Q&A: Screen Innovations’ Michael Bridwell on Why 4K Is So Darn Confusing

Bridwell recently left Digital Projection International and joined Screen Innovations, but not before clearing up some of the rampant 4K confusion for CE Pro readers.


Earlier this month, Michael Bridwell took the position of VP of sales and marketing at Screen Innovations. Previously, Bridwell spent almost 10 years with Digital Projection International (DPI). 

His experience lends itself to a great deal of understanding about the home theater market, to say the least.

CE Pro sat down with Bridwell just before he joined Screen Innovations to talk about 4K support and adoption in today's projection landscape. His thoughts on 4K seem even more relevant considering his recent move.

Is there dealer confusion about 4K technologies and formats?

Confusion is rampant and the obscure product names and descriptors aren’t helping. Thankfully, the most recent update made by PMA Research, the firm that specializes in market data for the display industry, took a positive step in demystifying all the 'What is 4K' confusion.

PMA Data now has three distinct classes for 4K:

4K Support: 4 million pixels on screen, and examples include Epson, JVC (except its 4K native displays) and other “shifted” solutions.

4K UHD: 8 million or more pixels on screen and examples include DP’s new products like the HIGH lite 4K Laser(3840 x 2160)

4K Native: 8 million or more pixels on screen and examples include projectors with 4096 x 2160 and 4096 x2400 resolutions. Examples include our INSIGHT projectors and Sony’s native 4K projectors.

Our plea to the custom integrators is simple — trust your eyes. Look at the image experience to be had with all the different options, and rejoice in the fact that you now have differentiated 4K options from a variety of vendors.

Are high dynamic range (HDR) and wide color gamut (WCG) the real selling points?

Yes, in theory HDR delivers image enhancement that isn’t hindered by the viewing distance conundrum of 4K resolution.

And yes, we have already experienced the image quality gains that come with a wider color experience. It’s the unpredictability of how each display will treat the HDR metadata that remains to be seen.

“Resolution is simply one bullet point among many in producing a beautiful image.”

— Michael Bridwell, Screen Innovations

Here’s what I think has to be discussed regarding 4K. Most of us know that the optimal viewing distance of a 4K resolution display is 1.5x the screen height. That is where you can really see a difference resolution-wise between a 4K and 1080p display.

How many [Digital Projection] clients are sitting in that optimal spot? Very few, as most residential viewing spaces are set up for a much more comfortable distance at 3x the screen height, and in commercial applications, viewing distances in medium to large venues are way beyond that. [Digital Projection has] been saying for years that resolution is simply a bullet point among many in producing a beautiful image.

Here’s an example: You’re in a room where the lights will be on half the time and off or low the other half. Resolution isn’t going to rescue the image of a 2,500-lumen projector when the lights are on. Lighting conditions in the room and having the horsepower to fight that light when present is often more critical than resolution.

Is there anything in the market holding back big 4K adoption?

As with the great 3D debacle, HDCP restrictions are causing difficulties in many home theaters. A single source that isn’t in current HDCP compliance can wreak havoc along a signal path. So much so that [Digital Projection] created the Concierge Group, which, at no cost to dealers, analyzes items such as the signal path, hardware involved and cable run lengths in a project.

No two theaters are the same, but the Concierge Group has learned how to help steer dealers clear of many potential traps in a 4K ecosystem.

Related: Can 4K Signal Distribution’s ‘Black Hole’ Be Solved?

Venue bandwidth, be it a residential or commercial venue, is also a concern at the moment, as both HDR and WCG require 10-bit transmission. Moving from 8-bit to 10-bit streams increases bandwidth by around 25 percent. That’s a significant additional load on the backbone of a venue’s existing data infrastructure. 

Where do you see the market evolving in the next 12 to 18 months?

The residential market has largely become convinced that 4K and all the iterations within is crucial, so we’ll continue to see that penetration.

There will soon be a remarkable range of price, performance and capabilities from which enthusiasts can choose. As those solutions come to market, I personally expect a bit of a video renaissance.

After all, with competition comes innovation. Those of us in the video market will need to quickly differentiate ourselves or will likely end up a bit-part player. 

Will 8K have an impact?

8K will bring its own concerns, as well as amplify existing ones. Today’s 4K viewing distance issues, as well as content delivery and bandwidth restrictions, would currently be compounded.

Additionally, it should be asked if all that resolution actually does anything to enhance a viewing experience in, say, a theater environment.

Gains in small-area detail become interesting for select applications where image analysis is a critical need. As with most specialized solutions, there will be significant infrastructure cost in delivering that experience.

Next: Why Was True Home Theater ‘Missing’ at CES?