Demystifying 4K

It has been a few years since 4k video resolution first showed up in consumer home theater markets. The first 4k video projector for home use was released in early 2012, but it isn't until now that 4k technology, and content, is becoming more widely available.

Alphabet Soup

4k, UHDTV, and Ultra HD, all mean the exact same thing, more or less. 4k is short hand for 4000 pixels, the rough width of 4k video resolution. To make things more confusing, 4k is measured differently than 1080p or HD, which is the current video standard most consumers are familiar with. 1080p is measured height wise, meaning the image resolution is 1080 pixels high.

If you are still confused about what a pixel is, don't be. Anyone who has put their face too close to a picture (or painting) to see the small visible dots making up the image has seen pixels. That's all they are, tiny measurable bits of color that make up a digital image. So, the terms 4k, Ultra High Definition Television, and Ultra High Definition, all refer to a screen that displays an image that is about 4000 pixels wide. This becomes very important when screens start becoming larger, because those same 4000 pixels will need to stretch the entire width of your television whether it is 20 inches, or 70 inches wide. But more on that later.

 Magnifying a digital image shows that it is made up of tiny blocks of color called pixels.   Source: Wikipedia

Magnifying a digital image shows that it is made up of tiny blocks of color called pixels.  Source: Wikipedia

Math Magic

Both the pixel height and width of 4K resolution is doubled when compared to 1080p HD. Our current 1080p high definition screens are 1920 pixels wide by 1080 pixels tall, whereas 4K TV screens are usually 3840 pixels wide by 2160 pixels tall. Thanks to the magic of multiplication that means the overall resolution (total number of pixels) of 4K is four times that of our current HD televisions! Having four times as many pixels in the same amount of space means that they are packed much more tightly, making the image sharper, more life like, and more capable or representing subtle variations in color. 

 More pixels in the same amount of space give our eyes additional information. This helps deliver more lifelike images.  Source: Sharpusa.com

More pixels in the same amount of space give our eyes additional information. This helps deliver more lifelike images. Source: Sharpusa.com

Screen Size & Pixel Density

4K delivers the same amount of pixels regardless of the size of the screen being viewed. So, whether you are watching 4K video on a 20 ft movie screen, or a 20 in computer monitor the same amount of information is filling both screens. Smaller screens will have a much higher density of pixels for a given area because there is less total area to fill. The opposite is true for larger screens. If this concept seems confusing, think about painting a wall in a house. A small wall might take a half can of paint to cover, whereas a larger wall might take three or four cans. If there is only so much paint, it can only cover so large a wall before being spread thin. On the flip side, using all of the paint on a small wall proves wasteful because after a couple of coats it won't look any better. The same is true for pixels per inch on a video screen. Too few pixels and the image starts to degrade. Too many pixels won't cause the image to be worse, but after a certain point they won't cause the image to look any better either. Those familiar with Apple computer products may have heard the term "Retina Display" before. This is Apple marketing speak for a pixel density that reaches the highest level of quality the human eye can determine. Or, in our analogy, Apple is saying that they've provided you with just the right amount of paint without being wasteful. Based on this information, 4K video is most beneficial on larger TV and Movie screens, or in a situation where the viewer is very close to the screen (like a computer monitor). 4k video increases the pixel density (or pixels per inch) of a given screen, allowing screens to become larger while still increasing image quality. 

 Pixel density = PPI (pixels per inch). At 4k resolution, the smaller the screen the easier it is to achieve a high pixel density.

Pixel density = PPI (pixels per inch). At 4k resolution, the smaller the screen the easier it is to achieve a high pixel density.

Content, Content, Content!

For 4K to work, it isn't enough that the screen can display 4K resolution. The movie, TV show, or video being displayed also needs to have been created in at least 4K. For home theater enthusiasts, this means that their physical media (like Blurays) or streaming services (like Netflix or VUDU) need to support 4k. So without additional content, it might appear that having a 4K television won't do much good. Fortunately, this is only half true. When buying a top end ultra high definition television, 4K is only one of many improvements over older sets.  Think of 4K as a nice feature, but not necessarily the only selling point of a new UHD TV. It's nice to have, and consumers will be able to take advantage of it as more content becomes readily available. It is not however the only benefit consumers will be receiving when upgrading their TVs. The best 4K TVs also happen to provide enhanced color reproduction and advanced features like LED local dimming. These improvements are definitely noticeable regardless of the resolution of content being displayed.

Worth Upgrading?

If you are buying a TV solely because it is advertised as 4K I'd slow down a bit. First, you want to make sure that the screen is large enough, or you will be sitting close enough, to take advantage of the enhanced resolution. Next, you'll need to determine if you have access to 4K content to view on your new TV or projector. Amazon and Netlflix are already streaming some content in 4K, Sony has a dedicated 4K movie streaming service, DirecTV is upgrading,  and physical 4K media (like Blurays) are already in the pipeline source: Engadget. 

Ultimately, if you want to upgrade to a new high end ultra high definition television, and 4K just happens to be one of many new features included, don't hesitate just because there doesn't appear to be much 4K content available, because it is on the way. New screens also showcase some nice technology you can immediately take advantage of that marketers aren't pushing just because it doesn't fit into two characters: 4K.

