Are Your 4K Players Really True 4K?

April 7, 2016 by guest author, Jami McGraw


Guest Post: John C. Wang, IAdea

At every recent digital signage trade show, 4K or UHD (ultra-high resolution) has been a heavily promoted feature for next-gen displays. Research firm IHS recorded 95% year-over-year growth in 4K screen shipment in 2015. This may be the result of a strong push from display makers to generate market demand for showing super-fine details on large displays.


John Wang

For brand marketers, 4K with its 3,840-by-2,160 pixel resolution shows four times as much detail as today’s mainstream 1080p full-HD screens. That makes the technology a perfect tool to make natural texture realistic and crystals sparkle. 4K-enabled products earn the premium price tier for the value they offer.

However, many end-users may find it confusing when they buy a 4K media player,  and discover it’s not doing real 4K, or what’s called True 4K.

Playing 4K, Showing As Fuzzy 1080P

Some media player manufacturers, such as the makers of a new device I spotted recently on Kickstarter, claim they play (decode) 4K video files, but are only able to show 1080p on the display. Now that’s tricky word play when it comes to technical specs!

Most of the sub-$100 HDMI media sticks being touted out there as potential 4K signage players belong to this group. These devices use sub-standard display driver chips to cut cost. The result – sub-standard, greatly limited performance.

4K Videos, Sure, But Not Images Or Web Pages

There are media players on the signage market that indeed play 4K video perfectly, but they can’t do images or HTML5 web pages.A lot of legacy 4K devices fall into this group.

It would seem to defy logic, but there’s a technical explanation.

Digital signage players derived from TV set-top box technology often use dedicated 4K video decoder hardware to achieve the needed performance. But mass market media player manufacturers need to cut corners to keep costs down and stay competitive. To reproduce 4K for not only the video but the entire graphics system, a media player must quadruple memory and circuit bandwidth, and that inevitably translates into inflated costs. Mass market media players often cut corners here.

True 4K is Becoming Available

A new generation of 4K media players deliver what’s come to be known as True 4K performance for video, graphics, as well as HTML5 content. These players – my company, IAdea, makes one – have been engineered to enable four times more output than legacy 4K players. They’re also built for commercial tasks – not streaming Netflix at home – with advanced thermal designs and 24/7 reliability.

True 4K Solves Content Authoring Problems

One of the greatest benefits of True 4K is how it can simplify digital signage content creation. Today, the production cost of 4K video is multiple times higher than 1080p, due to the lack of licensable stock footage. Working in 4K requires expensive video capture and editing tools.

By enabling True 4K HTML5 capability, digital signage users can now quickly generate extremely high quality, pixel-perfect content without spending a great deal of money. HTML5 templates can create animated sales promotion signs and digital menu boards – quickly and inexpensively.

4K is beautiful, but only done and delivered properly. Make sure your next media player is a True 4K device, so your digital signage network not only delivers high quality today but is also future-proofed.

  1. John,

    There are many issues with 4K expectations besides the content and players. The flip side of the coin would be the monitor inputs and the A/V cable protocol. Many commercial grade monitors can only support 30fps and that is typically due to the HDMI ports not being 2.0.

  2. John Wang says:

    Agreed, Josh. Actually one point I did not cover in my article is the fact that many media players, even PC-based ones, don’t have HDMI 2.0 certification and can only drive 4K @ 30fps. 60fps is a must for having fluid animations and accurate synchronized video walls (e.g., those based on DGA Distributed Graphics Architecture). I do see 4K @ 60fps becoming more popular, which will enable content experts to produce truly realistic content.

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