Sharp treated visitors to this year's IFA trade show to an astonishing glimpse of the future of television -- an 85-inch 'Super Hi-Vision' TV with an 8K4K resolution. The display was a prototype conforming to the Ultra High Definition Television (UHDTV) standard, currently being developed by Japanese state broadcaster NHK.
UHDTV has a resolution of 7,680x4,320 pixels. That's about 33 million pixels in total. Such a resolution is also a staggering 16 times higher than that of today's 1080p screens. By our reckoning, that makes Sharp's display a generation or two ahead of the 4K2K TVs that are only now beginning to emerge from R&D bunkers, one example being the Toshiba 55ZL2.
Sharp and NHK suggest that 8K4K experimental broadcasts will begin in 2020, while research into the system actually began back in 1995. The difficulties of producing, managing and distributing TV content of this calibre seem almost insurmountable. It's not currently possible to deliver UHDTV over the airways because of its Godzilla-like bandwidth appetite and it would choke current satellite delivery systems.
Ultimately, it's going to take multiple breakthroughs in technology to make 8K4K even remotely feasible for broadcasters and the entertainment industry. And you can forget about upscaling -- the gulf between the 1080p and 8K4K resolutions is just too wide.
Manufacturers have long touted their tellies' images as 'lifelike' and 'realistic', but Sharp's TV makes current pictures looks like Matt Groening's scribbles. The astonishing clarity of the picture is nothing short of mesmerising. There are gradations of texture and detail that can only be absorbed when you begin to repeatedly pore over the picture. Moving images take on the fascination of a Van Gogh or Renoir painting.
Currently, the only camera in the world that can shoot 8K4K footage is a prototype developed by NHK itself. The test footage we watched at IFA was shot by the broadcaster at an Onbashira festival. This extraordinary spectacle involves dozens of Japanese folk in traditional garb clinging onto a huge log for dear life as they ride it down a steep slope. Onlookers swarm around as the riders are bounced painfully from their wooden perch.
The sequence looped around and around, and every time we found something new in the picture. The image literally crawled with detail, from the hundreds of onlookers to the careening log itself. The UHDTV panel was able to reveal every grimace etched onto the face of the riders, as well as the texture of the surrounding forest and multi-hued audience. There were no image artefacts or blurring, just preternatural detail.
This TV is an LCD set bolstered by Sharp's proprietary UV2A (ultraviolet-induced multi-domain vertical alignment) tech. UV2A focuses liquid crystal molecules with UV light to give optimum contrast. Sharp's boffins say that the technique equates to a 20 per cent contrast boost over regular LCD. It's clearly effective. Even when viewed in ambient light, we experienced no significant hit to contrast.
We can only begin to speculate how a super-high-resolution display system like this might be used. Its potential extends beyond mere TV, perhaps to medical applications and public displays. The latter might be a good way of exploiting the technology -- to appreciate a 33-million-pixel image, you really need to see it big.
It could be argued that a screen of 85 inches is far too small to really sell the benefits. We've seen UHDTV pictures projected onto a screen of IMAX dimensions and there was still no pixel grid structure apparent. Mind you, that was at NHK's Japanese HQ, accompanied by a 22.2-channel sound system.
At any rate, as a piece of audio visual engineering, Sharp's 8K4K panel is a triumph. Click through the gallery above to see more images of it.