NEW YORK—The broadcast television
has changed dramatically over the past 10 years, and
the next 10 look to be just as fraught with change.
For decades prior to the digital transition, the standard
definition signals that were transmitted to
home televisions remained remarkably the same.
Viewers were content with a slow migration from
black and white to color.
Then came the HD revolution. While adaptation
started slowly, the changes put in place from acquisition
to transmission completely changed the playing
field for broadcasters. Once unshackled by the
technical limits of analog, the world of digital broadcasting
opened up countless new challenges and rewards
for both broadcasters and viewers.
The latest technical challenge is the
rapid increase in the ability to acquire and
display higher resolution video, namely
the format called “Ultra HD,” also referred
to as “4K.” This format provides roughly
four times the image resolution as the current
implementation of HD. This is great
news for content creators and consumer
who see great potential for
new sales. For broadcasters,
however, it is just another
hurdle that they have to
face in the ever competitive
battle for eyeballs on
“The traditional broadcaster
is once again being
left behind,” said John Wesley
Nash, executive vice
president and COO of CEI.
The Newington, Va.-based
systems integrator, which
builds everything from TV
stations to production facilities,
is already seeing an
interest in 4K UHD from cable
headends, content providers and government
clients. Broadcasters, on the other
hand, are hesitant. “If history is any sort of
guide, standards adoption in broadcast is a
slow process,” he said.
There is a debate among industry experts
on the role 4K UHD will play in
broadcast. Some believe that true 1080p/60
makes the most sense for the near term,
while others say that 4K will just be a
temporary placeholder standard on the
way to 8K home viewing. The challenge in
the next 10 years for broadcasters will be
choosing the correct format for their audience,
and whether they even want to try to
compete with over the top providers like
NetFlix, Hulu and cable MSOs, who will be
able to more quickly adopt and distribute
content in the newer formats.
Formats: What’s In a Name?
There has been much debate and inconsistency in naming new video formats. Manufacturers, broadcasters and consumer electronics manu- facturers have muddied the waters with various misnomers.
“High definition” has been defined by the ATSC is either 1080i, 1080p (1920x1080), or 720p (1920x720). 4K, which is actually a digital cinema term according to SMPTE, is cor- rectly called UHDTV1 per their SMPTE 2036 standard. Most broadcasters and industry folks agree that the terms 2-4-8K will be around as they are easy to say and sell. 4K UHD, or 4K Ultra High Definition is a middle ground that many feel covers both bases.
HD has up to this point been described by using its vertical resolution, or how many pix- els top to bottom. The new terms 4K and 8K
refer to the horizontal resolution instead. Thus 4K is 3840x2160 (for broadcast) and 8K is 7680x4320.
4K(8.3 Megapixels) is four times the pixels of HD (2.1 Mp), and 8K (33.2 Mp) is 16 times the pixels of HD.
The current format of 4K on the market to- day is 4K UHD 30p, or 30 frames per second, where “full 4K” is 60p or 60 frames per sec- ond. The added frames per second will make a big difference for sports and fast action video. Unfortunately, there are no current players or interfaces for the format. HDMI 1.4 only sup- ports 30 frames per second and until HEVC is implemented there are no consumer devices that can play this back. When HDMI 2.0 is re- leased, it is supposed to support all 4K formats.
“When people shop for TVs in a store,
they don’t view them from the same distance
they do at home, they walk right up
to them,” said Mark Schubin, a New Yorkbased
“There is a huge
HD and 4K at this
distance that is immediately
This is where
the consumer electronics
to create the market
for their new
sets. Schubin notes
that the European
presented results at
the Hollywood Post
Alliance’s last tech
retreat in February that showed there was
only a small statistical increase in the viewing
experience of 4K over HD, even when
“Will it be enough of a difference to
draw people to buy a new TV set?” Schubin
When considering whether 4K UHD is
“better” than standard HD, the term “viewing
experience” is always brought up.
There is no disputing that the 4K UHD
picture has more detail, but the question is
when is it a better viewing experience for
the home viewer. “It’s not
just the raw spatial resolution
itself that matters, it’s
the fact that you are sitting
closer, which provides a
greater sense of realism,”
said Matthew Goldman,
senior vice president of TV
compression at Ericsson.
“I see projector-based
home theaters being replaced
by 80-plus inch 4K
TVs,” said CEI’s Nash.
The reason 4K UHD
wins out in the big screen
wars is its ability to create
a more immersive experience,
according to Goldman,
who explains that as
resolution increases, the viewer can sit
closer and thus have a greater percentage
of their field of vision filled with images.
Whether viewers at home will demand this
resolution for their daily news and sports is
In the end, content will probably drive
the viewing format. For those who crave
sports, the picture quality and clarity of 4K
UHD at 60p would satisfy any avid viewer.
Today though, 4K is being done at 30p,
which for sports, does not work well due
to motion jutter. For daytime and prime
time viewing, the audiences will probably
be mixed. Local news that often airs cell
phone and surveillance quality video may
take the longest to get to the higher resolution.
“If you are editing in 2K or 1080, you are
totally going to benefit from shooting 4K,”
said Jim Kent, DP and owner of Phoenixbased
Art Gecko Productions.
As a content creator he sees 4K as a terrific
authoring medium for lesser formats.
“You can shoot everything wide with
4K and still be able to get your zooms
whenever you need then,” he explains.
Though he likes the promise and potential
of the format for artistic reasons, he says “it
is not yet a convenient format.” By this he
means that the lenses available today for
4K cameras don’t cover the focal range he
currently has in HD. “Covering the Super
35mm sensor is what is most important
to me right now,”
he continued. The
of lenses that are
available to him
are from the 35mm
The cost of the
of 4K UHD lenses,
in their premiere
4K line, are in the
This price range is
in stark contrast to
the cameras such
as Blackmagic Design’s
Pocket Cinema Camera, which costs
under $2,000. With a garage full of tens of
thousands of dollars in SD cameras and
lens gear that he can’t unload, Kent is in
no hurry to make the investment in 4K.
He does see the format eventually winning
out, however. “I see it replacing film and as
an acquisition format for broadcast production,
4K is probably going to be where
the formats will settle out.”
With many broadcasters currently choosing
lower cost 1/3-inch chip cameras from
JVC and Panasonic to meet their HD news
needs, the choice to migrate up to 4K UHD
seems a stretch. The good news is that
whether HD or 4K UHD, most acquisition
and edit workflows today have moved to
the file-based world, which makes the initial
entry into 4K UHD the easy part. In this
workflow, video is shot and stored in a file
format, transferred to an editor and then can
be output in whatever format is required.
“I expect terrestrial broadcasters to resist
4K,” says Nash, who recalls the push-back
he experienced while on a panel at
SMPTE’s “Bits By the Bay” conference in
Cheseapeake Bay, Md. last month. “There
was a lot of resistance from broadcasters to
even talk about 4K,” he said. Because of the
transition to digital, and broadcasters who
continue to challenge upgrading to HD—a
cost most of them bore themselves—he
feels that they won’t be rushing any time
soon to rebuild their plants.