Industry Opinion: How Will 4K Projectors Impact Integration of Custom Home Theatres?

Ultra high definition everything—televisions, media players, projectors—are touted, along with immersive audio, as the breakthrough technology to revolutionise custom home theatre integration.

With major projector manufacturers such as Sony, Epson, and JVC already bringing 4K projectors to market, we asked key manufacturers who cater to custom home theatre integrators what impact this standard will have on the channel.

Tim Sinnaeve, Managing Director High End Residential, Barco 4K is an important topic that is attracting a lot of attention in custom integration. Our customers can count on Barco Residential always being at the forefront of technology, creating the best possible image quality and experience at every level of our offering. Testament to this is our Prometheus 4K projector, the current flagship projector for ultra high-end custom home theatres, built on our know how as the global market leader in professional cinema and post-production projection. We are, however, hoping that the attention 4K is attracting will help re-focus the discussion on image quality in general, which we feel is not getting the attention it deserves. Too many custom home theatres feature fantastic audio, but mediocre video quality, and that’s not just about resolution. Colour accuracy, uniformity, brightness and contrast are at least as important, and everything needs to be in balance to experience content as the creator intended it. The design and technology choices we make in building a projector are critical, and that’s why Barco Residential exclusively uses DLP technology, coupled with the highest quality optics, to achieve the best possible overall image quality. Other exciting innovations are also important in this respect. Our Orion and Optix Cinemascope projectors feature a new DLP chip (developed by Barco in partnership with Texas Instruments) that supports a resolution of 2,560 x 1,080, and provide native Cinemascope 2.37:1 images without the need for anamorphic lenses. This represents a 78 percent increase in pixel count over Full HD for Cinemascope content, the majority of feature films, and makes for a more immersive experience. No longer do you end up with black bars top and bottom, losing a lot of the available real estate and resolution (including on 4K projectors). Beyond pure image quality, other innovations will impact the integration of custom home theatres. The Orion projector can be teamed up with a new ultra-short throw lens and a rear projection screen, which could for example allow a custom installer to create a custom-built giant screen ‘TV’ that can be perfectly integrated even in high end flats where space is at a premium. This, and other innovations we are working on, enable a new breed of architecturally integrated custom video solutions, combining performance and aesthetics. www.barco.com/residential

Bob Hadsell (ISF, IN IIDA, THX HOME THEATRE 1), Home Theatre Sales Manager, Draper, Inc. We anticipate that 4K (and higher) projectors and content will invigorate the home theatre market. The opportunity for the consumer to have larger images with outstanding picture quality has always been the hallmark for home theatres, and 4K projection brings this to a new level. We have already seen a significant increase in the adoption of 4K projection over TV in dedicated theatre spaces. As the light output of the 4K projectors increases and projection screen technology improves, theatrical presentations are moving from the dedicated room to the flex, or multi-purpose, room. A perfect example is our new line of TecVision Engineered Screen Technology projection screens, which provide excellent color reproduction and increased contrast in ambient light. TecVision screens enhance, rather than compensate for, the projector’s performance. The combination of a, Imaging Science Foundation (ISF) certified TecVision projection screen and a quality 4K projector creates the ultimate environment for experiencing video, rather than just watching video. www.draperinc.com

Jim McGall, Director of Sales, Wolf Cinema The advent of 4K home projectors—much like the launch of HD 1080p projectors years ago—is a positive development in the home cinema landscape. The improvement potential in Ultra HD/4K displays and content will excite video enthusiasts around the world for years to come. But not unlike the struggles faced during the transition to HD, there will be numerous challenges to be overcome by the content creators, supply and distribution chains, projector manufacturers and custom integrators alike to make this all work seamlessly in the home of tomorrow. Are we truly ready for “4K Prime Time” yet? I’m not quite sure: we’re clearly at the bleeding edge of the 4K frontier. In particular, the digital connector that we’ve all come to “love to hate”, HDMI, will undergo a number of upgrades to handle the huge files and higher bitrates as required for the improved 4K content. The recent shift to HDMI 2.0 with HDCP 2.2 will remain a major challenge for custom integrators; we’re already experiencing multiple issues with this at the factory side. Recall how much fun you had with HDMI 1.3 and 1.4a? Yes, HDMI may be “plug-and-play” for short runs, but long distance runs are often “hit-or-miss” with regard to image lock and stability. I’m also concerned about the client who has bought that first or even second-gen 4K display, and the problems they will likely experience when trying to hook up that brand new “Ultra HD” Blu-ray player with 4K content. Will it work?  Not guaranteed… and clients expect you [the CI professional] to solve that problem, when it may be well outside of your control. The transition period will not be easy.  But ultimately this will be resolved, and clients in the years to come will enjoy higher resolution 4K images, with greater dynamic range and vastly expanded color renditions. www.wolfcinema.com

