We have all done it before. You walk into the electronics store, pass through the TV section, and wonder if we could ever possibly get National Geographic footage any clearer than you see showcased on that ninety-six inch behemoth of a screen. It feels like it was only a short while ago when HD became the next big thing. First came 720p, then 1080p, and the lucky few of us basked in the precious few channels that could handle the kind of quality we were craving. Those top fifteen shows, available on those top three channels, handled by only the top cable providers were calling to early adopters that ached for tech status. It was a much-coveted luxury.
Now, we’re clicking the bottom right hand corner of our YouTube search results and hoping that our recommended video choice is going to have the quality we’ve nearly come to expect. The content is free, and yet we often feel like we want our money back when those necessities aren’t met.
Online video has come a long way since 1080p hit the scene, and many players in the industry have been working to jump ahead of the curve on quality ever since. For a quick example, 4K was supported by YouTube all the way back in 2010, and they’ve been pushing to improve content quality from creators for years now.
So, after YouTube made its much anticipated announcement that 4K is reeling its way into the online video horizon, we’re similarly scrambling for the next bit of tech news that’s going to crack this next egg wide open. The question we all want to ask is, who’s going to eat it up?
The Endless Pursuit of Video Quality
The importance of content quality is pretty clear across the board, puns aside, but questions like these have sprouted their way up through the online video community. When does quality truly outperform the human eye? Technically, we’ve already reached 8K capability, so is 4K just one more step in a seemingly endless pursuit of technological boundaries?
I’m going to go ahead and say it - I think 4K will find a very comfortable home in our everyday lives, and I believe that online video will play a big role in our consumption of this next-level resolution. Like any new tech trend, we first have to look at early consumer adopters and how they will change the perspective of the market. At first, the difference in picture quality will only truly be enjoyed by those that are seriously passionate about it.
To make it more digestible, let’s compare it similarly to the latest push for High Definition Audio among enthusiasts, producers and DJs in the music industry. Music has always been a very public industry unlike the more recent democratization of online video, but this push for quality has been very front-and-centre recently. Why? Because technology plays such a big part in the latest forms and trends, and a top-notch recording may not sound different on a set of forty-dollar headphones, but it will undoubtedly make a difference when the track is remixed in a stadium for a crowd of twelve-thousand. The industry is changing to match this early adopter, and I’m expecting a similar scenario for 4K.
4K and the Mobile Video Viewer
It’s safe to say that 4K will, similarly to High Definition Audio on a set of headphones, make little difference to the mobile viewer - despite a consumer base that has been growing massively over the past couple of years - but it will be a noticeable enhancement on the larger screen. As these big screens broaden their variety of inputs - whether it be services like Netflix or Hulu, platforms like YouTube or Vimeo, or providers like TWC or Comcast - 4K will be a must-have in the entertainment ecosystem in the years to come. It has already found its place in the upcoming season of Netflix’s House of Cards, giving way to its inclusion in other series as well. In time, no provider will want to risk losing viewership to a 1080p quality cap - we will come to take it for granted as we have with current quality standards.
Online video is stepping up its game to have the best possible experience on all screen sizes, and Youtube will play an important role in bringing 4K to the common content creator and online video viewer alike. As the next couple of years play out, we’ll be able to watch the tech trend grow and shape the industry as it has in the past, and I’m personally looking forward to getting my hands on this tech as it reaches the consumer budget. Sony already revealed at CES that 4K capability has broken the two-thousand dollar mark for recording devices, and GoPro is bringing some intriguing early examples to get excited about.