 

 

 

 

Dolby Atmos Explained

In late 2014 Dolby announced it would be bringing Atmos technology to home theater systems. But without living in a major market area like New York or Los Angeles, It's still difficult to experience Atmos at a local theater, let alone decide if it's worth investing in a home system. There are two main premises of Atmos. The first is overheard sound, provided by adding between 2 and 4 additional speakers to today's common surround setups. The second is the focus on sound "objects." Channels like left, right, center, and surround become less important as sound is no longer directed to specific speakers. Instead Atmos uses a software model to place sounds (as objects) within a given 3D space, and speakers are activated accordingly. This results in more natural sounding surround effects, and seamless movement of sound through space.

Whether in a commercial or home setting, Dolby Atmos systems show their wow factor during moving overhead sound effects. Think of a helicopter flying around, or bullets whizzing over your head. To achieve this added realism, additional hardware is necessary on two fronts. First, is a surround processor capable of reading a Dolby Atmos audio stream. Next, are speakers designed to project overhead sound. Home users will need to upgrade to a new AV receiver that can decode Atmos sound, as well as source material that contains an Atmos audio track. Currently, there are around a dozen Bluray discs that are Atmos enabled (source: Big Picture Sound), as well as plans to bring Atmos to streaming services like VUDU and Netflix. If it isn't possible for home theater enthusiasts to add more speakers in their ceilings, they can take advantage of Atmos enabled floor standing speakers. These speakers have a traditional design on the front, but also add an upward facing driver for bouncing sound off the ceiling. When placed and tuned correctly, the effect from Atmos enabled speakers is very convincing. They approximate the motion based sound effects of commercial theaters quite well.

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Top 5 Features Of The New Savant App

As a manufacturer of industry leading residential control systems, Savant has made big strides with the release of it's new app, simply called "Savant." While It doesn't appear that the new app will replace Savant's older offering "TruControl II," it will definitely make adopting a Savant control system much easier and user friendly. With a near perfect rating on the iOS app store, and added android support, the new Savant app offers an impressive list of new features. Here are five of our favorites at Realm.

5: Remote Access

Remote access isn't anything new, but is the cornerstone of any decent home automation system.  Controlling devices directly in front of you is nice, but issuing commands from anywhere in the world adds another level of convenience, customization, and power. Remote access in the new Savant app has been updated to be user login based. This means that after a user account is created with Savant and linked with a control system, remote access is immediately available (90 day trial included). Gone are the days of network wizardry and complicated port forwards. Because remote access is only useful when it performs consistently, Savant has eliminated a lot of the existing points of failure and streamlined the login process. Once you have provided Savant with your email address and password, controlling your system while away from home is easy and automatic. An added benefit is the ability to share your system with multiple user accounts. Have someone that you want to be able to keep tabs on your system? (Hint: think Realm.) Add their Savant login as an authorized user of your system and they'll be able to view or control it from anywhere.

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Product Spotlight: Seura TV Mirrors

Ah, the television.  America’s long lasting love affair with the “small screen” is stronger than ever, and with the advent of  LED TVs the screens really aren’t that small anymore. Over time, prices have fallen as technology has improved, making big 65” televisions the norm in family rooms.  But, as any interior designer will tell you, there is a catch.  No matter how thin the television, how narrow the bezel, how flushly wall-mounted, or how beautiful the image, you’re still hanging a big, black box on the wall.


A Wisconsin based company, Seura, brings hope.  Seura produces beautiful, mirrored televisions in all shapes and sizes, winning the hearts and minds of TV buffs and decorators alike.  When powered off, A Seura screen is indistinguishable from a mirror. But when the television is turned on, a brilliant LED television picture shines through. Seura also offers a wide array of frames to match any decor, and custom frames can be used as well.  

TV Art

Seura mirror televisions aren’t just for Living Rooms or Bedrooms.  Their product offerings range from bathrooms, to kitchens, and even outdoors.  Check out their website, www.seura.com, for more information and come down to Realm to see our 55” Seura TV on display in our “Invisible Room”. Realm is an authorized Seura TV seller, installer, and integrator.

In the bedroom...

...Or the bath.

A Private Screening at Skywalker Sound

Recently, Realm was invited to California for a private tour of Skywalker Ranch, George Lucas’s 4000-acre ranch in the hills north of San Francisco.  It is home to Skywalker Sound, the preeminent audio production facility, where the sounds and music of many of the movies we know and love are created and edited.  For audiophiles and movie buffs like us, this was an incredible experience.  

The highlight of the tour was a private screening in the Stag Theater, arguably the best sounding theater in the world.  It is in this 300-seat theater that directors and sound engineers screen their movies and decide how it should sound to the rest of the world. 

At the heart of the experience is a Meyer Sound audio system, actively powered by 31,000 watts of amplification.  There are 10 subwoofers, five screen channels and 24 surround speakers.  Dolby Atmos surround processing is used for immersive 3D audio.  The image on The Stag’s 50 foot wide screen is generated by two Christie Digital CP4230 4k DLP Digital Cinema Projectors.  

The projectionist screened the first 13 minutes of Oblivion, which was the first movie ever natively mixed expressly for Dolby Atmos, the latest immersive audio format.  The quality of the performance, both audio and video, defies superlatives.  But it is immediately evident that this combination of Meyer Sound and Christie Digital is what one uses when creating the world’s reference theater.  

We liked it so much we decided to build one in our design center.  More on that later...