Visible light is actually invisible unless it makes a direct strike on your eyeball.
You won’t see a light shining in a dark room unless that light strikes an object and gets refracted onto your retina. The same concept applies to the current “it girl” of live video streaming and video conferencing, 4K displays.
4K is all around us, on Netflix, Youtube, Amazon, and even on YouTube Live. But unless you’ve got a great broadband connection, a top-of-the-range computer processor, and a high-tech monitor, you’re left sitting alone in the dark.
Still, we’re moving toward a day when 4K video will become available to the general public with the release of a couple of affordable hardware options. Once that day dawns we’ll see each other across any distance in a clarity and reality way beyond what we’re currently used to.
What Difference Does a 4K Display Make?
In a nutshell, 4K displays pack in four times as many pixels as their high definition predecessors over the same area. That translates to far greater clarity, as each pixel is required to carry smaller amounts of information, creating more vibrant colors, cleaner and rounder edges, and deeper blacks. If you’re familiar with sitting too close to the television you’ll have noticed the screen is made up of a grid of colored squares. 4K displays just have thousands more of those than anything else on the market.
The only drawback to having all those extra carriers of information is you’ve now got a lot more information to convey, and that’s where the broadband congestion comes into play. (And, broadband aside, 4K asks an awful lot of your computer and monitor–you’ve got to have a monitor that can show 4K clarity).
Netflix, for instance, recommends an internet connection of at least 25Mbps to watch 4K streams, a figure five times higher than is required for HD viewing. That’s an enormous difference, especially because the information is only flowing in one direction.
While the average U.S. internet connection can now download information at a healthy 50Mbps–certainly good enough for 4K video streaming–it can upload at less than 19Mbps. As the information in a video call is flowing in both directions, that rules out making 4K video conferencing, at least for the average person. A couple of recently released cameras, however, have at least made recording in 4K practical.
Solaborate HELLO and the Logitech Brio
Kickstarter-funded HELLO by Solaborate uses your TV to create a 4K video calling experience in your own living room. It is currently on sale with free lifetime use for $199, and while it has yet to be battle tested en masse it represents something of an alternative to video calling by computer and smartphone.
Meanwhile, Logitech has just released its own 4K device, a webcam called the Brio. It too can generate 4K video recording and video conferencing, and it too is available at around the $200 mark. The Brio’s 4K function is designed to operate at a healthy speed of 30fps, but so far seems to be making greater impression on the Youtube streaming crowd as a 60fps HD camera.
The bottom line is that both these offerings come at a price point that can move the average social video caller and streamer from being a consumer of 4K to a producer.
4K Video Conferencing and Collaboration
The hyper-clarity of 4K most immediately suggests that it could be useful as a professional tool, notably in the arenas of business, entertainment, and health. Who benefits from a live, two-way conversation with clear-as-life imagery more than a doctor consulting with a remote patient?
The small business owner and the social caller have plenty reason to pursue 4K as well. Such a high-tech connection would allow a business to seriously punch above its weight, if it could get a little creative. The clarity of 4K could be used to display merchandise, in-room technical models, multimedia presentations, and visual effects in real-life detail. Imagine a product demonstration beamed halfway around the world that was as clear and crisp as if the salesperson were handing the device directly to their potential partners.
On the personal front, 4K could finally make video conferencing feel more like actually being with someone in person. You could stare into your loved one’s eyes from across the country and find every treasured color faithfully rendered. Granny could finally make out the details of that drawing her grandchild is holding in front of the camera, and every tiny fingernail and subtle facial expression of a newborn baby could be relayed to relatives online.
Two-way video connections in 4K may still be out of reach for most, but we think the promise of 4K is worth a little patience.