 4K upscaling, look for products that have 4K/2K pass-through. Pass-through means that when true 4K hits home, that product will be able to pass the signal and, in the case of AV receivers and/or preamps, even switch it. I would personally avoid any upscaling (unless it is done at the display and can’t be avoided) at present until true 4K devices are ready for, no matter what anyone tells you, all current 4K-upscaling devices, players or others, are still only HD at heart. These upscaling devices will never be able to accept a true native 4K signal, ever.
So there you have it, my strategy for weathering the upcoming 4K apocalypse. Do I think the switch to 4K is going to be catastrophic? No. It will probably hit like a taco fart in a wind tunnel: a big deal one minute, then just something that happened the next. Look at 3D, a lot of woo-hoo for nothin’, but that doesn’t mean you need to waste your time and/or money trying to be the first out of the starting gate. If you’re gung-ho for 4K, I feel these are the ways to best prepare yourself for its arrival without getting burned.