4K in control rooms: how many pixels can you handle?

in Control rooms

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4K is a resolution standard that literally almost has 4000 pixel lines or 8.8 million pixels (to be correct, 4096 x 2160). This is four times the resolution you have at the moment on your HD television set. By adding pixels, you are adding different perceived image quality features like sharpness, color depth, etc., but most importantly you create more information space.

The 4K standard is mainly driven by the movie industry. Because digital technology tries to create a similar sensation as with the original analogue techniques, it needs to hide the fact that the image is nothing more than a collection of pixels. So making the pixels as small as possible is the only solution. And to my opinion, they are doing an amazing job. I’ve seen the blockbuster Transformers 4 in 4K, and it looked really awesome. Combined with Auro 11.1, it even sounds great.

But what if we take this resolution madness to smaller screens? Did you ever look at your Full HD screen and think “Hey, these pixels are just too big, I can see them from where I’m sitting”? Probably not, unless your sofa is located less than two meters from your screen, or you own a really, REALLY big TV set. So do we need 4K outside the cinema theater?

How early do you adopt?
The eagerness of the average customer to adopt new technology, usually depends on usability and availability of content. Do you remember one of the main reasons why the VHS standard won against Betamax and Video2000: because it was supported by the porn industry (so content). And when the DVD appeared, many people abandoned their VHS recorder to switch to the disks. Because it had better image quality? Probably not. The main reason was that DVDs are just more convenient, last a lot longer, and were immediately widely available. Plus you don’t need to rewind when you’ve watched a movie (do you really remember doing that?). In short: it made your life easier.

The law of diffusion of innovationDid I experience the same enthusiasm when Blu-ray appeared? Nope. This upgrade was just about a higher resolution. There was no change in user experience, and the content was not sufficiently available. I do own a Blu-ray player now, because I needed to replace my DVD player, but I mostly use it to watch DVDs. The law of diffusion of innovation says that about 2.5% of people will be innovators and 13.5% are early adopters. So which kind of user are you?

4K in the control room
Video walls in control rooms have always showed more than 4K. Take four Full HD screens, combine them et voilà, there’s your 4K screen – with a small or bezel in between displays. If you know that video walls consisting of 80 modules are not an exception, it is clear that we are WAY beyond the 4K barrier. However, these walls display content coming from multiple sources, none of which have a higher resolution than HD.

Are there any native 4K sources for control rooms? Well, there are the 4K CCTV cameras, which are very interesting for security professionals because they allow detailed digital zooming. At the moment, however, there’s the problem of bringing these images to the control rooms – mainly because of bandwidth issues. But that’s a problem which will be fixed in a couple of years.

Detail is in the eye of the beholder
The question however remains: how much can our eyes distinguish? Are the pixels not getting too small to be legible or even useful? Depending on the use case – overview monitors on the wall or desktop monitors – the displays need to be bigger than 100” or 45” respectively to justify the choice for 4K. However, you need to assess for yourself if your Full HD resolution does the job or not. Indeed, one 100” 4K LCD display can replace four Full HD LCD displays, resulting in the same canvas size without the (small) seams. Nice, but keep in mind that 100” screens are really heavy and hard to handle.

However, 4K screens will become the standard in a few years. That’s called evolution, nothing you can do about it. And there’s nothing bad about that. But am I convinced that this evolution is necessary? Not really. And do you need to replace your existing screens with 4K versions right away to make better decisions? Not at all. Just look at all the options you have, and evaluate if 4K can bring you extra value related to what you need to see.

About the author:

Director strategic marketing Utilities Guy Vanwijmeersch

Guy Van Wijmeersch
Market Director Utilities

Guy Van Wijmeersch is the responsible strategic marketer for the Utilities and Telecom market of Barco’s Industrial and Government division.
He started with Barco in 1992 and held industrial designer and design director positions in Belgium, Germany and the USA.
Guy holds a master degree in product design (Artesis University College of Antwerp) and a postgraduate degree of product design from University of Irvine, California, USA. He also holds a master degree in B2B Marketing, and is a member of the Ergonomics Association and Design Management Institute.

Over the last 13 years, he has been involved in several global signature key projects in control rooms and meeting rooms at Reliance, Saudi Aramco, Dubai Police, Telecom South Africa, RWE, National Grid, Airtel, China Rail, etc.
After working for Barco in California, USA and Germany, he is now again based in Belgium.

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