The power of the megapixel

I’m going to pick up on a subject that I have ranted about a lot. Looking back, however, it is actually 11 years since I devoted a whole editorial to the topic.

One of our news items recently was about the ITU adoption of the Japanese Super-Hi Vision concept for 7680 x 4320 Ultra High Definition TV (we reported on the NHK demo at IBC in our show report). That’s 33 megapixels, or 16 times more pixels than ‘Full’ HD displays. It’s four times as much as the ‘4K’ displays being used in high end digital cinema projectors and medical displays. Yet still, our industry does not understand the ‘power of the megapixel’. Still, we continue to use phrases such as 4K display or 8K display that only highlights the horizontal resolution, not the full resolution.

I have ranted for years about the same approach to screen diagonals. A display that has twice the diagonal (and the same aspect ratio) has four times the screen area. Would Intel describe the clock speed of its CPUs by giving them a number that is the square root of the clock speed? If Intel went from 1GHz to 2GHz, would the company really give customers a number that is just 40% bigger? Ah, we’ve gone from 1 IntelMark to 1.4 IntelMarks. No chance! So why don’t we describe the display in terms of its area? (Let me add, I understand the technical reasons, but I’m talking marketing here. Whenever I have asked this question of display marketeers, I have never been given the correct technical reasons!)

In terms of resolution, the habit has been to use engineering acronyms to convince consumers. As Mark Fihn memorably said ‘What the @!*? is a QWUXGA?’. At least the term ‘FullHD’ has helped consumers to understand that they were better than ‘HD Ready’, although had they understood that FullHD was 2 megapixels to HD Ready’s 1 megapixel, the scale of the difference would have been clearer.

For the last seventeen years, I have been listening to the industry complain about the problems of ‘up selling’ customers on resolution (especially the monitor suppliers). As I have been complaining for years, you still can’t buy a desktop monitor that has the pixel density of a notebook display, let alone a smartphone or ‘Retina’ display. I think these complaints are related. If you don’t help buyers to understand the value of an improvement, they will not ‘trade up’.

So, I’m making a plea to the industry – let’s call these UHDTV displays – ’33 megapixel displays’ or, if we have to have an acronym, why not 33MP displays. This also means that we can call 4K x 2K displays ‘8MP’ so that buyers understand that they have gone up by a factor of four from ‘2MP’ (FullHD). Apart from anything else if 2MP is ‘FullHD’ and 33MP is UHD, what are the 8MP displays that TV makers will want to sell in the next few years? XHD? SBHD (slightly better HD)? NQUHD (Not Quite Ultra HD)? This move would also leave room for a 4MP display resolution (2560 x 1440) and other resolutions in between.

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