David Rodgers, Marketing Manager, Elite Screens The 4K resolution projector will inevitably be a great step in raising the bar of expectation for home theatre performance and it will be a tremendous  game-changer…but not yet. The advantages are that superior picture clarity does expand the color gamut for the viewer to experience many different color shades that were not possible before. It also negates the need for anything but an un-textured matte-white, white acoustically transparent or ambient light rejecting material. Textured projection screens originally conceived to soften the image and reduce hot-spotting are out. They only impede the clarity with UHD resolution projectors.  A smooth (not textured) projection surface that does not hotspot is your best bet. This kind of simplification eliminates excess variables in constructing the right home theatre system in addition to creating a superior color range. So with greater image detail and an easier screen selection process, why shouldn’t I concede that we’ve taken the next step? Here is the reason why I say 4K “will be” a great step rather than “is” as great step. Although greater clarity is an improvement, the drawback is that there is no established standard for determining the High Dynamic Range (HDR). This is important because an optimal HDR provides the needed color contrasts that will complement the exponential leap in pixel resolution. The temporal resolution in film and television that we have all grown up watching became standardised in the 1940s and hasn’t changed.  This long-anticipated increase in color range is great, but it will not recognize its true potential until an optimal HDR standard is established and adhered to. Color neutrality with an optimal HDR is as important to video enthusiasts as fine wine is to a sommelier or a gourmet meal is to a food connoisseur. The introduction of 4K is one ingredient that is great in itself but its popularity will really peak when an HDR standard is established and market competition brings the prices down to a point where the average consumer can obtain them as well. www.elitescreens.com

Skyler Meek, Director of Marketing, Screen Innovations 4K is a hot up-and-coming technology in the world of AV and has been on the minds of integrators and end-users for quite some time now. It would appear to me that the advent of 4K in residential theatre systems could do one of two things: One (and I lean this direction), it could drastically expand the acceptance and use of two-piece projection, due to the fact that 4K is really most applicable on a larger format display, especially when combined with any of our 8K-rated materials and ambient light rejecting screens. 4K was initially designed for commercial movie theatres, boasting 40-foot screens and applying that technology to a 40- or 50-inch LCD TV really doesn’t create much recognisable difference in the way of resolution (I had a 50-inch 720p TV that I used for years and it looked great). 4K was designed for the big screen, and as flat-panel TVs grow in size, so do installation difficulties and overall cost—a problem not plagued by two-piece projection. Conversely, the industry could largely remain the same, meaning the balance between home theatres with projection vs. flat panels, with 4K becoming the new standard for “high definition”. This would mean that the overall trend would remain upward for home theatre integrations, but there would be no shift in either direction, projection or flat panel. One thing is for sure, that there is already a huge push for 4K in the home, with two-piece projection and that is quickly becoming the new standard. Projector technology comes and goes, but screens last a life-time so investing in a screen rated for 4K resolution and above is certainly a smart choice. www.screeninnovations.com

Peter Brown, VP of Sales & Marketing, Stewart Filmscreen The question of 4K is a common topic with integrators. From the perspective of the projection screen, we speak often about the infrastructure nature of the screen system. One well-designed and manufactured screen can last through generations of projectors. For this reason we recommend a higher value be placed on the screen solution. At Stewart Filmscreen we’ve prided ourselves on image fidelity and color accuracy. Our proprietary screen materials have been more than 4K capable since 1947 and will be there and ready when we exceed 4K projection devices down the road.In home cinema applications, streaming is becoming more and more prevalent. Yet, even with so-called 4K capable streaming services, the final outcome of the experience is limited by the pipeline and other factors from source to screen. While these factors will all continue to develop at a rapid pace, many question how ready we are for 4K. However you come down on that debate, as an integrator you want your client to have the best overall experience. One thing we know about electronics, advances happen rapidly and they usually lead to more overall value year after year. Do we recommend anything less than a 4K projector? It depends. Consider a client’s total budget. What is their willingness to upgrade down the road? Specifying a first-rate screen system, possibly with the complete masking capabilities to handle all the various aspect ratios, should be a prime consideration. After all, it’s a relatively simple matter to swap out a projector or streaming video device as technology develops. A quality screen, like a Stewart Filmscreen system will serve through all the technological advances. www.stewartfilmscreen.com

Llanor Alleyne has reported on the custom integration market for more than 10 years and is the Editor of HiddenWires. You are welcome to comment on this discussion. See below.