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When I first started covering business video, the top resolution was 480p, and I thought that was all we needed. It was just like watching the TV broadcasts I had been seeing my entire life. It is what I expected a human face on a screen to look like. When the first 720p products were introduced in 2007, I was skeptical. Why would I want video quality that was better than what I saw on television? Then, I started making 720p calls, and it clicked: The higher the resolution, the more lifelike the experience and the less it felt like watching TV.
A few years later, we started seeing the first 1080p offerings. Today, many internet videos stream in 1080p, and compared with 720p resolution, the increase in video quality is readily apparent. Yet, many businesses are still making 720p calls. Even if their business video provider of choice supports 1080p, many organizations continue to set calls at 720p -- or even lower -- to save bandwidth and to better accommodate calls made over Wi-Fi or limited connections. We appreciate 1080p, but we are generally happy with 720p.
So, if the business world is happy making calls at a mix of 720p and 1080p and we don't hear a large clamoring for 4K video resolution, does that mean no one needs 4K? Not necessarily. When 720p hit the market, there wasn't massive demand for that either. But, when potential customers started making demo calls on 720p, they suddenly saw the need, and soon, every vendor in the industry rushed to release 720p video products.
The same thing could certainly happen for 4K as well, and indeed, conditions are almost identical to where they were 13 years ago. Lifesize, the same vendor that popularized 720p, is now marketing a product with 4K video resolution, and the rest of the industry is waiting to see whether everyone will demand 4K from their vendors or whether the higher resolution will only be attractive to those customers who really need it.
Where 4K makes sense
There are some verticals that truly need 4K. And, if you need it, you really need it. If someone is performing remote heart surgery on me, I would very much like that video transmission to be in 4K video resolution, please and thank you. If I am negotiating a billion-dollar deal, I might want to see every possible pixel of the face of the person with whom I'm negotiating. But, for day-to day team meetings, most companies seem happy with 720p or 1080p, and many people connecting from their desktops may not have enough horsepower to push 4K while running other apps due to graphics card or CPU limitations on laptops or PCs.
However, even if you aren't running 4K today, you might be interested in it for future-proofing. If you believe 4K is going to happen, you can set yourself up now, even if most of your calls won't currently be 4K, so that support for it is in place as devices are upgraded.
So, is 4K needed? Absolutely, for specific use cases, and it may be of interest to many others. 4K might not be the expectation for typical team meetings this year or even next, but the standard's benefits will be increasingly difficult to ignore.
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