The relentless march of tech progress is tramping through our living rooms again, with current-gen TVs set to be booted out by this year's poster boy – 4K.
Sound familiar? Yes, we heard all this before, with 3D TV.
But where 3D faltered, despite manufacturers trying repeatedly to ram it into our retinas, 4K really is set to soar in 2013. Here's why it's earned a hard-fought place on the 2013 Stuff Cool List…
The 4K picture is simply astonishing
Watch native 4K footage and HD will never look the same again. For one thing, you'll find yourself trying to wipe non-existent Vaseline from the screen, or flapping your arms to clear the fog that must surely be obscuring your vision.
4K is just that sharp. If you want to get into specifics, it delivers 4096x2304 pixels versus 1080p's 1920×1080 pixels. Many "4K" TVs are actually Ultra HD resolution, cramming 3840x2160 pixels into a 16:9 aspect ratio – whatever the case, you're getting around four times the resolution.
Even your old films will look better in 4K – the resolution of 35mm film is roughly equivalent to that of 4K, meaning it's time to restock your media library yet again.
On the plus side, older films will look even better than they did at the cinema on release. After scanning Lawrence of Arabia at 8K resolution for its 4K restoration, Grover Crisp's team at Sony Pictures discovered that white streaks in several scenes were actually cracks caused by heat damage to the emulsion itself. "They've always been there, they've been visible on every print anyone has ever seen," explains Crisp. Not any more.
4K is hitting the high street hard
This summer, you'll be able to pick up a 4K set from a high street store – if your pockets are deep enough. Sony's 55in and 65in X9 4K Ultra HD sets will be available from June, for £4000 and £6000 respectively. If you're an oligarch, Sony also has the 84in KD-84X9005 for a mere £25,000, while LG's 84in 84LM960V will set you back £17,000.
You can even pick up a 4K monitor for your computer – Asus' PQ321 31.5in 4K monitor will also launch in June, priced at US$3800 – though you'll need a pretty powerful graphics card to play games at that resolution. Time to buy a pretty powerful graphics card.
Still too steep? Wait till next year, and there's certain to be a 4K TV from a big-name brand for under £2000. Or you could take a chance on Seiki's unfeasibly affordable 50-incher.
With 4K, bigger is better. And big is good
Almost all 4K TV sets are big, ranging from Sony's 55in KD-55X9000A to the massive 84in LG 84LM9600 UD. There's a reason for that – those extra pixels mean that the video you're watching will look crisp even when blown up to epic proportions.
Scot Barbour, Vice President of Production Technology at Sony Pictures, explains: "Basically, to be able to even see 4K resolution, there's a given distance sweet spot from the screen, one and a half screen heights away. So you're going to want to have a bigger screen and be closer to it to actually be able to perceive 4K for what it's really about."
OK, so there's not much to watch yet – but it's coming
Want to watch a movie in native 4K? Good luck with that – the only native 4K content currently available comes with Sony's FMP-X1 media streamer, which is a future and US-only release for the time being, and there's just one other 4K streamer available: Red's US$1450 Redray.
The choice of films isn't exactly awe-inspiring, either, with the likes of Salt and The Amazing Spider-Man actual highlights. Sony's plugging the gap with "4K mastered" Blu-rays - scanned at 4K, downscaled to 2K and upscaled back to 4K by your 4K telly or a 4K-ready player. Having seen The Amazing Spider-Man's 4K Mastered Blu-ray side by side with a native 4K version, it's impressive - but it's still not the real deal.
No need to cast down your popcorn in anger, though – 4K Blu-rays are on the way. Eventually. "There have been some discussions about how to do 4K delivery via physical media," says Jeremy Glassman, Manager for Emerging Platform Development and Marketing at Sony Pictures Home Entertainment. "The Blu-ray disc itself is a great foundation - if they were to go that way. Because it's been able to support internet connectivity, it's been able to support 3D – 4K is a great evolution of that."
If you can't wait, you can just make your own
You can already drop £9000 on Canon's EOS-1D C 4K SLR. Or you can try JVC's GY-HMQ-10 camcorder at just £4000. Or, if you're both a videophile and a fan of injuring yourself, you can shoot 4K with a GoPro Hero3 Black edition toughcam – albeit at a somewhat jerky 15 frames per second. And if you want the ultimate in silky-smooth footage, there's always the 1000fps Flex4K.
Wait until Winter and even your next phone or tablet may be able to manage 4K: Qualcomm's Snapdragon 800 SoC is powerful enough to shoot at 4000x2560 resolution.
4K broadcasting isn't as far off as you think
Although BBC North controller of production Mark Harrison notes that, "We are years away from being able to make and transmit in 4K," broadcasters are already gearing up for the 4K revolution. Sony's aiming to get 4K down to a 20Mbps stream with its High Efficiency Video Coding compression – that's close to the 12Mbps currently used for some 1080p HD broadcasts, and would mean that 4K can be broadcast using the existing physical infrastructure.
Over in Japan, the government is preparing for full-fledged 4K broadcasts in 2014, while in Blighty the BBC's reportedly planning 4K test broadcasts of Wimbledon 2013, and Sony's set to broadcast the FIFA Confederations Cup live in 4K – albeit as part of an internal trial.
"There are three pieces of the puzzle," says Keith Vidger, business development manager for digital cinema production at Sony. "Display technology, content - and people have been making content for years in 4K - and transmission. That's the thing that we have the least control over, but it seems to be taking care of itself in short order, far and away over the 20 years that it took for HD to take hold."
It's a far cry from 3D – three years after the launch of Sky 3D, it's still got the only 3D channel in the UK. Unencumbered by ludicrous glasses, and with an arsenal of films, documentaries and dramas set to blast our eyes with razor-sharp detail, 4K is going to dominate our living rooms in 2013 – and beyond.